The third season of Formula E electric racing kicks off in October. The Renault e.Dams team, which seized the championship title in both the first and second season, will be keen to complete its hat trick with another convincing win.
GreenMotor recently grabbed some time with Vincent Gaillardot, project leader at Renault e.Dams, to find out how preparations are shaping up.
GreenMotor: What did you do before Formula E?
Vincent Gaillardot: I was in Formula 1 from 1989, where I worked on engine development for quite a long time. I did work on the chassis side as well, and then electrical and electronic work for F1, so when Formula E came on the table it was natural that I joined the project.
With ERS systems in F1 now for seven years or eight years we’ve developed some expertise in those areas within Renault. It gave us experience with motor inverter control systems development and energy recovery systems.
GM: The Renault Formula E team has won the championship twice in a row. What’s your secret?
VG: Season 2 was the first to allow powertrain development and it’s no secret that powertrain efficiency is a key element. The FIA regulate the electrical power out of the battery so what you have at the wheel is a function of your efficiency. This is where we have focused all our development.
After that you have the basics of motorsport: weight, stiffness, centre of gravity and weight distribution, all of which you have to take on board when you develop your powertrain. Even though the rest of the car is mandatory and frozen, we do have powertrain freedom so there are possibilities to play with these parameters and make the car as competitive as possible. But efficiency is the key.
GM: Isn’t it a big advantage that Renault has both a Formula E team and a Formula 1 team?
VG: Obviously we do have a chance to benefit from all the tools and knowhow we have at Renault Sport, with all the various series including Formula 1. We do benefit from infrastructure and capability in terms of testing facilities. We have the capability to test components in isolation as well as the full powertrain with dynamic behaviour, so we can run a replay of a lap on a dyno and so on, or test some endurance-specific scenario.
In Formula E you don’t require a big full-time team but it does help to have access to expertise from the people we have for F1, for rallying or track racing.
GM: How have things changed in Formula E since the first season began in 2014?
VG: Season 2 was a bit unknown because the decision to open powertrain competition was taken very late in 2014. We had about six months to develop a full electrical powertrain, which knowing the lead time for electrical component development was very, very challenging. I think all the teams arrived at the Donington tests last year with very little experience.
This year we have had a much more comfortable schedule and were able to take the normal path of powertrain development and testing. When I say normal path, it is usually component validation and testing first, after that the full system, and after that going to the track. Last year it was all done a little bit at the same time.
Last year there were a lot of differences between powertrain architectures: number of gears, number of motors, size of motor, and so on. I’m sure next year there will be much less. As always in motorsport whenever there is a new rule, year after year all the teams converge to single architecture. Always the winning car is copied somehow!
You still need to optimise every area possible, and as electrical technology is still evolving quite quickly, you still need to be open-minded and look outside at what new technologies you could bring on board for some efficiency and performance.
GM: Does development work carry on between races?
VG: You can’t change any hardware during the season. The cars are homologated, including all the components, on 1 July. After that the only change the FIA will approve will be for reliability. You have to describe your reliability problem and solution, and the FIA will give its agreement, or not.
Only the software is free, so this is the area where you can play and which requires development and validation during the season – the overall control system and control of your motor.
GM: So on the hardware side, as soon as the cars start racing, you might as well start work on next year’s car?
VG: With all development programmes there are short-term, mid-term and long-term developments possible. Obviously the short term is the next season. But you can also start some evaluation of components for season 4 or season 5. The rules limit track testing but you are completely free to do any development at the factory, on any rig or simulation, which gives you the flexibility to build to whatever schedule you want.
We have a roadmap from FIA for the main elements of future seasons, to start to do simulation work, which is one thing, and obviously we also have an R&D programme in Renault producing new technology. So we’ve got two possible sources of input to start a long-term programme: the roadmap from the FIA and Renault’s technology programme.
GM: How do you think Formula E will evolve in the future?
VG: Efficiency in Formula E is good because road cars are looking for the same thing. Improving efficiency improves range, as does working on batteries. This is the other area we are working on with the FIA in the short term – by season 5 we should have a new chassis and new battery able to perform the race with a single car, to avoid the car swap we have at present.
We didn’t open the battery competition straight away, or even in season 5, because electric vehicle technology is still very expensive. We want to make sure the championship is sustainable for everybody. We don’t want to enter the battery competition too early because it could cause drama for some of the manufacturers involved today.
When the value of the championship is stable, we will open the battery competition, which will be very interesting for sure.