"The target is season 10," Alessandra Ciliberti, FIA Technical Manager for Formula E on mid-race fast charging

Formula E cars are in their third generation now, and they are the most innovative electric race cars around. We caught up with Alessandra Ciliberti who is the technical manager from the FIA to the Formula E World Championship
Alessandra Ciliberti, FIA Formula E Technical Manager and Gen 3 project lead
Alessandra Ciliberti, FIA Formula E Technical Manager and Gen 3 project leadFormula E

We caught up with Alessandra Ciliberti, who is FIA’s technical manager for the Formula E World Championship during the Jakarta e-Prix. We speak to her about the new Gen 3 cars for this season, the boundaries within which the teams are allowed to play, the challenges in the development process, and what the future of these high-tech electric race cars is. Catch the full interview below.

As told to Aatish Mishra

Q: What were the technical goals while shifting from Gen 2 to Gen 3?

A: So the main goal was to develop a car that is specifically adapted to the type of racing we do in Formula E. It's typically a sort of street race. We wanted this car to be agile, smaller, narrower, and essentially just nimbler when it comes to street racing conditions.

Q: What were the main challenges while adapting to street racing?

A: So the main changes include, making the cabin smaller and lighter, a lot lighter actually, we are at 854kg, including the driver. So it's quite an achievement compared to what we had in Gen 2, and then increasing the overall efficiency of the car by increasing the regen capabilities a lot compared to the previous generation.

Q: Why is it that the teams are allowed to innovate on the powertrain, but not so much on the chassis or the battery?

A: Well, unlike other championships, what we do in Formula E is supply spec parts. It's essentially the same part across all teams. And that's done in the interest of the overall costs for the competitors engaging in the championship. So, we try to keep the costs down to a minimum and allow them to spend resources only on electric relevant technologies.

Q: If they are spending resources on electric relevant technologies, why are the batteries not included?

A: It's a good question. The point is, allowing the battery to perform at the level we're doing is quite challenging, and it requires the use of bespoke technologies. So in that sense, you would open the door to a massive fight saying who has the best and the most efficient cell, which is something we don't want. Again, we want this championship to keep the costs to a reasonable level, allowing a level playing field and just having the maximum number of competitors engaged in competing on other stuff.

Q: How does it work between the teams and the development of the batteries? Do they have access to the data? Because some of these teams are manufacturers, and they do make road cars so how does that transfer of technology work into the battery front?

A: Well, the battery is a spec part. It's provided by the FIA single supplier. And obviously, there is what we call valuable technical data. So there is a continuous exchange of technical data from the FIA supplier to manufacturers who are working alongside us across various areas for the development of the car. And then the data is shared with the competitors as well, to ensure they get access to the minimum level of information about the functioning of the pack that allows them to use it on track.

Q: In terms of the tyres, you don't have traditional racing slicks, these are slightly harder compounds. Why was that done? Was that an intentional decision?

A: Yeah, it's an intentional decision because the promoter and the FIA wanted to keep road car relevancy in Formula E as one of the key pillars. Therefore having an all-weather tire is like something that you've got on your road car essentially, and just trying to showcase that a race car can perform while keeping the essence of what a road tire is.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in the development while shifting from Gen 2 to Gen 3?

A: I think everything was quite challenging because we marked quite a big change with this car. Overall, trying to reduce the weight to a minimum and then incorporating bespoke technologies. We've integrated a powertrain on the front axle which is regen only. So overall, a big technical, but very exciting challenge.

Q: Do you think having slick tires will make the car faster, and in turn the sport more entertaining? Is there a consideration? How do you balance it out?

A: Yes, of course, you'll be faster on the track. But again, Formula E is not just about lap times. Formula E is about many other things, among them is road relevancy which we want to maintain.

Q: These teams are obviously competing and so from your perspective, where have you seen them develop and try to gain an advantage over each other?

A: Obviously on their specific components, which include the rear powertrain. And then the software side, where a lot of work is done which is also manufacturer-specific and makes a big performance difference in this championship.

Q: There have been some complaints of drivers not wanting to stay in the lead, because of the drag these cars have and the guys behind actually having an advantage. Is this something that you're looking to deal with coming ahead in the next few years?

A: It's the first season where we are using these Gen 3 cars. And obviously, we are learning while we go through, in terms of what type of racing we can expect with these cars. Nothing is going to be addressed in the short term in terms of this. But definitely, we're looking at how the championship is evolving and if there's any need to adjust certain parameters to allow a different type of racing, we will do so.

Q: There was talk of mid-race fast charging. How far away are we from seeing that?

A: For the moment, the target is season 10. Because this is a new car, this season we focused on putting this car on track, and getting the best in terms of performance, and also reliability out of the car. Now the next step is looking into the potential introduction of this feature. So the target is season 10. And all stakeholders including the promoter of the Championship, the FIA, and manufacturers are looking to work together towards this goal.

Q: Looking at the far future for Formula E, in terms of the cars, what is next on the cards?

A: In terms of this car, because the lifecycle is extending over four years, the car is going to be seeing a lot of technical evolutions mid-life, including the powertrain at the front in traction. So, not used only for regen, energy while braking, but also for traction purposes, only partially but at least it allows us to showcase what capabilities we've got embarked on in this car. Then developing a new tire specification just to keep progressing in terms of performance. And then potentially, not yet confirmed, but potentially facelifting the car mid-life as well, from an aesthetic point of view, and then also trying to gain some more aero performance out.

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