James Allen on EV: Could Ecclestone get behind separate EV race series to keep electric out of F1?

F1 rights holder Bernie Ecclestone hates the idea of Formula One going electric - would he support a separate pure-electric series on the F1 race card?

By James Allen on September 1, 2011 2:01 PM

The concept of top-level pure-electric racing has gained even more momentum as French aerodynamicist Jean Claude Migeot revealed his vision for the FIA’s Formula E championship, which kicks off in 2013.

The championship is currently undergoing a tender process - even Toyota, known to be keenly interested in Formula E, has thrown down the gauntlet by setting an EV lap record around the infamous Nurburgring Nordschliefe road circuit.

Migeot, who runs the Fondtech wind tunnel business in Italy, believes that the FIA series should be based on a 20 minute sprint race format, featuring low drag four-wheel-drive single-seaters. The battery would be limited to 300kg, with a minimum vehicle weight of 750kg. The maximum electrical power would be 200kW. This would give performance of 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 160mph. The range of the vehicle would be about 30 miles.

"A little reasoning is enough to conclude that any thought of an electric Formula 1 car is currently just unachievable," says Fondtech head of engineering Luca Gaspirini. "Instead, Formula 3 level means delivering exciting performance in terms of straight-line and cornering speed for an acceptably long time, thus resulting in truly entertaining races. While all this might not be achieved from the very beginning it is within reach."

The four-wheel-drive concept is eye catching; Migeot's rationale is that 4WD will provide better energy regeneration under braking, increasing range. It will also offer more control over traction and the electrical contribution to braking, making for a more efficient vehicle. This, he feels, will be a key development area for road car EV technology in future.

Indeed, there is a big push from the EU and from Jean Todt's FIA for the electric racing series to be a mobile workshop to push forward the development of EV technology for the motor industry, in particular addressing the issue of increasing the range of EVs to something a motorist would feel comfortable with.

Another frequently repeated Ecclestone complaint is that an electric racing car won’t sound as exciting as a petrol-powered equivalent. Migeot, however, says that the "sound issue" isn’t an issue at all. "I think people will realise there is a misconception when it comes to an electrically produced sound, " he says. "Yes, you lose the pulse-generated noise of an internal combustion engine but it is a different kind of sound [produced by an electric engine at high speed] that is more like that of a jet engine.” Which hardly sounds dull, does it?

Then there remains the question of how the FIA's Formula E series should be run; should it be a single make series, with one organisation, such as Fondtech, supplying the cars, or should it be an open championship with manufacturers and tech companies competing against each other to win a tech war?

"The long-term solution looks clear: set free the best engineers’ creativity because time is running out," says Migeot. "Formula E should be an open formula because it is the start of a new era and not a market product. I think the FIA wants to be pragmatic and explore any other options on the table.

"Todt is keen to push the EV agenda and it will be interesting to see whether this series gets a showcase on the race card at F1 events. This will require the support of commercial rights holders Bernie Ecclestone and CVC.

This is when it gets really interesting. With Ecclestone being so dead set against anything electric in Formula One, could this be his chance to make sure that EV racing is contained in a separate series?

So with a great deal of irony, Bernie Ecclestone could be the best thing that’s happened to the fortunes of Formula E.