Welcome to Zooming In: Your insider view into the technology and talent that drives us. In this episode, you’ll meet Olivier Champenois, Lead Race Engineer of the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team, who’ll explain what happens when we hit the brakes on the 99X Electric.
One of the most exciting things about Formula E – besides the adrenalin of course - is that the tech just keeps getting more amazing. And Formula E braking technology is totally unique in motorsport.
It comes down to a principle that applies even to the humblest of electric cars: Recuperation (also known as Regen). Basically, when you brake in an electric car it generates electricity, which then regenerates the battery. Fast forward to the Porsche 99X Electric: with a top speed of 280km/h, it needs some serious stopping power. But, with recuperation affecting the rear brakes, braking isn’t as simple as putting your foot down. So, Formula E cars have two sets of braking controls – a conventional foot pedal as well as a “Recup(eration) paddle” on the steering wheel.
If that sounds tricky, it is. In the early seasons of Formula E, braking produced both deceleration from the brakes themselves (like on a standard production car) and a varying amount of slowing down from regenerative braking effect (Regen) on the rear wheels. While drivers could adjust the recuperation settings from the steering wheel, the change in braking effort could still catch them out, resulting in brakes locking up or spinning.
The high-tech solution was the brake-by-wire (BBW) system. When the driver depresses the brake pedal normally, an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) balances how much braking the driver wants and what the recuperative braking effect will be. It applies enough pressure to the rear brakes to balance the two, giving even and consistent braking.
Electronics aside, the brakes are engineered for ultimate performance. The monobloc calipers are made from anodised aluminium alloy, both rigid and lightweight (1.4kg in front, under 1kg in the rear). In the heat of the race, the special carbon discs and pads have an optimal operating range of 400-800°C. The larger front brakes, which take most of the pressure during a race, also have unique cooling ducts.
Combining the most advanced mechanical engineering and computer technology might provide better control, but remember, one of the big challenges in Formula E is that the cars are standardised. And that includes the braking systems. During the race, if you remove typical Formula E strategies based on FANBOOST or the power of Attack mode, braking later than your opponent is actually the only way you can overtake a car in front. As always, when the heat is on, it comes down to the skill of the driver.
We hope you enjoyed this look into the tech that makes our world go round. Be sure to stay tuned for further episodes of Zooming In.