On 14 January the 2023 ABB FIA Formula E Championship gets off to a flying start. And, with under three months to go, the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team is ramping up preparations, relying heavily on the simulator to get drivers, engineers and cars race-ready.
The excitement of Season 8 may be behind us now, but there’s no time to relax. At Weissach HQ the Team is already in top gear. While more testing is scheduled in Valencia during December, the main focus is on simulator training.
Practicing in Virtual Reality gives the team real-life feedback, with the simulator providing the ultimate training machine. The cockpit is a full-scale replica of a real 99X Electric Gen3 racecar, with fully functional equipment. This is mounted on a moving platform that mimics acceleration response and physical rotation, for example, when cornering.
Bearing in mind that all our drivers will be in brand-new Gen3 cars for Season 9, it’s mission-critical to acclimatise them. The new cars are more powerful, and are fitted with different tyres, all of which affects braking, cornering and traction. The addition of a front powertrain also allows more efficient energy recuperation, which again affects braking. Drivers must be able to apply their finely honed racing instincts to make split-second decisions and act without hesitation: man and machine must become one. And that takes time. A typical day last 10 hours, with 7-8 hours of pure racing.
Getting to know your car is the first step. But where the simulator really shines is, in simulating actual tracks and driving conditions. It’s essential: most Formula E circuits aren’t permanent fixtures. But any track can be simulated, based on previous layouts. Closer to race day, these can be fine-tuned for 100% accuracy based on scanning track models or even track walk. Typically, we can fit in three to four days of preparation per event in the simulator, with both drivers getting the full experience, including simulations of Free Practise, Qualifying and full Race events. They will also be exposed to unexpected incidents, such as Safety Car or red flag interruptions, or even sudden changes in the weather.
All the while, the simulator is linked to a control room where the race and performance engineers work with the data in real time. By simulating different tracks and driving conditions they can fine-tune software to maximise energy efficiency and performance. They can also define setup parameters for the cars themselves, such as suspension and steering response.
Throughout the training, the drivers, Race Engineers and Performance Engineers are in constant communication - during the driving, as well as taking regular breaks to compare notes, recalculate and recalibrate. They may also revisit data from previous outings or even recreate conditions to push the limits of performance. Just like the incredible machines they race, the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team functions like a set of finely coordinated precision components. Locked into training mode with the simulator, the team are putting in all the effort to make Season 9 one to remember.