Smart2Zero: What makes an F1 driver decide to drive electrically now, what’s different?
Pascal Wehrlein: That was first of all my decision – 2017 was my second and last year in Formula 1. Then I drove in the DTM, but that wasn’t where I saw my future. I wanted to return to formula racing, and for me there is currently no better and more future-oriented series than Formula E. I had very good discussions with Mahindra last season and from today’s perspective I can say that was absolutely the right decision. Mahindra also allows me to complete a second programme, which I currently have with Ferrari, in Formula 1 as a simulator driver. So I have a very nice program.
Smart2Zero: What is different about the car from the point of view of the Formula 1 driver?
Wehrlein: It is simply something completely different to drive with an electric motor than with a normal combustion engine. The first impression is that there is no sound, that the gears are missing and that the power transmission is very impressive. You always have full power, you don’t have to drive in a certain gear and a certain rev range. You press the throttle and immediately the full power is there. That requires a bit of a different driving style.
Smart2Zero: Does that also require a different driving strategy?
Wehrlein: Yes. Last year you had to change cars in the middle of the race because the battery wasn’t enough for a complete race. This year the batteries are much bigger, the cars have more power and you can see the progress in technology. But you still have to use the energy sparingly – we have a pedal on the steering wheel to recuperate the energy. If you were to drive at full power all the time, you wouldn’t be able to finish the race. That makes driving very, very exciting.
Smart2Zero: Recuperation is something a combustion engine doesn’t have at all. How can you use recuperation to win?
Wehrlein: Recuperation plays a decisive role because we save 30 percent energy and can then use this energy in a different way, i.e. simply drive faster.
Smart2Zero: What technical degrees of freedom does a racing team like Mahindra have to differentiate its cars? What adjustment possibilities does Formula E offer?
Wehrlein: There are certain areas that are the same for all manufacturers and nothing can be changed. Then there are certain areas on the car, such as the engine, which each team can develop itself. In Formula 1, each team develops its own car practically completely. This is not the case in Formula E, otherwise costs would explode. In Formula E you try to keep the field close together and thus maintain a high level of competition among the drivers. You want to avoid a development race, according to the motto “who spends the most money, can develop the most and thus receives the fastest car”. That’s what you want to prevent. I think that’s a very good idea – many parts are standard parts and the same for every team. This means that the detailed work of the team and the driver can make a difference, the one with the largest budget doesn’t automatically win.
Smart2Zero: Which things can the team change?
Wehrlein: You can develop the engine yourself. It depends on who has the best efficiency. The battery, on the other hand, is a standard component, the chassis as well as the front axle. But you can change the axle geometry, you can adjust the car, the V-height, dampers, springs, stabilizers. But you can’t change the aerodynamics. Especially the aerodynamics plays a very big role, because development work in this area can become infinitely expensive. It is important that everything is standardized.
Smart2Zero: To what extent can you change the electronics and software?
Wehrlein: The design and layout of the software is up to each team, as well as the engine, so each team can strive for the best possible efficiency.
Smart2Zero: Which elements of an electric racing car have the potential to be adopted into series production?
Wehrlein: Energy management, including the engine, is critical to the efficiency of the vehicle as a whole. The optimization of these elements is the purpose of Formula E. Mahindra wants to transfer the technology that we currently have in Formula E to road vehicles one day. Vehicle manufacturers learn a lot from participating in Formula E because motorsport represents the highest level of technology and many innovations are developed here. That’s what they want to take over into series production. Particularly in the field of electric vehicles, there is still a lot to learn that will later be useful for series vehicle construction.
Smart2Zero: What would have to change for electric cars to become mainstream, what is missing today?
Wehrlein: The range plays a very important role. It’s not big enough today. The charging times are also still too long. This is where we have the main obstacles to electromobility. In cities where you don’t have long distances, electric cars are perfect. But if you want to drive from southern Germany to northern Germany, for example, you need a lot of time, because you have to reload longer in between. But I am convinced that the technology will progress very quickly in this area in particular.