Formula E racing: more overtaking, more sliding and more fun

Michelin all-weather tyres on 18 inch wheels feature on the new Formula E racing car

The combination of 18 inch wheels and all-weather treaded tyres is a new approach to open-wheel racing that will make Formula E racing exciting to watch and fun for the driver, said development driver Lucas di Grassi. 

Speaking at the Frankfurt motor show at a launch event for the new customer racing car, di Grassi explained what the 18 inch wheels and low profile, all-weather treaded tyres will mean for racing. He also said that he plans to race in the new championship.

“With these tyres, you can run in every condition. It’s fun,” he said. “The larger wheels are good; they give more displacement for the brakes. But it’s going to be very tricky to control the car. It doesn’t have the power or the downforce of a Formula 1 car, but there is a lot of torque. In first gear, you really have to control the wheelspin.”

The decision to abandon small diameter wheels wrapped in slick tyres with high sidewalls was mostly at the insistence of Formula E tyre supplier Michelin, who wanted something more relevant to products available to the everyday motorist. “This is the perfect compromise of relevance to the commercial product and what you need for racing,” di Grassi explained.

It is an approach many have been angling towards in Formula 1, but it requires a very different driving style. “If you have very wide, soft tyres, you brake later and accelerate more,” said di Grassi. But that uses up battery power, which is already a significant limiting factor. To prolong battery life, low rolling resistance and a slippery low drag shape are priorities in Formula E.

Di Grassi said: “This car was built to have the lowest drag of all the formulae. Limiting downforce and limiting aero development makes a lot of sense. It makes everything cheaper. The focus of this series is the drivetrain and the battery. Saving energy for different points in the race will be more important than downforce.”

The result, according to di Grassi, will be lots of sideways action: “You’ll see the car sliding more. There will be more overtaking opportunities. It’s going to be more difficult and more fun for the driver.”

Di Grassi is no stranger to the track: he has experience at the sharp end of Formula 1 and Le Mans, and he is the test driver for F1 tyre supplier Pirelli. So he knows something about racing cars and rubber. Yet, he said that he had never raced a car with treaded tyres in the dry. The new approach will be challenging for the racing drivers, regardless of their previous experience, which will help provide a level playing field on race day. “It’s very different to drive,” he explained. “You can hear the whole car moving, the tyres, the suspension. There is a different sound even though there is no engine. And there is a lot of torque. You have to really control the throttle and the power response.”

Di Grassi also revealed that Formula E pits will be devoid of F1-style tyre guns in the pit lane. Punctures, blow outs and crashes could be dealt with by simply swapping cars, he suggested: “If you have a problem with a tyre, you can just go into the pits and change car: the pit crew will fix the car while you carry on racing. In Le Mans, the time is takes to change drivers is much less than the time it takes to change tyres, so we’ll come up with a solution like that.”

A potential pitfall is number of tyres available to teams: Autosport reports that each team will have just three sets of tyres per event. That’s only one full set per car, so durability will be key.

Assuaging fears about the mooted “fanboost” system, which would allow spectators vote during the race to advantage their favourite drivers with additional energy boosts, di Grassi said: “I don’t think it will make much of a difference. We can’t mix racing result and racing performance with entertainment. If the fans are interacting with the result, that’s great.” Asked how much such a system might affect the running order in the race, he said: “Maybe a place, but not a race decision.”

It is di Grassi’s intention to race in the new championship too. “My plan is to race in the future,” he said. “I’m not the only development driver. I’ll take key decision, such as tyres. But we’re inviting every driver who joins the championship to do a lot of mileage in the car.”

This gives no competitive advantage as testing won’t be allowed at each circuit, but it will ensure the car is as race ready as it can be.  

The fully-working car is due to roll out in November; the drivetrain is currently still in testing.

Close up of the bespoke all-weather treaded tyre being used for the new Formula E racing series

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