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Formula E track test: self-experimenting vegan motorsport

Hans-Dieter Seufert
Formula E track test
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' This safety car is not a pure combustion engine, it uses both a combustion engine and an electric motor. ' Formula E world champion Nelson Piquet junior explains the big wide world of electromobility to me. I'm in a racing suit between the hard cheeks of a BMW i8 bucket seat, and Piquet lolls next to it in a freshly ironed polo shirt. Together we do introductory laps on the Homestead Raceway near Miami.

'That's interesting,' I nod in a friendly manner while I click the i8 into sport mode. Now the 231 HP three-cylinder keeps the lithium battery constantly at a high charge. In this way, the electric storage system can always push maximum power into the 96 kW electric motor. Otherwise there will soon be an ebb in the additional electrical cash register. Stupid on a racetrack. Meanwhile, Piquet continues to explain exactly what makes such a hybrid, while I try to memorize the layout of the track.

Electro -Racing with pitfalls

BMW's eco-sports flounder serves as a safety car in the truest sense of the word. It is the hybrid vehicle that I know well and with which I can safely experience the neuralgic braking and turning points of this very angled inner course. And it's surprisingly quick again. But he also has to be if he wants to lead the horde of Formula E racers as the leader in the race without their tires deteriorating too much in temperature.

'You have to approach further outside here, if you want to get the following curve clean ', Nelson's voice suddenly rushes into my right ear. I reposition the i8 obediently and feel how nervousness builds up in me. How will the Formula E racer behave here? How much earlier is its braking point? Little Piquet senses my inner monologue: 'The brakes in Formula E are extremely bitchy. When they're cold, you only have 50 percent of the power you have when they're hot. Be careful on your first lap.'

And I immediately think of the Japanese journalist who had the right to the first round less than two hours earlier. With waving white plumes of smoke, the somewhat over-motivated son of Nippon forced another unplanned right-angled combination of curves on the course. Woe to that Ukyo Katayama for the poor would have sabotaged my Formula E ride. He does not have. The silver carbon fiber aluminum monoposto suckles well and undamaged on the fast charging unit in the paddock. It takes about an hour for theDC technology has filled the 28 kWh battery again.

That is far too long for a pit stop in the race. That's why the drivers simply switch cars after around 20 minutes. That's what I'm doing now: from the i8 to the Formula E. It is surprisingly easy to thread 1.89 meters into the cockpit for otherwise much smaller guys. The feet feel two pedals that are terribly close together, the hands a carbon fiber steering wheel with lots of colorful buttons.

Formula E racer mobilizes 200 kW

Everything as usual in the famous formula world . But there is no screeching combustion engine lurking in the cross, but an asynchronous high-speed monster made of copper windings with up to 200 kW (272 PS). 'And what are the steering wheel paddles for?' I ask the French racing engineer, confused. 'So that you can shift through the four gears. We even have five in the race.' Gears in the electric car? 'Yes, we need it. The more gears, the faster it is. You'll see,' grins the Renault technician.

The only thing the high-voltage athlete doesn't need is a mechanical clutch. Electric motors especially like to start up anyway, and the gear transfer is solved by speed comparison. To do this, the engine is braked with a quasi negative torque and the next gear is engaged via a pneumatic eight-bar push.

A short pull on the paddle and Formula E rolls smoothly like a Renault Go Zoe. How friendly, no racing clutch can screw up your first lap. The blue light for the speed limiter in the pits is still lit, and the red torque wheel on the steering wheel is set to one for minimal power.

Out of the pit lane, second pull on the paddles and off they go Amp. You can't pull as fast as the red shift indicator calls for the next gear. 17,000 tours buzz against your helmet. Formula E is quieter on the outside, but not quiet. Associations of mutated suburban trains are buzzing through my head. The Hulk of e-mobility is driving me forward.

Brutal power boost when accelerating

In torque level one the advance is already brisk. Six are available. In the second round I can switch. Click. Now the thrust is brutal and seamless, but it is far from that of Formula 1. The 900-kilo racer achieves the acceleration of a Tesla Model S P85D, just with a lateral dynamics that the Californian road cruiser can compete with like a rocky 2CV works.

Whether it is really faster with the many levels is of secondary importance. You just have another influencing component, and it's fun. Although the tires are - ahem - sustainability reasons not slicks, but Michelin sports tires, the electricity beast catapults you into the heaven of driving fun in every curve. So direct, so precise and so late when braking. Which, by the way, turns out to be not that complicated,as Piquet junior prophesied. And in front of you the wheels dance to the beat of the pavement. It may be that this is vegan motorsport, but one that tastes excellent while driving.

The rather high weight - the battery unit alone weighs 350 kg - disturbs the gripping handling, which is minimally understeer at the limit barely. Formula E with technology partner Renault is only just beginning. For reasons of cost, everyone is still using standard McLaren engines and Williams Advanced Engineering batteries. The development of the drive will be released from next season.

A year later, individual battery development will finally be possible. Then there is more kW, more kWh and more speed. That would also be the chance for BMW to distinguish itself with its own racing car and not just with the most ecologically correct safety car in the world.

Whether in the future Formula E will catch up with the popular racing series despite the lack of sound also depends on how exciting the duels are. Piquet junior remains entirely the explainer: 'The exciting thing is that you can't always give full power. You have to work with tact because the electric cars have a limited range.' Yes, that's it.

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