The freeing up of regulations to permit new powertrains has led to some rather ingenious thinking when it comes to the steering wheels in season two Formula E cars. Although all teams have the same unit, they can now be configured individually to meet strategy, software and driver needs.
Here, Mahindra Racing shows us the cockpit controls available to Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna with the M2Electro steering wheel.
The steering wheel itself is supplied by Spark along with the chassis. It is the same unit as seen in season one. The display graphics and functions of buttons and paddles have been changed however, with Mahindra Racing’s engineering team having done a fair bit of tinkering.
- Display. There are two main displays for the driver to toggle between on track. The first is focused on energy calculations and consumption, along with “state of health” indicators such as voltage, gearbox fluid pressure and powertrain temperature. The second display is more conventional, with current lap time, best lap time and the difference between them. These calculations can be made in real time per sector, so the driver can tell in qualifying whether he’s faster or slower than a previous sector and act accordingly. Further technical displays can be accessed in the garage by the pit crew, yielding more detailed information about the condition of the car.
- Fanboost / P function paddle. Used in conjunction with the P rotary switch (see 10).
- Gear upshift paddle. Only four gears to worry about in season two for Mahindra, rather than the five of last year. Fewer gear shifts means more time with hands on the wheel and less time and energy lost as the gears change.
- Carbon fibre chassis. Light, stiff and hardwearing. More important to the results than in most single-seater races, given the car swaps halfway through – if the steering wheel doesn’t come off cleanly on one car or go on properly in the next, that’s a whole lot of time lost in a pit stop.
- Regen functions paddle. Used in conjunction with the P and R rotary dials (see 10 and 14).
- Gear downshift paddle. What goes up, must come down. Mahindra drivers will be hoping to use this paddle to line up the perfect outbraking manoeuvres.
- Alcantara grips. To help drivers hold on, particularly when it gets wet – rain wasn’t an issue at any season one race, so we must be overdue some in season two.
- M rotary switch. A strategy dial that does things such as data marking, energy calculations and other things that Mahindra are keeping under wraps. Probably not banana skins, oil slicks or missiles, however. Actually, managing energy is a big deal because telemetry still isn’t permitted, which means the team is effectively blind to how the driver is faring and energy calculations have to be adjusted manually. The drivers are effectively working as engineers in the cockpit as well as planning their next overtake and staying away from the walls. Intense.
- Radio button. Does what it says on the tin. Like a walkie talkie, the driver has to keep the button depressed when speaking.
- P rotary switch. One of Mahindra’s secret weapons, this is essentially the torque map switch familiar from season one but with a whole new array of settings that can be deployed at various stages over the day, including at launch, during the different track sessions, changing the function of the P paddle or for driving particularly slowly (under safety car periods., for example).
- Display button. Cycles through screens on the main display, just as you’d do in a normal road car.
- M confirmation / reverse. Used to confirm a selected function or, when the car is stationary and brake depressed, to engage reverse. Of course, in an electric car there is no separate reverse gear – the motor simply runs in the opposite direction through the same transmission.
- Neutral. Takes the gearbox out of gear. Very useful after spins and crashes but also for the technical crew.
- R rotary switch. Another switch relating to lots of secret stuff, this dial cycles through regen mapping. Mahindra has developed different maps suitable for different types of corners. Regen is linked to torque maps and paddle settings: the team has managed to get 36 combinations out of this one switch, which would have required juggling all three dials in season one trim. The best combinations for each track will be selected during practice sessions.
- Pit lane limiter. Press to activate, press again to deactivate.
- Shift lights. Because there’s no screaming V8 behind the driver’s head, it can be hard to pinpoint by sound alone exactly when to change gear. These lights help.