One of the biggest dilemmas that engineers in motorsport face is ‘evolution or revolution?’ – and it is set to be the question that defines the second season of the FIA Formula E series.
For season one, teams were restricted to using the powertrain supplied by the championship, but they are now permitted to build their own in-house.
Eight of the ten teams have obtained manufacturer status for the second season, including Mahindra Racing. Dragon Racing are being supplied a powertrain by Venturi GP, while Team Aguri will retain the season one model.
As with any innovation in motorsport, the danger of not keeping up with the competition is that you will fall behind and struggle to keep up.
On the flip side of that though, those who get their new designs wrong may find themselves in a hole far deeper than those who stuck with what they knew. Just ask McLaren in Formula 1 this season.
So heading into season two of Formula E, there are three routes: play it safe and keep the season one powertrain; try and evolve that into your own powertrain for season two; or go all-out with a unique design.
All three routes are being taken by the teams on the Formula E grid, as shown during testing at Donington Park earlier this week. For Mahindra, run by team principal Dilbagh Gill, it is very much the middle ground.
“Putting our thoughts through the powertrain, we took a view for season two, with the limitations on battery power and stuff like that, we don’t really want to go out and go and do something really crazy,” Gill told MotorSportsTalk
“That’s what we’re going to save for season three. Season two is more of, for want of a better word, an evolution for us.”
Given that there are still caps in place on the power that can be used by the cars for season two, it appears that the gains that can be found are not so great to justify a massive overhaul. It is for this reason that Team Aguri has stuck with the season one powertrain.
However, as Gill explained, Mahindra were already feeling the benefits of working something up in-house.
“I think we’ve been able to evolve quite a bit because, for example on the motor, we’ve been able to get another 20% in terms of torque,” he said.
“Overall efficiency of the system has gone up around 2.5%, which is pretty good for what we anticipate.
“The difference we can gain in this championship compared to others… It’s not like a horsepower championship. Because there as you develop, you can get incremental horsepower to use.
“Here we are still capped in the amount of power we are using, whether it’s 200kw for a qualifying or 150kw for a race. So that sort of puts sort of a cap on some of the efficiency that we are bringing in.
“So working within those power cap limits, I really don’t see that there should be too much of a difference coming in. There will be a difference, but you’re not going to start seeing the grid spread that much.
“It’s going to be more a question of reliability, optimisation, strategy and stuff like that which is going to come.”
But reliability is already proving to be a sticking point for some. Mahindra has enjoyed a highly successful testing programme so far, using all 15 of its private days before heading to Donington Park earlier this week where drivers Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna had no major problems.
The same could not be said of NEXTEV TCR, the team of defending champion Nelson Piquet Jr., though. After completing just three laps on Monday, the garages were deserted on Tuesday as the cars were transported back to Germany to be fixed.
After missing Monday’s running, Amlin Andretti appeared to have worked things out for Tuesday when it sent Simona de Silvestro out at the beginning of the morning session. Her car did not complete a full lap.
Another four attempts followed across the course of the day, but all ended in the same fashion thanks to major software issues. Trulli didn’t even get its car out of the garage. Neither team has completed a full lap with its season two car as of yet.
Evolution or revolution? It’s a fine line to walk, but could be the dance that makes or breaks the seasons of the teams racing in Formula E this season.