Winning ways in Buenos Aires

Wow, what a weekend! Amlin Aguri’s first win in the FIA’s first fully electric championship! It is an amazing feeling to get a result after all the work put in by the team over the last three years.

“Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”

Plus it takes a lot of work to start a new team in a completely new championship – but it’s worth it when all the effort is rewarded! Many people have asked what we did to get to the front, what has changed, how did we do it?

The build up to the race win really started after all of our troubles in Punta del Este.

The series test, on the Sunday after the Punta race, was the first time that Antonio (Felix de Costa) and Salvador (Duran) really had a chance to test the car after Antonio had missed much of the pre-season testing and the first race in Beijing with BMW DTM duties. This, coupled with the fact that race weekends are so short which restricts running, means that when you haven’t got the car in the “zone” it is extremely difficult to do anything meaningful with regard to setup or finding solutions.

Our race pace has been quick from the beginning with Takuma setting the fastest lap in Beijing. So what we were looking for was time to get a proper qualifying setup and thereby increase our race pace accordingly. You must remember that if we hadn’t had an issue during the pit stop in Malaysia, then Antonio could have finished in the top five and potentially on the podium. The engineers worked over the break between Beijing and Putrajaya and then over Christmas before Punta to get our models and understanding of the car to a point that we could validate this understanding during the Punta test. The result was a fastest first sector on the final run of the day before a Red Flag which showed that we were going in the right direction for the next race in Buenos Aires.

Antonio arrived in BA with a quietly confident attitude focussed on making the best of our great Punta test and determined to have a great weekend: everyone arriving on a high and following through is a good indicator of the picture of the weekend.

So how did the weekend go? Well in Free Practice 1 the car was quick straight of the box. There was good work carried out during the session, getting everything done that was on the plan; another good step. Some cars were running maximum qualifying power; hence the large gap at the front of the pack but P9 was respectable, showing of potential to come.

Then in FP2, it was maximum at- tack, our final preparation before qualifying and we were immediately quick with our final position of P3 only 0.4s off the leader which showed that our ultimate potential for qualifying and race performance was within reach.

Qualifying is always a lottery. Antonio drew Q1 while Salvador was in Q3. The elusive Q4 without red or yellow flags is the name of the game with a rubbered-in track and potentially better track temperatures, but we made the most of the quicker car and got ourselves in the top 10. Antonio felt it was better to aim for a top 10 position and wait to see how things went in the race instead of necessarily going for pole and having a problem. Starting P7, 0.5s from pole position showed again that we were in the right place for the race.

The race was quite chaotic, but Antonio and Salvador drove sensibly, both overtaking a number of drivers and making the best of battles going on around them. As the race went on we had a great pit stop which resulted in gaining positions for Antonio and a safety car which caused some confusion with everyone waiting for the screens to update with the final order to be clear.

As we moved up the leader board it became more and more stressful for everyone in the garage as there was more to lose with each increment Antonio gained! By the time he was in a podium position, the tension was showing on everyone’s faces! And as each problem happened on track we were increasingly on the edge of our seats! Salvador was also making up places and looked like he would get into the points as well.

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At that stage we could see that Antonio had plenty of battery life left over and
he was therefore in a great position to push all the way to the end of the race and catch Nick Heidfeld before the chequered flag. When the drive-through came for Nick we almost couldn’t believe it, we just had to hold our breath and bite our nails till the end of the race.

Some people might say that there was some luck involved, but you can bring up many old adages about finishing first that you must first finish, and that goes for every element of the car, our team work, the car setup, the drivers’ management of the car’s batteries, the control systems, our pit stop practice and also how the other teams run their cars. Every part of a team is important and we have proven in previous races that we too could have technical problems such as electronic control systems with Takuma at the first race and pit stop problems that cause issues.

Were we lucky?

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation,and we certainly had the pace to take the opportunities delivered to us over the weekend.

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Whats next? Miami, where we should make some improvement on all aspects of the team operation, the car setup, our race strategy and some driver training. We have the pace and now it is a matter of building on success and doing a better job at each race and chipping away at the championship points to move ourselves up the grid. After all we love a challenge; otherwise we wouldn’t have entered such a unique and brand new championship!

Following my last column I have been very interested in the questions that we are being asked in our pre-race press conferences, especially at Buenos Aires where they are big fans of motorsport. One of the most common topics was, ‘how will the technology find its way into the world?’ The best example I could see was the bus rapid transit system they have in the city which is a great example of where electric drive, regenerative systems and wireless charging will find its way quickly into practical everyday applications.

You should remember that Uruguay generates 45% of their electricity from hydro
with a target of 90% in 2015 coming from renewables. The intermittent nature of some renewables will benefit from the “Energy Cloud” that will be created when more electric vehicles connect to the network and allow off line storage in the night for solar and during low wind conditions for wind.

Reprinted from Mark Preston’s column Racing to the Future in Motorsport Monday

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Why is the Foxconn announcement so interesting?

Like many young engineers, I wanted to build my own road car. I began to plan out how much it would cost, where I would buy parts, what would I use as a donor vehicle, how would I manufacture the bodywork and especially and most importantly: what engine would I use?!

I didn’t just want to make just another kit car, it had to be scaleable with my own engine. And that’s where I ran into trouble. If you look at most low volume specialist cars today they use an engine from one of the top OEM’s, for example Lotus uses Toyota engines.

This makes the internal combustion engine an important part of an OEM’s differentiation in the market and a large barrier to entry for new would be manufacturers.  The shear number of requirements for the development of an internal combustion engine today is enormous: €500m would be a good round number to start with in the bank!

But what happens when the internal combustion engine is removed from the equation as with an electric car? Electric motors have existed for over 100 years and they are in almost every common house hold device from a fridges to an air conditioner.  The old barrier to market entry is reduced by a large margin.  The design of a vehicle, although complicated and complex, it is not too dissimilar to designing a modern high end SMART Phone.  It is still difficult, but not an insurmountable challenge and many large companies would be very capable.

This change in the market will allow new entrants and possibly the disruptive change in the automotive industry perhaps to the same level as other industries that are described in great detail in Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma.  The recent announcement by Foxconn is an interesting move by one of the world’s largest manufacturers and it could be the start of more movements by Apple, Google and others into one of the oldest markets in the world: transportation.

With the added innovations through driverless capabilities maybe the new entrants change the market as fast as SMART phones did in the mobile market?  Initially we don’t think this is likely just because of the higher capital intensity of a car compared to a phone and the shear number of vehicles that would have to be replaced throughout the world.  But with 80m vehicles being produced every year, it is not unfathomable that new competitors could make a dent in urban markets in the Mega-Cities of the world.

Our belief is that transportation will develop in a trajectory driven by Urbanisation: this is well described in Frost and Sullivan’s Mega-Trends study.   The resultant changes in the industry will move towards mobility becoming a service: i.e. Mobility as a Service.  At this point it is highly possible that vehicles become a set of “devices” on a network integrated by overall mobility integrators: similar to the telecoms integrators such as Vodafone and Telefonica.  These mobility integrators will operate different devices on the network which could be provided by existing and incoming device manufacturers such as Foxconn.

Is this move by Foxconn just the start of something far larger?  We think so and have been working on Integrated Transportation studies with the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University in a Technology Strategy Board sponsored feasibility study in Oxford, UK, called the Oxford Transport Laboratory. click here

The Amlin Aguri Formula E car in China's Beijing Mega-City
The Amlin Aguri Formula E car in China’s Mega-City Beijing

Race to the future

A year from now, climate negotiators representing countries worldwide will be in Paris. They hope to finalise international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Success will depend heavily on economic policy, and the new technologies to usher in a carbon light world.

“Unlike treaties of the past, the Paris agreement needs to speak as loudly of economic transformation as it does of carbon emissions targets,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. The Bank wants new clean technology investments. It wants energy efficiency, performance standards for vehicles and clear economic remit for change.

Motorsport seems an unlikely partner in all this. But the silent technologies being developed in Formula E are ideally placed to put the Bank’s vision on the ground. The Formula, a hotbed for excitement and intrigue, is also a key testing space for sustainable batteries, systems and futurist thinking.

Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014
Amlin Aguri racecar driven by Antonio Felix da Costa in Punta del Este, December 2014

“The future I see is for energy companies to become energy carriers,” says Preston. He has 12 years top level motorsport experience with Arrows, McLaren and Super Aguri F1 teams. Electric motors and reimagined transport are central to his vision. It involves carbon-light urban mobility in the cities of tomorrow.

“Fuel, batteries, hydrogen; they are all just carriers of energy. The energy is just stored in a number of different forms. Each has relevance to future transportation and we are working on all within SAFE Racing Technologies, our technology company that support the Amlin Aguri Formula E racing team.”

Finding more reliable energy storage is key. Preston believes legislation is a strong force to help. “If one mega city in China changed its rules to have zero emissions in the city, this could support three new, sustainable electric car companies, all using futurist batteries and storage tech.” he says.

“I think one of the reasons this hasn’t started yet is because the local companies are not quite there with the technology, so the government won’t start until the local companies can support. This is where Formula E comes in.” Motorsports has traditionally driven development in clutches or computer controlled suspension. Now it provides a testbed for advanced EV technologies.

“Once one city does EV successfully, it is possible to start a snowball effect with cities such as Los Angeles perhaps trying again; they tried in the 90s if I recall,” says Preston. In another shift in sustainable thinking, he explains how Formula E is exploring parallels between energy and cloud-based computer systems.

“When software is based in the cloud, individual upgrades in server speeds or software tweaks see all users on the system benefiting immediately,” he begins.

“I think the same could be true of our electrical grid. Today we have coal fired powerstations, but as soon as one of them is upgraded the whole system would be simultaneously. The concept is the ‘Energy Cloud,’ as some people are beginning to call it.

“As more renewables come online, this energy cloud is naturally and automatically upgraded. When more energy carriers connect to the smart grid, and electric cars plug in, the intermittent nature of some renewables is dealt with automatically by the Smart Energy Cloud.”

In this way, cohesive cloud systems could alleviate shortfalls in solar or wind power through scale. “Some more radical ideas could be carbon sequestration at the source of the power generation,” Preston continues.

Returning to the Formula E circuit, he hopes to see static batteries, ready at each race track one month before the race. These would be charged using solar and other renewables, from the smart energy cloud ready for use on race day.

“After the race they would be used for legacy projects; emergency power backup systems for hospital and schools. Cars need only be one part of the modal mix. The design will have longevity. I see Formula E providing a showcase for technology to encourage early adoption of new ideas by making the technology cool and relevant.”

Such Formula E technology might feature in tomorrow’s cars, trains or buses, depending on market dynamics. Preston points out that F1 flywheel technology is finding its way into buses at the moment. “Routes to market can take different paths. Formula E will develop technologies to push overall electrification of the transport industry.”

Widespread takeup for EV may well need direct wireless charging, which Preston discussed at a recent sustainable transport forum in Cologne. “Many bus projects are up and running where a bus will charge at every stop on its journey, effectively giving it limitless range using an electric drivetrain.

“Formula E is developing battery charging, packaging and programming of usage patterns. We are set to  really showcase what a cool and interesting thing electrification of vehicles is.”

Jim Yong Kim believes decarbonising energy sectors over time, while maintaining energy required for development constitutes a challenge no developed country has faced in its history.

“Getting to net zero emissions before 2100 will require a continuing shift in the direction of our energy portfolio, to support energy access for all and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said.

“It will require continued support for clean transportation and building low-carbon, livable cities, particularly in the fast-growing cities of the developing world, where development today will lock in growth patterns for decades to come.”

Such green transportation may seem light years from the race tracks of Putrajaya or Uruguay. But perhaps, as electric race cars whizz quietly around, the answers are coming.

Formtech launches the E1 research concept EV

Formtech created a vision of EV when they launched the E1 atFrankfurt’s IAA Motorshow in September.  The research study provides the base for a number of concepts in lightweighting technology using composites, high-end materials and machining.

Formtech’s EV started out as a concept for the companies CEO Franz Hilmer, “I wanted to develop a car that would provide me with a second vehicle that I can use to commute to work, but be stylish and provide the basis to exploit the technologies that Formtech is developing in lightweight materials, high-end precision manufacturing and other technologies.”

Designers: Satoshi Nakamura, Tomas Beres, and Rafael Gross, were given the brief to develop a number of concepts, “The chosen concept of the E1 came from the idea that a secondary car; where the customer already owns a vehicle, and considering an eco-friendly alternative especially designed for short commute, with the capacity to carry 4 passengers, should be simple and take full advantage of the electric drive train. The limited top speed and range will create a lighter, more efficient vehicle, perfect for a second car. The design features a short overhang at both ends to create maximum capacity within the given wheelbase dimension. The side surface wraps around to the front and rear end, creating a sense of security and strength to the overall form. “, said Nakamura.

“The future of EV’s will be based around a number of game changing technologies”, says Mark Preston, ex-F1 designer, “I forsee a change in the way EV’s are perceived with lightweight carbon composites and vehicle dynamics technology such as torque vectoring driving exciting new areas of customer interest.  We created the research study in order to create a platform from which Formtech can develop these new technologies and provide solutions for all areas of EV development”.

The Formtech E1 forms the basis of further development studies by Formtech into the exciting new area of EV’s.  Further studies will be released from Formtech that follow up on the beginnings created with the E1.  “Formtech is committed to working towards the future and welcomes discussions with interested companies and investors from the green sector“, says Hilmer.

First Order Performance Drivers

What are the drivers performance in motor racing?

Lets start with Newtons Laws of Motion:

  1. In the absence of force, a body either is at rest or moves in a straight line with constant speed.
  2. A body experiencing a force F experiences an acceleration a related to F by F = ma, where m is the mass of the body. Alternatively, force is equal to the time derivative of momentum.
  3. Whenever a first body exerts a force F on a second body, the second body exerts a force −F on the first body. F and −F are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

How do they relate to motor racing?

F = Force

Force is one of the most important aspects of going fast!  Force comes from a number of areas:

  1. Engine – the force that is transmitted to the wheels to accelerate the mass of the vehicle comes from the torque that is created.
  2. An equal and opposite force is reacted on the vehicle as it goes round a corner which comes from the grip of the tyres on the road.
  3. Downforce coming from the aerodynamics of the vehicle
  4. Drag which is part of aerodynamics resists the car traveling through the air, which relates directly to the first law above
  5. Tyre drag is another force opposing forward motion

Mass, another important one, but most racing series stopped engineers reducing mass beyond a certain level long ago!  Otherwise engineers would have kept going.  So mass used to be a first order performance driver in most racing but was removed as a variable.  Now it is part of the second order drivers of performance, not directly effecting a basic law of physics, but effecting things like dynamics and handling.

Another important law of physics is Coulomb friction: F = mu . N

In motorsports grip is associated with mu.  Mu is proportional to a number of factors such as surface, tyre compound, temperature and load fluctuations just to name a few.  What you will notice is that N is directly proportional to downforce and mu is proportional to the performance of the tyre.

So we find that the three main first order performance drivers in motorsports are (in no particular order):

  • aerodynamics
  • engine
  • tyres (tires)

Innovation in F1 – Part 1

There is a lot of talk in the business press regarding innovation and how critical it is to western countries, keeping our lead in the world economy. Growth is driven by innovation and I thought it would be worth having a look at innovation in the context of motorsports.  Below is a classic graphic showing the three phases of innovation: product, process and strategic.

Rate of innovation in various stages
Rate of Innovation

Where is F1 currently?

I hypothesize that F1 is in the final stages of the process innovation: hopefully to be followed by the strategic innovation stage, most likely driven by the economic crisis and the withdrawal of many of the automotive giants that have driven the process innovation that has characterised the last 10-15 years.

So which era of Formula One characterised the product innovation stage?

First it is worth noting what drivers performance in motor racing.  First order drivers of performance come from the areas that most closely effect the basic laws of physics such as Newtons laws of motion.

Initially innovation focussed on engines.  Enzo Ferrari was one of the people who focussed most on engines and throughout his leadership of the company this is where the focus remained.  It wasn’t until the 60’s when vehicle dynamics started to become seen as important with the move towards rearward engines.  Without performing a large analysis on the subject his is most likely because of the changing engine efficiencies: smaller more efficient engines meant that they were no longer the dominant part of the vehicle from a weight and size point of view.

The fact that aerodynamics and tyres required much more complex methods of understanding meant that they came a lot later in the innovation cycle.  Aerodynamics was the next area that began to show promise with the introduction of wings.  This brought with it a huge boom in innovation.  Wings sprouted allover the place.  To take this to extremes Gordan Murray even introduced a fan car that was created downforce directly proportional to the fan!  Most innovations were banned or controlled but innovation keep moving on.

Perhaps the next big area of innovation was active suspension.  This innovation came when engineers realized that the car was also just one big wing with floors running so close to the ground they had become venturis.  This innovation continued for a while but again it had to be controlled as the performance coming from these innovations was spiraling out of control!

Motor Manufacturers

Then came the motor manufacturers.  I mean the big ones, not Ferrari, which has always been what I would call a stand alone sports car manufacturer, even though is owned by Fiat.  I think Fiat simply provides stability.

The motor manufacturers I am talking about are the bigs ones: Honda, Toyota, Renault, Mercedes Benz, Ford and BMW.  Only one remains when this blog was posted: Mercedes Benz.  Their entry into the sport really started at the end of the 90’s when Ford began to take over Stewart Grand Prix.  Renault followed in 2000, Honda took over Tyrell, Mercedes started investing in McLaren, Toyota started from scratch and BMW began to try to work closer with Williams.

The car companies did a few things, one of which was to bring more rigor to F1: just look at how reliability increased over the last 10 years.  I recently presented to a conference on carbon composites and showed a simple explanation of what happened when rigor is introduced into a sport.

Graphics showing the technology readiness levels used by NASA
Technology Readiness Levels and Motorsports

I found that NASA’s Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) were the best way of describing the changes that had happened in Formula One.  The technology readiness levels are supposed to be used to describe new innovations and their stage in development: everything from Blue Sky research to developments that are fully ready for integration into mainstream commercial activities.

The slide was used to compare motor racing to aerospace and most of the explanation came down to the differences in risk taking.  This got me thinking about what effect the motor manufacturers  (OEM’s) have had on the sport and I decided that part of it was the rigor that aerospace and OEM’s need for selling products.  This got me thinking about process innovation as this rigor is mostly about better quality, more certainty and less risk.  So the TRL graphic highlighted this fact, especially when compared to the old days of Lotus and Brabham!  In F1 history, many of the engineers would come up with concepts at the track and they would be on the car in a matter of hours!  This was real Blue Sky territory, albeit at the expense of rigor, which I believe then brought reliability.

Part 2: Process innovation.  Coming soon…