Formula E‘s fast charging has been pushed back again and again but it finally looks like it will be introduced in the 2024 season at selected events.
The six double-headers in Diriyah, Misano, Berlin, Shanghai, Portland and London are set to feature races that have fast charging, with the other E-Prix using the normal format without the pit stop to recharge your car.
Without doubt, this technology is a huge positive for the entire motorsport industry but there are some question marks about how the impact it will have on the racing, at least that has been the feeling in the build-up to the new season.
Road relevancy is a massive plus
Something that’s been part of motorsport forever is the latest technology gets put into racing cars and is then disrupted into the vehicles you drive on the road every day.
Formula 1 paved the way with hybrid technology in 2014 and Formula E showed off electrical power in the same year – both sources of energy have become common nearly 10 years later.
Nissan‘s Oliver Rowland is a big believer in electric cars, having not always been in support of the industry until he began racing full-time in Formula E in the 2018/19 season.
“I think fast charging is a really important thing in Formula E,” Rowland exclusively told Total-Motorsport.com. “Electric cars have taken such a big step forward on the road and in racing terms, with how the performance of the car is increasing significantly. But at some point it starts to slow down.
“I have an electric car on the road. I have issues charging it at points and I understand the challenges. For sure we should be pushing the development and technology on that side.
“The market also can be big in terms of investment and things like that. I absolutely think it’s something that we should be pushing. I think it’s all positive.”
There has been a steady growth in new electric road cars sales with just 600 in 2010 across Europe and 1.74 million in 2021. The sales have continued to grow globally although one sticking point has been the lack of charging points.
Antonio Felix da Costa agrees with Rowland and is keen for Formula E to show off their latest innovation which can be used on the road.
“What I’m happy about is that being an electric car enthusiast, driving one myself on the road, I think for the for world and for the electric mobility world, with Formula E we have been able to show people that electric cars are fast, cool, sexy,” explained Da Costa. “They are efficient, nice to drive.
“Now I think it’s still a big stigma to people that are thinking about buying their first electric car, like, how long does it take to charge, where am I going to charge it?
“If we’re able as Formula E to show people where the technology is and how quickly you can charge, that it’s not a hassle anymore. So, if we can play a part on that and make more people drive electric cars on a day to day then I’m happy about it.”
How will fast charging work in Formula E?
Fast charging will see the cars come in for a pit stop to recharge their car for a certain amount of time. This would be mandatory for each driver.
The specific fast charging regulations are still not set and Total-Motorsport.com has learned discussions are still ongoing about the specific window of when to pit and what happens if there is a safety car of full course yellow.
On the pit window, it’s possible the drivers will have to pit when they have between 65 and 35 percent of their usable energy left. This would be a big pit window, so there could be a 10-lap difference between pit stops – depending on the track length.
This means there could be multiple groups of cars on different parts of the track, which will create another unusual style of racing.
“We saw two different types of racing last year,” said Da Costa. We saw at places like Rome, Jakarta, Monaco where being in the lead or track position was important.
“Then we saw Berlin, Portland, San Paolo where it’s a bit of a chess game at high speed. I think fast charging will be used differently in terms of strategy in those two different types of races. It’s hard for me to tell you as a driver what it will bring dynamically to the race.”
What if there is a safety car?
This is a big sticking point because if you are allowed to make your fast charging pit stop during a safety car or full course yellow, you will gain a huge amount of time. It will work the same as F1 when your pit stop time loss is nearly halved.
Alternatively, not allowing a pit stop if a safety car or full course yellow is called means anyone who hasn’t pitted will be massively compromised.
The field would bunch and they would still need to make their fast charge pit stop under green flag conditions, so when they do pit, they will come out far behind those who have already pitted.
“I can also see some struggles coming with it,” commented Pascal Wehrlein. “It could be unfair for a group of drivers having done the pitstop or not having done the pit stop yet.
“For example, in the case of full course yellow or safety car, that the group which was lucky with the strategy wins the race, instead of the group which had a strong race.
“I guess we learn by experiencing it and hopefully then also adjust and improve stuff what we have learned.”
Defending world champion Jake Dennis echoed Wehrlein‘s thoughts, suggesting the slower cars will take a gamble if you are allowed to pit during a safety car or full course yellow.
“You will probably have the likes of Nio and Mahindra probably taking that risk and ging longer and just praying for a safety car, then probably finish on the podium,” said Dennis. “Pros and cons. It happens in F1 and F2. There’s nothing you can do about it.
“But it’s just a bit annoying that you won’t really know where you’re at until the window is closed. Overall, my general view on it is that it should bring some positive racing.”
Is fast charging ready for Formula E?
The sporting element is not the only issue going into the new season because during pre-season testing in Valencia, fast charging was not working as intended for all the teams who trialled it.
In mid-November, Mahindra, DS Penske, Porsche, Nissan and Jaguar all took part in a private test in Mallorca where fast charging was tested yet again.
Fast charging is set to be introduced at the end of January in the Diriyah double-header but there’s no doubt it cannot be implemented if it’s not working properly, which Dennis alludes to.
“I’m excited for it if we can get it up and running consistently and everything’s working correctly,” continued Dennis.
“You don’t want to be entering the pit lane and hoping that it works. It needs to work fundamentally. If it gets to that stage then I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Formula E 2024 driver line-up
|Antonio Felix da Costa
|Sergio Sette Camara
|Nyck de Vries
|Lucas di Grassi