Test The Limits

Aerodynamics in Formula E

By Exa

November 01 2016

Electric vehicles hogged the limelight at this year’s Paris Motor Show, and not just cars of the road-going variety. With the third season of the FIA Formula E championship commencing earlier this month, a handful of makers set up shop at the motor show to build anticipation for another thrilling – and emissions-free – race season.


After more than a decade away from race circuits, Jaguar Racing is joining the latest Formula E series, and what better way to feed the appetites of team fans than with an immersive VR cockpit experience. Visitors were treated to a multi-sensory journey through Jaguar’s racing heritage, before being challenged to compete with legendary drivers at key locations in this year’s series.


In the real world, Jaguar Racing’s new electric car, the ‘I-Type’ (‘E-Type’ was sadly already taken), can reach 0-60 mph in an impressive 2.9 seconds. It features a 200kw (270bhp) motor which delivers instant torque, and is also used to regenerate energy while braking, returning it to the battery and acting as a range extender. Surprisingly, while this new powertrain wastes much less energy than an F1 vehicle, it still requires lots of airflow to keep the batteries and electronics cool.


With industry and spectator attention naturally focused on the new electric powertrain and its unique challenges, comparatively little has been said about aerodynamic optimization in Formula E. Just like F1 vehicles, the aerodynamic optimization balances drag, cooling airflow, and downforce. Since these vehicles are heavier and less powerful than an F1 vehicle, aerodynamic drag is very important.  The bodywork and wings for all cars in the series are produced by French racing tech company, SPARK, who was established especially for Formula E. Built to withstand the sharp twists and turns of the series’ street tracks, the body shapes of these cars are designed to meet the specific aerodynamic challenges of racing in close quarters and on unpredictable surfaces.


To produce enough downforce for the required grip to maneuver with agility, the cars have three key aerodynamic elements to consider: the front wing, the rear wing, and the shaped underbody.


Although the sharp pods positioned on either side of the front wing look as though they’ve been designed for extra aero-slipperiness, they are in fact a necessity to prevent wheel contact if other cars get too close. In between these pods, however, sits the clever front wing, which can be adjusted by technicians in the pit to varying levels of downforce. At the rear of the car, the deep wing also dictates levels of downforce and ensures the car’s traction and stability when cornering.


The underbody is quite different to its counterpart in Formula One, with large tunnels that create abundant additional downforce without causing unwanted aerodynamic drag or disruption to trailing airflow. All of these measures are perfect for enhancing traction and encouraging intensive, closely bunched racing battles.

Formula E is a step in the right direction for the wider auto industry, for a number of reasons. We’re seeing the exciting possibilities of a powertrain that will likely come to dominate our experience of driving over the next 50 years, and we’re also seeing how the very best in the world adapt to its associated challenges – notably regenerative braking, specialized underbodies and challenging inner-city circuits. Just ask Jaguar Racing.