What’s under the hood of Formula E racing?

13 May 2024

A Jaguar TCS Racing EV at a Formula E race in Berlin. Image: Leigh Mc Gowran/SiliconRepublic.com

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of Formula E, as teams like Jaguar TCS use digital twins to prepare their drivers, while vast amounts of racing data is used to boost EV technology.

Intense racing, crashes, powerful vehicles being pushed to their limit as they whizz past onlookers at hundreds of kilometres an hour. Probably not what one would expect from electric vehicles.

But that’s exactly what one can expect at the Formula E races, where advanced electric vehicles from top vehicle brands race each other at speeds just short of Formula 1 vehicles. The sport started in 2014 and has been gaining traction over the years as EV technology improves.

While slightly slower than Formula 1, the races can be more chaotic. At a recent race in Berlin, Nick Cassidy – a racer with the Jaguar TCS team – ended up in last place for much of the race, before shooting up the top position in the final few laps and claiming victory.

An image of Nick Cassidy in front of a white background.

Jaguar TCS Racing driver Nick Cassidy. Image: Jaguar/TCS

But the intense races are only a part of the story. Behind the scenes, companies like Jaguar – in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) – are using simulations or digital twins of both the vehicles and the race circuits, to train the racers and prepare winning strategies.

Meanwhile, the vast amount of data collected from these races are also being used to improve EV technology – and could be used to unlock more advanced forms of transport in the future.

Simulating the race

The team at Jaguar TCS use digital twins to prepare themselves for each race, which involves a simulation of both the racer’s electric vehicle and the track they will be racing on. Cassidy told SiliconRepublic.com that he usually does around “30 to 35 runs” on the simulator leading up to a race, with each run consisting of around eight to nine laps.

Every team probably uses these simulations to different degrees, but Cassidy said he does more test drives on the simulator than on the real EV, as “it’s so easy to turn around the sim compared to the race car”.

While there are some aspects that could be improved on the simulator – such as tire modelling – Cassidy spoke very positively about the capabilities of these digital twins.

“It’s funny, as race drivers you always ask for more, you always want it to be better,” Cassidy said. “But the reality is it’s very, very close. And the fact that we can take our set-up, all of our systems, settings, controls from the simulator to….. practice and be very close to the window proves that it must be close.

“Where actual real testing is still very beneficial, it’s actually mainly helping the correlation between simulator and reality. The more we can improve that correlation, the more we can be offline.”

Cassidy said there is a large amount of data that the team gets from these simulations to help their preparation and to check if they have the right set-up and strategies to win upcoming races.

“We look at the statistics of the track,” Cassidy said. “By that, it’s measuring the surface and we have that reference from the past to understand how that surface is going to affect things like the amount of tire energy that we have, how easy is it going to be to heat up the tire or overheat the tire. We look at things like the amount of combined acceleration. So those things play a big part into our initial set-up of the car.”

These simulations are proving so beneficial for creating strategies that they are an essential aspect of the Jaguar TCS team’s preparations before a race. James Barclay, the Jaguar TCS racing team principal and JLR Motorsport MD, explained that the data is vital for learning the layout of an upcoming race and that you “would stand a high likelihood of not being competitive” without it.

“It’s like being a tennis player and expecting to make the final at Wimbledon if you’ve not even practiced going into the lead up, you’ve not practiced on grass courts,” Barclay said. “You just increase the variables that can happen and preparation is reducing the variables, it’s controlling as much as you can going into competition, that’s what technology allows us to do.”

A testbed for EVs

Barclay said the team ends up with terabytes of data after racing seasons and that the team is managing to become more efficient with how that data is managed.

“We can make decisions faster with a vast amount of data,” Barclay said. “So any industry that is managing significant amounts of data, what is the decision you make with that? And what’s a great testbed for us and for TCS as a partnership is how we ensure we use digital twin technology to enable us to make better decisions faster.”

After a race, the data from the racing EV is transported through the cloud to a facility in the UK, where another team use digital twins to simulate the race and learn ways for the team to improve for the future.

But looking beyond Formula E, all of this data is also being used by Jaguar and other companies to learn more about EV technology and improve what they can offer to consumers. Dr Kay Müller-Jones heads TCS’ consulting practice in Germany and says the data from the races is being used to bring the latest technology “from the racetrack to the road”.

For example, in 2019 Jaguar created software updates based on data it acquired from Formula E races to give its EV customers a boost of up to 20km in terms of vehicle range.

“This was really a leap, really an additional value,” Müller-Jones said. “And even though this might seem small at this time, think about a small percentage of innovation here, it has an impact on hundreds or thousands, or even tens of thousands, of cars.

“Yes, these are small things. But at the end of it, the sum of all the small things have a huge impact.”

Müller-Jones said there are other examples of technology from the racetrack making its way to EVs for consumers, such as improvements to heads-up displays on EVs.

Future mobility

Müller-Jones has a doctorate in computer science and attributes this to the passion he has for this type of technology. He views digital twins as important for various sectors, as there are many examples of how this type of technology could be used to improve businesses and daily human life.

But in terms of transport, he also believes advances in digital twins – along with advances in cloud and connectivity – could unlock concepts such as automated vehicles and connected transport services.

“We call it the digital transformation of the car,” he said. “At the end of the day, what we are seeing is this heading into the direction of a software-defined car, which is connected [and] autonomous.”

One method for these digital twins to support the development of future mobility would be to expand the scale of these simulations, as they are currently focused on drivers on a racetrack.

“It’s the one driver who’s driving this specific race with a car which is very defined from a physical environment, but think about an environment which is much more complex,” Müller-Jones said. “You have competition into the race scenario. But in real life, we have people who are walking across the street, the complexity is much higher.”

Müller-Jones believes one way to improve digital twins to test for more complex driving scenarios would be to not only create a simulation of a vehicle, but to create a simulation of the driver too. This simulation would learn over time and be able to learn the various scenarios that can occur in a more complicated traffic environment – there is a recent study that looks at a similar concept.

“This is where we’re heading, it’s about introducing dynamics into the entire system…what is done today with autonomous driving, but also simulate behaviour,” he said.

Müller-Jones said AI is used constantly for the purpose of these digital twins, but noted that generative AI could play a role in the future for concepts such as scenario generation. It is likely that improvements will need to be made across various forms of technology for a future of connected, automated vehicles, such as more cloud computing power and 6G.

Müller-Jones also discussed how the concept of connected transportation could be boosted in the future if the data around various transport systems was made more accessible.

“If you think across various transportation networks, trains, flights, whatever, you can create a much more connected world,” he said. “But this is really visionary, but from a domain perspective, I think this is where we are heading.”

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic