Whilst at the Paris ePrix last month, I was given a very warm welcome into the garage of Faraday Future Dragon Racing to talk about some of the technical aspects of their car.
The American team was one of the original entrants into the first series of the FIA Formula E championship. In 2016 Dragon Racing joined in partnership with the game-changing tech start-up Faraday Future, and began manufacturing their own drivetrain.
Drivers Jérôme D’Ambrosio and Loïc Duval have both been with the team since the inaugural series of the championship. D’Ambrosio has taken two race wins for the team; 2015 in Berlin and 2016 in Mexico. He was also the only driver to finish every single race in the first season- a fact that I’m sure was highly appreciated by his race engineers.
On site at the Paris ePrix, I managed to speak with Nate Schroeder, Head of Motorsports and Special Programs at Faraday Future. Not only does Nate have an excellent job title and a vast amount of technical knowledge, but he is also very involved with Formula SAE over in the US and therefore he also caught me up to speed on some interesting developments he is seeing in the world of student motorsport there.
Nate started by telling me a little bit about electric racing in general from an engineering perspective, compared to other motorsport disciplines, before answering a few more specific technical questions.
“There are a lot of parallels here compared to other forms of motorsport, such as Formula 1 or WEC. There is a very strong emphasis on efficiency and where that is important in other forms of motorsport too, we are very sensitive to that and eeking out that level of efficiency we need in Formula E involves a very aggressive systems engineering approach as it relates to your software development. I think that is one of the lenses that you look through a bit differently in relation to Formula E compared to other forms of motorsport.”
Q: How are the seats manufactured and what are the tools/processes used for creating seats?
I think the manufacturing of the seats here is the same process you have seen for a long time in all forms of motorsport.
You start with a mold process for each individual driver and then it is essentially a carbon seat that is “foamed-up” to that specific driver’s specifications.
Q: How is the battery cooled and is there anything you would do differently if it was not a spec part?
It is cooled via a traditional liquid-cooled system, where they are basically trying to get the heat out of each individual cell. Essentially there is a mechanism of conducting that heat out and getting it in to the heat exchanger and keeping the battery cool.
I think if we were starting from a clean sheet of paper there are a number of interesting strategies you could take on board. Cooling a cell depends of the type of cell; pouch cells or cylindrical cells. The cooling methods of the different cell types are similar, but because you have different geometries, there are different approaches you could take towards cooling them. In terms of traditional methods, you would be wicking heat out of the cell, but there are also more aggressive methods where you would be effectively flooding the cell and this is when you have a dielectric fluid that you then do full immersion.
So I think the answer for us is that we haven’t looked at it yet from a clean sheet of paper because we will be under contract to use the Formula E battery through season 5 and 6 now, so to be honest it hasn’t been on my mind.
It’s really a balance and you need to take a whole systems approach of looking at the aero you have available to cool a battery. Calculate from size, weight. and power, the minimum amount of energy that I need. Subsequently in a Formula car, I need to make that battery pack structural, because that becomes part of the chassis. So balancing all of those things is what will get you to your end game.
This is a long answer, but batteries are a huge topic!
Q: What are the typical sensors you use to analyse the dynamics of the car? Is there is a sensor that is perhaps not obvious but is particularly helpful?
In Formula E it is very similar to some of the junior series where you have wheel speed sensors, temperature sensors throughout the car, G-sensors on the car, position sensors on each of the 4 suspension corners (in order to see the behaviour going on there) etc.
I would say it is a pretty standard sweep and certainly on the unique parts of the powertrain you have the same sensors found on any electric car you are measuring, for example battery cell temperatures. The unique bits are only associated with the electric powertrain in terms of sensors.
Q: How is the energy managed over the race distance?
There is definitely a lift and coast strategy that every team here on the grid deploys. That is part of a whole simulation process, in which we do a full simulation of the race track in order to determine the best parts to conserve energy. It is typically a binary process as opposed to a gradient process.
Q: What are you looking for when recruiting new team members?
The type of talent we look for here at FFDR is typically someone with a broad view. You might be strong in a particular area but it is important that you are not blind to other areas as you may be requied to jump in and help out on another part of the car. And this is great, because when you do that, you grow yourself as an engineer.
This advice from Nate is solid and applies to student motorsport as well. One piece of advice I have for all students participating in university teams is to take every opportunity within the experience that you can. Don’t pass up on the opportunity to help a colleague- and learn something- on a part of the project that you may not normally be involved with. The more you put in to something, the more you will get out of it.
Faraday Future Dragon Racing are an approachable, friendly team with a great attitude and great livery (!). I am looking forward to following them in the series over the next few years and hopefully I can get stateside to visit (with an electric car) at some point. I wish them a really successful next two races in Berlin for the double-header this weekend.
Thanks to Nate Schroeder and the team at Faraday Future Dragon Racing