The second season of Formula E kicks off this weekend in Beijing, and a raft of new powertrains is sure to reshape the competitive order. Sam Smith is your guide to all the runners and riders in 2015/16...
Drivers: Nelson Piquet Jr, Oliver Turvey
After taking Nelson Piquet Jr to the inaugural Formula E title, NEXTEV TCR have gone for perhaps the most radical solution in season two, running a dual-motor, single-gear set-up.
The team has partnered with Rational Motion GmbH, a company headed by former Toyota employees Robert Marusic and Benoit Vareille, and based within TMG workspace at Cologne.
Solutions include an ‘in-series’ layout, utilising two different spec motors which use a mechanism linked to a mechanical differential. This has been created and developed by another partner – American agricultural technology equipment giant Omnigear.
The gearbox housing itself is believed to be tiny, sitting between one of the motors and the wheel itself to manage the large levels of torque.
So far, the NEXTEV car has been beset by reliability problems thought to have centred around cooling, generating power to the wheels effectively and the entire structure initially being too flexible. Racecar Engineering can reveal that there was some conflict within the team about whether or not the powertrain needed to be a structural unit.
However, the team seemed to make a breakthrough in the final test and should make rapid progress. Factory McLaren driver Oliver Turvey will join Piquet in the team after an impressive debut at the final meeting in London last season.
Motorsport.com opinion – Retaining the drivers’ title will be a tall order. 4/10
ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
Drivers: Lucas di Grassi, Daniel Abt
One of two teams that has shown the most pace and promise in testing is Abt Schaeffler Audi Sport, re-named in deference to Schaeffler, who have provided technical development and integration of the motor for season two.
The new Abt-Schaeffler FE01 features a single motor and three gears for Formula E driver pioneer and original tester Lucas di Grassi, and his team mate Daniel Abt, to utilise for season two.
“Our calculations indicated that three gears was the best solution, as you have so many complex things to consider with the torque management,” Hans-Jurgen Abt told Motorsport.com.
“From what we know, running just one gear is not the way to go because you have one central differential and this influences the whole package. With the speed and torque behaviour, our calculations we felt three was the optimum for torque and efficiency during a race.
“The thermal behaviour is important too and we have worked closely with Schaeffler on this for the last year or so.”
Motorsport.com opinion – Arguably the favourites for the title. 9/10
Drivers: Sebastien Buemi, Nicolas Prost
The other contender for pre-season favourite status is the Renault e-DAMS concern, which has seen the previously obtuse Regie connection come to the fore as the French manufacturer co-ordinates the whole powertrain package.
Early indications are that the retained Sebasten Buemi and Nicolas Prost will be right in the championship hunt, with the Swiss driver particularly keen to banish the memory of his title-losing spin at Battersea in June.
Renault e-DAMS have a partnership with Zytek Automotive, who have previously worked with the French manufacturer on several electric engineering projects. Zytek has been instrumental in finding the best solution for the inverter as well as other electrical housing systems.
Despite reports to the contrary, the team will run a single motor with a two or three gear set-up, run through a new developed carbon gearbox.
“We have a lot of know-how on electrical systems from what we have done in F1, and it was my previous work over a decade to build a complete team to develop electrical technology,” said Renault’s engineering chief Vincent Gaillardot.
“How I would specify how we work with Zytek is really in co-development and we are close to each other. It is a very smart collaboration.”
Motorsport.com opinion – Likely to be among the pacesetters and taking regular wins. 9/10
Drivers: Sam Bird, Jean-Eric Vergne
The Virgin Racing team has scooped a significant partnership with PSA sub-brand DS, and will thus now be known as DS Virgin Racing. A new competitions department has been formed called DS Performance, headed by WTCC Citroen boss Yves Matton and long-time PSA strategy guru Yves Bonnefot, and the new operation was the first to track test back in May.
As with most of the teams, excavating any detail of DS Virgin tech has been especially tricky, but Racecar Engineering believes that the team is likely to be using two Yasa 400 motors. Although not confirmed, these proven motors will be a significant boost to the team in terms of reliability and torque control.
DS Virgin Racing has majored on chasing efficiency with its single gear approach and so far has been well in the ballpark with multiple season one race winner Sam Bird and new recruit Jean-Eric Vergne. Combined, the pair probably constitutes the strongest driver line-up on the grid.
Motorsport.com opinion – The most advanced powertrain in terms of running. Could be a game changer – eventually. 8/10
Drivers: Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld
The Mahindra team went through considerable change in the summer off-season – gone is Carlin Motorsport, now replaced by Campos Racing, which runs the team in conjunction with Mahindra’s own engineers.
Karun Chandhok has been traded for Nick Heidfeld, while a partnership with McLaren Electronics has seen an upgraded powertrain using a single motor and four gears (in a modified Hewland box with bolstered internals). It is a conservative evolution, but so far reliable, quick and effective on efficiency gains.
Like most of the manufacturer teams, Mahindra has put a lot of its focus on the re-packaging of the rear suspension, with pushrods and wishbones re-designed for weight-saving. Interestingly, the team has developed a ‘total loss gear shift’, which is a pneumatic system using a high pressure air reservoir to supply the air needed to change gear. This high pressure reservoir will be recharged between sessions.
As long as the dreadful luck, which followed him for most of the first campaign, dissipates, Nick Heidfeld should come away with a good haul of points this season. Bruno Senna had a strong end to season one, but had a strained relationship with the team before re-signing in August. For the popular Brazilian, early results are a must if the momentum of summer testing is to bear fruit.
Motorsport.com opinion: Solid season with occasional podiums in the offing. 7/10
Venturi and Dragon
Drivers (Venturi): Stephane Sarrazin, Jacques Villeneuve
Drivers (Dragon): Loic Duval, Jerome D'Ambrosio
The Venturi operation, which has utilised its knowledge and expertise in electric projects that have included the world land speed record-holding VBB3 concept, has the smallest motor on the grid with the ‘pocket-rocket’ VM200.
Delivering 20,000rpm peak revs and 145Nm max torque, the unit has so far, along with its tweaked McLaren inverter and four speed Hewland box, been the surprise package, with no serious reliability issues and a good initial turn of pace in the hands of season one returnee Stephane Sarrazin and high-profile new signing Jacques Villeneuve.
The 1997 F1 World Champion played himself in gently at the Donington tests and should be in the mix for regular top 10 placings.
Venturi has also supplied its systems to Dragon Racing, who had second thoughts on its original decision to stick with the season one kit. Dragon therefore has become the first genuine customer of a manufacturer in the championship and keeps an unchanged and very strong driver line-up of Jerome D’Ambrosio and Loic Duval.
Motorsport.com opinion: Dragon (8/10) to outperform their tech suppliers Venturi (7/10).
Drivers: Simona de Silvestro, Robin Frijns
Going in the opposite direction to season two manufacturers is the Andretti team, which suffered a veritable baptism of fire in testing. After developing its own powertrain in conjunction with partners TE Connectivity and Houston Mechatronics, the team ultimately decided to revert to the original Spark-Renault package.
The team, headed by former Honda tech chief Roger Griffiths, went through hell last summer with the new powertrain and also coming to terms with the death of the much-loved Justin Wilson, who drove for the team at Moscow in June.
Houston Mechatronics featured ex-NASA engineers, but the Formula E stratosphere will have to wait, as the project was put on hold after a series of fundamental issues hit their new package.
The team had also developed the Hewland gearbox and had built its own carbon ‘cassette-unit’, which will now also be shelved for a potential re-emergence once testing is allowed again at the start of 2016.
Joining Battersea returnee Simona de Silvestro is Robin Frijns, who will be a major asset to the team and could be in the running for podiums early on if he gets up to speed quickly. Andretti have a very good team, including new recruit Chris Gorne, who brings experience to add to that of team manager Rob Arnott.
Motorsport.com opinion: Expect Frijns to star in early races. 7/10
Drivers: Vitantonio Liuzzi, Salvador Duran
While Andretti’s hand was forced to twist in reverting to the season one tech, the Trulli Formula E team has stuck with their home-grown package despite only completing a handful of laps in testing.
The design and integration of the Trulli systems has been undertaken by the team in conjunction with partners Technomatic under a newly formed alliance between the two called Motomatica.
The single-motor, four-speed powertrain, which will run with Jarno Trulli’s erstwhile team, will be raced by confirmed drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Salvador Duran, who moves across from Aguri.
The stability and long-term future of the team will be under scrutiny should its current troubles continue. It will be a success if both cars start in the first three events.
Motorsport.com opinion: More off-track intrigue than on-track action likely in early events. 2/10
Drivers: Antonio Felix da Costa, Nathanael Berthon
Before Andretti made the switch back, Team Aguri was the only team to have chosen to stick with the original Spark-Renault kit. This was a joint sporting and commercial decision by the team which believes that optimising the initial technology with new software will ensure a competitive proposition for season two under the shrewd guidance of Team Principal Mark Preston.
This season the technical team will be headed by experienced former Jordan, Cosworth and Caterham engineer Gerry Hughes, who takes over from Peter McCool, who in turn has moved away from the team to concentrate on his composites company – SHAPE machining. The team also has several new commercial backers.
The re-signing of season one race winner Antonio Felix da Costa is a massive boost, while his teammate Nathanael Berthon is quicker and better than his results in GP2 suggest. The pair might just be the dark horses for early season results.
Motorsport.com opinion: Early race podiums possible. 7/10