A game changer in motorsport

Electric mobility is at the heart of today’s environmental transition. We see this even in motorsports such as the Formula E championship, in which 100 per cent electric race cars compete on urban circuits.

Fans of Formula 1 dreamt about it, and the E-Prix realised it: a fully electric single-seater car race. The first Formula E championship took place in 2014 along a two-kilometre route in the heart of Paris. Since its launch, the new Formula E championship has since expanded to comprise 10 races, all of which take place on urban circuits mapped out in the centres of cities such as New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Rome and Riyadh.

SKF, which has long experience in developing and manufacturing parts for car racing competition (perhaps most known for its longstanding collaboration with Ferrari), supplies all the wheel bearings that equip Formula E cars with Spark Racing Technology (SRT).

For the first generation of the electric single-seater, SKF provided a steel ball bearing unit that had been tried and tested in competition. For the second generation, the company changed to a more rigid system – sets of hybrid bearings consisting of steel rings and ceramic balls. The use of ceramic balls reduced the weight of the wheel bearings by 880 grams overall.

The SRT adventure began in 2012 when Frédéric Vasseur, an engineer specialising in sports mechanics, thought it was time to break into new technology in the domain of traditional single-seater race cars by introducing electric propulsion. In 2013, the Formula E World Championship project started to form, and its promoter, Alejandro Agag, turned to SRT to take up the challenge of delivering the 40 race cars that would participate in the first E-Prix.

In Formula E, the race for innovation is concentrated on the powertrain: the battery, motor and gearbox. The challenge is to make the car run as long as possible on energy from the battery. Situated in Tigery, 30 kilometres south of Paris, SRT has more than 1,500 square metres of assembly workshops and testing cells for its batteries and electric motors. In one of its rooms, a single-seater is set up on hydraulic jacks, enabling the test driver to settle in front of a 360-degree screen and drive the car through the heart of virtual urban circuits. The computer simulates everything down to the smallest details.

In the beginning of Formula E, two cars were required to complete a 45-minute race; the driver changed cars at the halfway point to get to the finish line. This obstacle has now been overcome thanks to the introduction of a new single-seater, the Gen2. It’s a futuristic-looking Formula E car with a significantly increased top speed of 280 kilometres per hour and batteries capable of covering the total distance of an E-Prix race.

For the third generation, discussions are under way concerning different innovations: having more power to go even faster, being able to stop at the stand to recharge the battery more quickly, increase autonomy, or equip the car with four power-driven wheels.