“It makes no difference how the car is propelled with regards to the adrenaline, the physicality of it,” say Jaguar TCS Racing driver Sam Bird.
He was speaking the day before the 2023 London e-Prix in Dockland’s Excel in July. It was the final weekend of races in the 2022-23 Formula E World Championship, the ninth season for the electric equivalent of Formula 1 racing.
The e-Prix travelled to cities all over the world, from Portland, Oregon, to Jakarta, Indonesia. Some 22 drivers in 22 cars in 11 teams, including household names like Maserati, Porsche and McLaren, as well as Jaguar, raced on a 2km track with 20 turns.
Other than the roar of the engines, Formula E has just about everything Formula 1 has – and perhaps something more. For example, F1 tracks have to be outdoors because of the fumes, but Formula E has no exhaust so it can race indoors, and part of the London circuit is inside the Excel centre. That poses its own technical challenges, of course.
“If it rains, you’ve got cars coming in from outside, wet tyres coming up a ramp straight into a dry inside, where there’s very high grip, and going down straight onto wet surfaces again, so the changing grip level is drastic,” says Jack Lambert, Jaguar’s research and innovation manager.
Like F1, it’s about the engineering under the hood, but it’s also about what’s under the virtual hood. Digital twins are virtual copies of real things – a cooling fan, a building, or even a person. But they’re more than simulators because they use data from the real subject to keep up with its real situation and condition, making them effective testbeds as well as problem predictors. Digital twins are helping to extend what’s possible not only in electric racing, but also on the road.
“The championship has progressed so much since its inception in 2014,” says Bird. “The efficiency is so much better now. The cars were a lot slower [in 2014].” This rate of innovation is no accident. Formula E competition rules are designed to spark innovation.
One of the key performance factors in F1 is aerodynamics, making it the focus of improvements. But Formula E rules deliberately specify one shape of car, so the aerodynamics is the same across all teams.
This shifts engineering effort away from aerodynamics and towards improvements in areas specific to electric racing and useful for developing consumer electric vehicles (EVs). “Taking power from the battery and energy source and getting it to the wheels is exactly the same problem as we’ve got in the future road cars for EVs,” says Lambert.
IT behind the wheel
Limited by the rules, there is still some room for innovation in the hardware. “If it’s not defined by the regulations, then you can take advantage,” explains James Barclay, team principal for Jaguar TCS Racing.
But software offers more opportunities for innovation: “Every time we come to a race, we have new code, so the cars are constantly getting quicker with software,” adds Barclay.
Varun Kapur, Jaguar TCS Racing
It’s down to the IT behind the scenes, which is where IT consultancy TCS comes in, as the Jaguar team’s official technology partner.
“Our role is all around digital, data, cloud, digital twins,” says Varun Kapur, vice-president and senior managing partner for sustainable manufacturing at TCS.
Around 3TB (terabytes) of data comes from the team’s cars and trackside before, during and after the races. That’s all uploaded to the cloud to be ready for download by remote research facilities such as the simulator in Grove, Oxfordshire.
The drivers sit in this simulator to practise for upcoming races. They drive a virtual version – or digital twin – of the Jaguar I-Type 6 car, which is designed to feel just like sitting in the cockpit of the real thing, from the steering wheel and seat to the radio link with the race engineering team. The digital twin aims to replicate all of the car’s systems and behaviours as accurately as possible, from the hardware for electrical distribution to the models to simulate the physics of the car moving around the track.
“We use it between races to prepare before we come here,” says Barclay. “When we’re here, we’ll run the real cars on the track using some of the direction we’ve got from the simulator, but we’ll send that data back and we’ll tweak the simulator. So, we’re constantly working to and fro, sometimes in different time zones,” as data is sent back to the UK centre from races abroad.
“We’ll work a full day, then the simulator will run through the night. By the time we wake up, we have a lot of ideas for setup changes the following morning,” he adds. “Everything on that car model – the tyres, the car itself, the circuit, the bumps in the circuit – has to be absolutely accurate. Constantly improving the accuracy of this simulation, this digital twin, is really key for us.”
Data from race to road
Most races on the Formula E calendar are street circuits – real city roads usually filled with regular traffic rather than the permanent, purpose-built, empty racetracks of F1. So, the only way the teams can practise before fixtures is on simulators. “Every race, every track is different,” says Kapur. “Every city has its own peculiarity. We have a simulator for each track.”
The work on improving racing car performance also contributes to Jaguar’s plans for its road cars to go all electric from 2025. “Everybody’s got the same basic car, and the same amount of fuel,” says Kapur. “So then how do you get the best out of it? How can I get more miles from the same kilowatt-hour? How can I get higher speeds and the same level of resilience for the same power?”
TCS’s technology partnership with Jaguar goes beyond the racetrack and into consumer road EVs. “The reliance on efficiency in electric vehicles demands an intricate infrastructure, and digital models can help with replicating various components such as the battery, the electric motor, and other integrated electronic systems,” says Lambert. “[Jaguar Land Rover] uses these digital models throughout many parts of the business.”
Kapur adds: “Race to road, there is a direct correlation in terms of what we are doing here and how it’s going to translate back into the EVs we drive later.”
For example, improvements in torque management made on the racetrack have helped Jaguar’s latest premium all-electric car, the Jaguar I-Pace, gain 20km extra range without using more power.
Formula E has a wider advocacy role, bringing electric vehicles to city centres all over the world and reaching people who wouldn’t have driven to a circuit out of town.
“These are the most advanced, the most efficient electric cars in the world,” says Barclay. “For a 40-45-minute race, we use the equivalent of 3.8 litres of fuel.” That’s many times more fuel-efficient than F1.
“With EVs, we all talk about how fast they are. We also talk about range anxiety,” says Lambert. “We do both things in Formula-E. In qualifying, we’ve certainly sent cars out and made them perform as high power and high performance as they possibly can. Then in the race … the regulators limit how much energy we get to use, so that means the race is an efficiency, strategy, energy-management game.”
Is Formula E as exciting as F1? Its fans think so. How a racing car is propelled may not make much difference to the thrill of a race, but thanks to the IT, as well as the engineering, it makes a difference to the cars we’ll all be driving in the future.