The very first motor race, from Paris to Rouen in the summer of 1894, caused quite a stir by offering attendees a glimpse of the heralded automobile. All the cars were homemade, and entrants were classed by their power source: mostly steam, some electric, more petrol, and a few miscellaneous outliers like compressed air, hydraulic pressure, and gravity.
Those jalopies are a far cry from the FIA Formula E battery-powered racecars that will charge around Paris on the 23rd of April, as part of the 2016 FIA Formula E tour. Unlike their predecessors, these cars are built to test the limits of their efficient use of technology—not just their horsepower.
Each Formula E team is able to design and run its own powertrain, but each uses the same chassis platform as the other, which challenges teams to differentiate themselves through their technology. “If they can get the data in quickly and use it to make decisions, that’s where a real advantage can come,” says Hewlett Packard Enterprise engineer Mike McGough, who is embedded with the Hewlett Packard Enterprise-sponsored DS Virgin Racing team.
Under the surface of the DS Virgin Racing team’s operations are a variety of HPE hardware, software, and service solutions. The DS Virgin team can gather and leverage data from car sensors with HPE’s IDOL system, and HPE’s server and data storage solutions allow the team to access critical information from any of the Formula E circuit’s ten global tracks. Working in tandem, these systems gather, analyze, and store information about battery usage, lap timing, component temperature, and more, and offer team members easy access to the data that can give DS Virgin a critical edge over its competition.
“The combination of data allows the engineers to analyze everything instantly, so they can make a decision in a split second, and transfer that information to the driver so he can change his driving pattern,” says McGough.
The ability to analyze the race data as fast as possible would be particularly helpful on the Paris course, which presents unique challenges for the engineering team. The course circumnavigates the city’s famous 7th arrondissement, home to the Eiffel Tower and les Invalides—as well as dozens of cobblestone streets and hairpin turns. “The speed of Formula E cars is high enough, because the tracks are so narrow and so bumpy,” says DS Virgin Racing driver Jean-Éric Vergne, a Paris native. And, as he points out, while petrol-powered F1 cars might have more power at the moment, “with electric cars, we can race in city-centers like [Paris].” However, as technology advances increase the power of Formula E cars, they’ll continue to race in the heart of cities—offering fans and drivers the best of all worlds.
The Paris track is also a long one, says Vergne, creating plenty of opportunities to overtake. But if he expects his car to finish the race, he and his crew will need to calculate exactly when to expend the excess energy needed to gain position. “It’s teamwork with the engineers,” says Vergne. “We get their advice on strategy: how to save energy, when to use it, and where to use it.”
For now, only some data is transmitted real-time during the race, with the rest gathered and analyzed post-race. The ultimate goal, explains McGough, is to have “a wireless connection, so that when the car is in the vicinity [of the pit] we can pick the data up,” shortening the time to insight. And the sooner this information is gathered, the sooner these insights can be applied to mass-market road cars.
“This is the ultimate outcome of Formula E,” says McGough. “Whatever we develop here will end up in a road car. The possibilities are endless.”
For more information on how HPE is powering DS Virgin Racing, click here.
This article was produced on behalf of HPE by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.