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Did Formula E just ditch its trump card?

Formula E will proceed under new engine regulations. What else will change into the future? (Via Audi)
Roar Guru
9th March, 2016
0

The FIA have announced they will tender for single suppliers of both chassis and battery for season five of Formula E, in a move that negates their initial intention for open competition development. At present, manufacturers cannot develop bespoke chassis or battery items, however powertrain development has been allowed.

Last Friday’s FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting confirmed that both batteries and chassis will remain single-make in season five.

In its WMSC statement the FIA said: “In accordance with the FIA Formula E Championship Technical Roadmap – the objective of which is for each driver to be able to complete the current race distance with the use of only one car – the Formula E Committee and the Electric and New Energy Championships Commission will proceed with two calls for tender. These are:

1) To identify a single provider for batteries from the fifth season onwards

2) To identify a single chassis supplier for the fifth season onwards.

The applicants will be presented for selection at the next World Motor Sport Council.”

While the FIA maintains the need for cars to complete a pit-stop free race distance is a priority, there is no guarantee that a single supplier will provide the most effective route, but would fall in-line with keeping grids close and capping costs with more manufacturers joining the series.

That would certainly please China Racing boss Steven Lu, who last year stressed the need to control expenditure should Formula E become an open formula.

“We must discuss how we can keep the costs under control,” he told Autosport. “We must remember that we are not Formula 1.”

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On the other hand, the successful battery supplier would have to keep up with varying powertrain technology; a feat that even Williams Advanced Technologies admits has been difficult, with cars already running beyond the originally specified performance parameters.

Conversely, the move could run the risk of countering Formula E’s relevance in the hybrid automotive industry when compared to the World Endurance championship – which sees four-wheel-drive technology, with energy harvesting off the front axle. What separates the two series though is that Le Mans prototypes don’t require as much energy density as power density and as such high-powered prototype batteries which require a lot of cooling.

Speaking with Team Aguri co-founder Aguri Suzuki during season one, he mentioned that battery technology is expanding at an exponential rate at Japanese universities, so teams aligning themselves to battery manufacturers just have to exercise prudence. There’s plenty of other restrictions you can place on batteries without impinging on competition.

There could be an array of factor behind the FIA’s move to curb development: pressure from teams, commercial interests etc. But as it inevitably find itself closer to centre stage and maintain manufacturer interest, it must ask himself whether it wants to remain to be a low-cost alternative to Formula One or a poster child for carbon-neutral technological innovation?