Formulation E world champion reveals how racing automobiles speed up electrical expertise

António Félix da Costa is an extremely fast worker. The motorsport star has barely caught his breath since racing to sixth place at 250 km/h in a race in Sao Paulo, but he's already back behind the wheel on a different continent.

The setting for his latest ride is the Stuttgart Automobile Center, home of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. But you'll never experience these wheels spinning – because they're permanently parked.

The device is a stationary cockpit surrounded by screens that recreates the driving of da Costa's Porsche race car. This is a crucial test of reality.

“When we arrived at the Sao Paulo circuit, the starting setup and settings were already defined here in the simulator,” da Costa tells TNW. “We believe the simulator is as close to the real car as possible.”

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It is one of many technologies transforming Formula E – the electric cousin of petrol-powered Formula 1 TNW conference On June 14th, da Costa will reveal the secrets of the digital transformation of sport. Before the lecture, he gave us an insight into the progress.

Da Casta has steered this progress from the beginning. In 2013, the young Portuguese was on his way to making his Formula 1 debut until his team made it a controversial decision Hire another driver. But as that car door closed, another one opened.

Formula E was about to launch the first-ever sport with net zero certification. And one of the teams wanted to make da Costa their star driver.

The rise of Formula E

Back then the cars were dubious attractions. Two of these were needed to complete a single race. In addition, they only offered a fraction of the performance of Formula 1.

“I thought I would drive with 1,000 horsepower,” remembers da Costa. “Then I drive a race with less than 200 hp – and we have to swap cars in the middle of the race to finish the race because the batteries don’t have enough range.”

Despite the initial difficulties, da Costa recognized the potential. Electric vehicles (EVs) were entering the mainstream and Formula E had the chance to accelerate their progress.

“I have to keep thinking about the brain of the car.

Da Costa rolled the dice and soon cashed in money. The 32-year-old won a world championship in 2020 and has competed in every season of the sport. This has given him unique experience with the technology-changing electric vehicles.

Under the hood

Today's Formula E teams only use a car that has four times the power of the original racing cars. In a time of slowed development in Formula 1, the progress of electric racing has only accelerated.

The constant search for more speed often leads to software. Drivers regularly receive digital upgrades for every aspect of their car, from the gearshift and radio to power and torque.

With potential wins at every turn, the team welcomes experimentation. When new ideas emerge, they are quickly tested in the simulator.

“Even the crazier ideas can end up in the racing car the next day,” says da Costa.

Black and white photo of Formula E driver António Félix da Costa, who is driving the development of electric vehicles (EVs).Da Costa is the vanguard of the EV revolution. Photo credit: PorscheBlack and white photo of Formula E driver António Félix da Costa, who is driving the development of electric vehicles (EVs).

A great opportunity to speed up lies in slowing down. On each route, the software can define each curve individually and coordinate the front and rear brakes accordingly.

But none of the settings are set in stone. As the track warms up, the tires wear out or rain falls on the asphalt, the software adjusts the vehicle's balance to the changing conditions.

“Even when I'm racing in the car with other drivers at 300 kilometers per hour, I constantly have to think about the software and how I can use the brain of the car to be faster on the lap in the race,” as Costa says.

From Formula E to the road

Formula E is not just about winning races. Car manufacturers also use the tracks to develop technologies for the road. French brand DS Automobiles likened the sport to an “open-air laboratory.”

This unique testing facility has also attracted companies such as BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Nissan.

“Brands from all parts of the world raced in Formula E,” says da Costa. “And when you compete, you’re forced to evolve with a much steeper learning curve.”

These developments often occur in commercial electric vehicles. Jaguar, for example, adapted its racing car efficiency software to increase the range of its I-Pace SUV by 10%. Nissan, in turn, used on-track analysis to triple the battery capacity of the all-electric Leaf.

“It is the most efficient car in the world.

The latest Formula E cars promise new levels of efficiency. Over 40% of the energy they use during a race comes from regenerative braking.

“Every time we brake, we give energy back to the car,” says da Costa.

The new models also offer 600kW of fast charging capacity – almost twice as much as the world's most advanced commercial chargers. It is also the fastest Formula E car to date with the most sustainable batteries. All of these upgrades could also impact private electric vehicles.

Accelerating the electric transition

Electric vehicles provide real excitement on the racetrack. With four winners in the first four races of this season, the series is proving to be more competitive than Formula 1. It also offers more action: there were 116 overtaking maneuvers at last year's Monaco e-Prix, compared to just 22 at the Monaco GP.

However, they cannot catch up with the Formula 1 cars because of their speed. But they are miles ahead by one measure.

“Our racing car is the most efficient car in the world,” says da Costa. He adds that his passion for Formula 1 remains intact, but he is optimistic about the electric dynamics.

“I think anyone born today will never know what it's like to drive a gasoline engine,” he says. “So this transition will happen in a very natural way.”

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