Alexander Sims on street circuits, throttle pedals and zero emissions racing

McLaren racing driver Alexander Sims talks to Current E about his excitement at the forthcoming Formula E series and the challenges it will present to drivers in particular.   

“Formula E series will be a complete break from the conventional perception of motor racing. I’m excited by electric cars, which I believe will solve major problems for society in the coming years. There’s potential for them to provide 100% emission free transport if charged from renewable sources.

At present there are boundaries that need to be addressed before electric cars appeal to everybody and I can see Formula E helping that. The series can give the industry not only a lot of relevant technology to put in the cars but also to raise awareness so that more people realise that there are fully electric cars on the market, and that they can be cool, sexy and insanely fast. I’ve got some experience of that: I drive a Tesla Roadster.

In the first season of Formula E, all teams will use the same car. Spec cars are good for close racing, but ultimately the series needs to be manufacturer based. An open formula will mean that the tech will develop a hell of a lot quicker than a series with a spec car, where engineers are limited with what they can change. Freedom to innovate is needed for the series to grow and mature. Doing so will drive up costs inevitably but there are ways to manage that so it doesn’t spiral out of control. If manufacturers get involved, running works teams, then Formula E will be able to stand alone.

Small private teams are great and will certainly provide good ideas but in terms of getting the technology onto road cars within a few years of it being developed, it needs direct manufacturer input.

The new Spark-Renault racing car will be quite different at first for drivers, but there will be ways to make it very driveable despite the huge torque from zero revs. Changing the throttle pedal maps so that the initial movement hasn’t got such an initial punch may make it similar to other race cars, help balance the cars through corners and help conserve the tyres.

The idea of using one all-purpose tyre is a bit of an unknown to me. In my experience, nothing is better than a slick tyre for grip, and on street tracks traction will be a big issue. I don’t know what sort of performance a multi-use grooved tyre can give. Looking at today’s tyre technology, you’d be forgiven for thinking such a tyre would not be great in either the wet or the dry.

The lack of downforce is a must to reduce drag, otherwise energy consumption will be sky high. This will make it fun though, as cars should be able to follow fairly closely without being affected by the ‘wake’ of the car in front, which is an issue you see in F1. Corner speeds will be low but that’s true of most street tracks, and on such circuits the corner speed is not what the attraction is – it’s all about the relative speed when you’re just centimetres from the barriers.

The car swaps that Formula E will employ when batteries run out could be quite fun but could also make a mockery of it all. While I personally think it will be pretty cool to stop and run to another car, I know a lot of people who think it is a terrible idea. We’ll have to wait and see whether the car changes add another dimension to the race or whether it becomes a joke.

Street circuits are awesome. The track layouts have the potential to make Formula E incredible – if organisers spend a lot of time and effort on designing challenging, quirky tracks. The beauty of street racing is that it is never ideal. You have to make compromises as a driver and as a team, which should mean exciting racing.

The inability to test at each track over several days will certainly make Formula E a challenge for the whole team. Inevitably, it will throw a lot of focus onto drivers. Only the best will succeed, as there will be no time to chip away at lap times: a “get in and get on with it” attitude will be needed. I hope the calibre of drivers will be very high, which will help with media exposure the series gets as well as improving the racing.

I also hope that the locations are easily accessible and well advertised in the months leading up to races.  Attracting lots of interested people will be key in the first couple of years to get it up and running.”

Alexander Sims started karting at 10 years old and went on to win both British and international championships. At 19 he moved on to single seaters in Formula Renault, the F3 Euro series and GP3 before winning the McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year in 2008 and a prestigious test in the Surrey-based racing team’s 2008 title-winning F1 car. That sparked a relationship that has culminated in Alexander’s current seat in GT cars as a factory McLaren driver. Find out more about Alexander here.

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