The media references between Formula 1 and Formula E have grown in recent years, in spite of two categories technically and sportingly at the antipodes, with differences that prevent any kind of direct confrontation. Yet, the technological link between the two categories is constantly growing, a trend destined to continue in the near future and to acquire more and more relevance. The manufacturers involved in both championships have never made any secret of the benefits in terms of skills found by participating in the two categories, with advantages for the activity in Formula 1 deriving from the presence in Formula E and vice versa. The technical evolution of Formula 1 and Formula E over the next five years is destined to further tighten the engineering bond, anticipating what could become a recurring topic of discussion in the medium-term future.
We have already spoken in the past of the current opportunities for technology transfer between the technical departments of the same company involved in the two championships. This process is not to be understood as a real transfer of physical components, which is impossible given the disparity in the technical specifications required of the motors in terms of torque, power, rpm, voltage and current intensity, but rather the acquisition of construction technologies and skills. The contact points include both the electrical-mechanical components and the software side. The Formula 1 hybrid power unit and the Formula E powertrain in fact include common components such as batteries, inverters, electric motor generators and high voltage wiring, albeit with different specifications.
In the field of electric competitions, the performance references are not expressed in terms of absolute power, but the main indicator is efficiency, i.e. the ratio between the mechanical traction power available to the wheels and the electric power supplied by the battery, to which they go. subtracting the energy losses during the conversion process. The increase in efficiency can be sought in various design aspects: in the electric motor for example, the more the copper coils of the stator are compacted, the more effective the magnetic field generated will be and ultimately the more efficient the motor will be. . However, such a coil compacting operation must take into account the weight requirements of the car, as it cannot improve efficiency at the expense of an increase in mass. However, that of the electric motor is only one of the numerous possible examples of engineering interaction between the two categories, which is accompanied for example by research on materials or, more importantly, the writing of control software capable of implementing the different components of the powertrain. in an energetically more efficient way.
Mercedes is one of the car manufacturers that has so far been involved in both Formula 1 and Formula E, although the stay in the full-electric World Championship is destined to end at the end of the season. For the home of the Star, in the first year the team active in Formula E initially benefited from the knowledge developed by the Formula 1 team during the first years of the turbo-hybrid era. However, the flow of technology transfer quickly reversed: “I think the impressive aspect is that by removing the combustion engine part, it was possible to focus on the electric motor only. The power unit we are currently using in Formula 1 has a couple of things that we developed earlier in the Formula E powertrain. It’s great to see this technology transfer in both directions “the Team Principal had declared Ian James to FormulaPassion already in 2021. The Renault group benefited and continues to benefit from the same situation, present in Formula 1 through Alpine and in Formula E with the Nissan brand.
Mercedes and Alpine have therefore benefited from some technical gains thanks to their presence in Formula E, but this aspect has not so far been perceptible from the outside due to the powers involved in Formula 1. The hybrid power units in fact have two electric motor generators: the MGU-H, which, however, acting solely on the turbocharger does not provide an arithmetically quantifiable contribution to traction, and MGU-K, which delivers power directly to the rear wheels. The maximum power of the MGU-K is 120 kW, about 165 horsepower, which compared to the almost 1000 horsepower total of the power unit corresponds to a contribution of 16% to the propulsion. With the new engines arriving in 2026, the same ratio is destined to triple reaching almost the 50%which is why the relevance of the efficiency of the electrified part of the power unit will acquire greater importance. Tommaso VolpeNissan’s global director of motorsport therefore believes that the technology interchange for a manufacturer engaged in Formula 1 and Formula E is set to increase: “There is and will be more with the Gen3 than with the current car. If we look at the technical specifications currently in force in Formula 1, the electrical component does not have a particularly important importance in terms of contribution to the delivered power. Yes, there is a contribution to regeneration and torque, but the power levels are somewhat limited in relation to the combustion engine. With the regulations arriving in 2026, however, the thermal engine and the electric one will go on the same level, with a similar power, so efficiency will also begin to be fundamental there. Even in Formula 1 they will begin to give equal weight to the efficiency of the powertrain, as well as what is fundamental for us. In this, studies and information can be more useful, so it is an area where we can collaborate Alpine ”.
According to Volpe, therefore, with the next generation of power units in Formula 1 it will become equally important to maximize electrical efficiency by minimizing the internal energy dissipation of the various components of the powertrain. The concept of energy efficiency has not yet been internalized by the Formula 1 public due to the difficulty in identifying its repercussions on performance, which will however be much more evident from 2026 onwards. In Formula E, where the battery is the only source of energy for the single-seater to complete the race, greater efficiency translates into lower losses and therefore more useful energy for propulsion, making it possible to compete in the race with less concern for consumption and a more aggressive step. In Formula 1 the situation is slightly different, since much of the energy needed for the Grand Prix contest comes from fuel, while the electric powertrain is more of a source of additional power. However, greater efficiency translates into lower losses, therefore greater energy availability with which to power the electric motor for longer and benefit from the extra power for an extended period of time. To a lesser extent than what will happen from 2026 onwards, already at the current stage in Formula 1 we are discussing the different level of clipping between the power units, the cutting of electrical power at the end of the straight to manage the energy available, which although is mainly the result of the different supply strategies among motorists, it depends to a small extent on energy efficiency. The same aspect is destined to increase with the next generation of hybrid engines, to the point that it cannot be ruled out that it can influence design and set-up choices of an aerodynamic nature, seeking the best compromise between load, consumption and energy availability.
For Mercedes, the regret over the decision to abandon Formula E thus increases on the eve of a period in which the technological exchange between the two disciplines will continue to grow. The Nissan-Alpine duo will continue to benefit from it, but the eyes are focused above all on Audi and Porsche, close to entering Formula 1 from 2026. The second will continue to compete in the full-electric championship for the next two years, beyond which none decision has yet to be made, as explained by Thomas Laudenbachdirector of Porsche Motorsport: “From the moment we entered Formula E, we stated that we would be staying for five years. Not to be misunderstood, this is a classic procedure within an automotive company, where permission to compete in a category is granted by the top for a number of years. And if this period of time does not coincide with the technical cycles of the championship, not much can be done. At the moment we are undoubtedly confirmed in Formula E for another two years. For sure this year we will talk internally whether or not to extend our commitment. […] Formula 1, yes or no? I can not answer. It could have a flu [sull’impegno in Formula E]but not necessarily. If entry into Formula 1 were to occur, it does not mean that we should exit Formula E“.
Should Porsche extend its stay in Formula E, the Formula 1 adventure in 2026 would immediately begin with a wealth of important knowledge deriving from the research work in the championship for electric single-seaters. A more articulated speech instead for Audi, which has already left the electric world championship at the end of 2021, but which, being part of the Volkswagen group, could equally benefit from the development in the next technical cycle in Formula E through an internal transfer of knowledge from Porsche, similarly to what has already been done. happens with Alpine-Nissan under the aegis of Renault.
However, the theme is not exclusively technical: with the budget cap restrictions increasingly binding in Formula 1, having the possibility in Formula E of “focus on the electric motor only “directly using the words of Mercedes’ Ian James, it also represents greater financial freedom for development in other areas of performance, a significant benefit.
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