The Automobil-Verkehrs-und Übungsstraße (AVUS), Germany’s original “automobile training and racing road,” strove to be the “world’s fastest race track” and featured an incredibly steep banked curve: 43 degrees, to be precise, almost four times the slope of the curves at Indianapolis. Since the curve was built without guardrails, cars risked flying off it like a ramp, causing race fans to give it the nickname “the Wall of Death.”
The Formula E Berlin track that DS Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird will drive May 21 crisscrosses the city center, offering a lot more turns than the oval-shaped AVUS did. Unlike the Wall of Death, it isn’t mortally dangerous—but it will be challenging, says Bird. “In Berlin, I’m looking forward to the schnitzel, and that’s pretty much it,” he jokes.
Last year’s Berlin race across the Tempelhof airfield was daunting, says Bird, and this year’s course won’t be much easier. “There’s some slow speed corners in there, and there are some long straights,” he says. “Whether it will suit our car or not, I don’t know.”
That’s because the DS Virgin Racing drivers (and their competition) haven’t yet had a chance to drive this new Berlin course, depriving the team of the historical data that could help predict how their cars might behave. The team relies on IT Partner Hewlett Packard Enterprise to gather in-race data and leverage it in algorithms that calculate range and battery life, so race-day information is key to predicting the energy cost of a driver’s race strategy. An overly aggressive approach could cause the car’s 200kw motor to run out of power before the end of the race.
However, in a situation like the Berlin race, where in-race data is not available, Hewlett Packard Enterprise equips the team with data to build simulations of the track, but for DS Virgin Racing team CTO Sylvain Filippi, the question is always: what driving experience factors can’t be captured in the data? “In Berlin, we don’t know exactly what the surface is going to be like,” Filippi says. “Plus you have a lot of hairpin turns, which makes the setup of the car quite challenging.”
For the DS Virgin Racing team, the lack of roadway data matters not just to the setup of the vehicle, but also to the drivers’ practice regimen. The models prepared by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the team engineers are the basis for simulators with which Bird and his teammate Jean-Éric Vergne can drive the virtual course in the run-up to the race.
Unfortunately, consumer electric cars are almost as unfamiliar with Berlin streets as Formula E cars. German drivers seem committed to diesel and gasoline engines, and sales of electric cars in the country have been slow. With projections that German car-buyers will fall short of the government’s goal of getting one million battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2020, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has proposed committing €2 billion to incentivizing electric car buying.
One of the biggest motivators for the electric car turnover is the safety afforded by automation. Self-driving cars with computerized control systems could collect trillions of data points along German Autobahns, helping simulate safe-but-fun driving speeds for a driver’s particular car model, road conditions, and driving destination.
“We’re going to get to a stage where we can probably overlay a ghost car to a real car,” says Bird, allowing you to drive alongside a simulation of a vehicle like yours. Normal highway drivers may someday benefit from similar tech, helping them stay on pace by following a caravan with a virtual car.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise sees itself as playing a role in these advancements. Mike McGough, a HPE engineer embedded with the DS Virgin Racing team, predicts that the time might soon come where “we will see… HPE technology behind those standard cars that you and I drive… the possibilities are endless for the future.”
But for now, the Berlin race awaits. And while, luckily, this course doesn’t have a “Wall of Death” to contend with, there will be plenty of excitement as the cars race through a vibrant neighborhood, the next torch carriers in this city’s formidable racing tradition.
For more information on how Hewlett Packard Enterprise is powering DS Virgin Racing, click here.
This article was produced on behalf of Hewlett Packard Enterprise by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.