Formula E’s most successful racer shares his ideas on racing technology

A black formula e car is followed by a red formula e car
Enlarge / Lucas Di Grassi leads Jake Dennis in the 2022 London ePrix.
Sam Bloxham/Formula E

Formula E will close out its season this weekend with its first visit to Seoul, South Korea. It’s not just the end of season eight and the last race for the Gen2 electric race cars but also marks the series’ 100th race. The sport has come a long way since its first ePrix in Beijing in 2014, with more powerful cars, bigger batteries, and an ability to put on an exciting race at Monaco, something that Formula 1 hasn’t been able to say for several decades.

Lucas di Grassi was the winner of that first ePrix and has raced in every ePrix since. He’s still visiting victory lane, most recently in last Sunday’s London ePrix, and this weekend may score his 1,000th career point in the series. With a background in Formula 1 and then Audi’s mighty R18 e-tron Le Mans program, di Grassi knows his way around a race car. So he’s usually a good person to talk to about the future direction of the sport.

Next season the sport gets a new car, one that’s much more powerful—and lighter, too. But it’s not quite as bold, technology-wise, as the concept di Grassi lobbied for. Although that car has yet to even race in anger, the various minds that contribute to Formula E’s R&D road map are already thinking about Gen4. Since we had the chance to speak with the driver ahead of this week’s Seoul ePrix, I wanted to know his thoughts on where the sport should go next. As I hoped, he had plenty of them.

Eight years after winning the first ePrix, di Grassi remains competitive.
Enlarge / Eight years after winning the first ePrix, di Grassi remains competitive.
Sam Bloxham

You’ve been pretty outspoken in the past about where you think the technical direction of the sport should go, particularly as road car EVs feature tech that has gone beyond what Formula E allows. Where do you think Gen4 should go?

“That’s a great question. For me, it’s very clear from the beginning where the technology road map goes, not only Formula E, but all the FIA [the organizing body for global motorsport], of everything—for me, they must be much more segmented in terms of which solutions are better for different series. Like, endurance racing should be focusing on car-relevant technologies. Formula 1 should have the most extreme power-to-weight ratio drivetrains. Then formula E—the most efficient engines ever. So for me, I would segment it much more and make sure that the manufacturers they want to develop and invest, do,” he told me.

“[The FIA] have a championship that can develop, and it can use some of that expertise to crossover to different series, but they don’t overlap. And at the moment, there is a lot of overlaps between endurance racing, Formula 1, Formula E. It’s that the regulations are not very clear. And I don’t think there is somebody giving really, really clear directions that that’s the way these championships are going to evolve, and that’s the technology that actually creates value for the manufacturer and for the fans and for the world in the long term. I think at the moment it is not an easy thing to do. And at the moment, I don’t believe the job is being done in the right way,” di Grassi said.

The London ePrix circuit was half-outdoors, half-indoors. The lack of exhaust fumes make that much more pleasant than it would be if these cars burned gasoline.
Enlarge / The London ePrix circuit was half-outdoors, half-indoors. The lack of exhaust fumes make that much more pleasant than it would be if these cars burned gasoline.
Sam Bloxham/Formula E

“For Gen4, the answer isn’t just add more power. We are arriving with a problem with Gen3. Because now we have so much power that if you can give the Gen3 cars another 100 kW (134 hp) on the rear axle for attack mode, it makes almost no difference in lap time. The car cannot get that power down. We have so much power in Gen3 that it does not matter much if you’re going to have 50 kilowatts (67 hp) more or less in Attack Mode because you’re going to be almost traction-limited the whole time.

“So four-wheel drive for me—all the manufacturers are already producing high-end cars that are four-wheel drive electric. You could actually have four-wheel drive during Attack Mode then two-wheel drive for the other phases of the race, or let’s say four-wheel drive at the start for a lap, then have to go two-wheel drive. I mean, you can do whatever you want with the software control of an electric car,” he explained.

“So for Gen4 where would I go? I would say that battery technology is important to understand what the solutions are. So maybe finding a way of opening up some of the areas of battery—not everything, otherwise the cost is too high. The other point is I would go—as I would have gone for Gen3—I would go with movable aerodynamic devices like DRS [Formula 1’s drag reduction system] but constant DRS with the whole car morphing into a different element, because that’s the most efficient way of driving a racing car. You have downforce in the corners, no downforce but very efficient on the straights. I would cover the wheels back up, because I don’t understand why they’re uncovered; covering them is much more efficient. It saves about 8-10 percent of the battery just by covering the wheels in terms of better aerodynamic drag,” di Grassi continued.

“So definitely four-wheel drive, definitely four-wheel steering. I would steer with the rear axle as well. I would have probably softer control kinematics, which means that you don’t need to change dampers or springs anymore. Everybody has one set of springs, one set of dampers, and you program how the damper and how the springs can behave with an electric actuator. That’s the same with the rear steering—you could have dynamic torque, so in a hairpin the car can actually steer much faster, then in high-speed corners you can control the oversteer of the car,” he said.

You can already get things like all-wheel drive, moveable aerodynamics, and rear-wheel steering on production EVs like this Porsche Taycan. So why not on the racing EVs in Formula E?
Enlarge / You can already get things like all-wheel drive, moveable aerodynamics, and rear-wheel steering on production EVs like this Porsche Taycan. So why not on the racing EVs in Formula E?
Sam Bloxham/Formula E

Another of di Grassi’s ideas has already been proven to work in endurance racing, particularly the DPi and new LMDh categories. “I would open a segment of the car for the manufacturers to put their identity in the car. That’s for me very important. Why we don’t have a space on the car that the manufacturers can put their headlights for example, or they can put their identity on the car?” he asked.

“Because it’s important for the public to see cars that look different, even if that part is not relevant at all. But the cars are different, they are not the same car—a lot of people think that Formula E cars are all the same car. I mean I can go on and on and on and on for a lot of the details. But these details are not more costly. So anybody that says, “Yeah, but Lucas has no idea how much this all costs”—I have, I created the Roborace car in 2015 with one megawatt, four motors. So I know exactly how much it costs to create technology. And the implementation I think is feasible without any breakthrough technology that needs development, like I don’t know, a megabattery or something,” he explained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.