Alexander Sims Marrakesh practice

Driven to succeed: Alexander Sims

Jan 24, 2019 - 4min read

Off the back of the thrills and spills at Race 2 in Morocco, our Product Director Steve Springett sat down with lightening quick electric race car driver Alexander Sims to talk about how you train, prepare, and practice ahead of Formula E races…

Steve:  So, it’s the new year and usually that means time to make some resolutions – mine is, as it is each year, to get in shape! What sort of fitness training do race car drivers do?

Alexander:  When it comes to Formula E it’s simply about staying generally fit, so I head to my local gym a few times a week and do some pretty standard stuff. It’s not about building out your neck muscles to deal with G-Force like some Formula 1 racers do.  With Formula E being a street racing event, the lower speeds mean you don’t experience quite the same strain on your body – despite the tracks tending to have lots of twists and turns.

Steve: I guess it’s not too surprising then that with all those bodily pressures, Formula 1 has set a minimum weight for drivers for next season – with Lewis Hamilton having already said he’s ready to bulk up! Speaking of him, I understand he’s on a plant-based diet – do you also do anything different during the season when it comes to what you eat?

Alexander:  To be honest, it’s a similar approach to my exercise – making sensible choices. That said, before Formula E I spent time driving endurance races, such as 24-hour events at Spa and Le Mans. As they’re overnight events it’s mostly just about supplementing yourself with caffeine gels as you can’t really stop for a bite to eat! I also thought about the type of training I’d need to do before I started endurance racing and asked myself “do I sit around practicing staying up for as long as I can?”, but then spoke to other experienced drivers who told me that would just be a bit weird!

Steve: I’ve just had a baby – I feel like I’d now be pretty good at the overnight stuff!

Alexander:  Yeah! It’s certainly become easier for me too since having kids. Looking back at it though, one thing I wont miss is how ill you can feel from all those caffeine gels. When you’re in the car, they help make sure you’re on it – but as soon as you step out you just feel horrendous!

Alexander Sims smiling

Steve:  In the run up to each race, I assume there’s also a fair bit of practice that takes place with the rest of the BMW i Andretti Motorsport crew?

Alexander:  Yeah, before each race we’ll fly out to the headquarters in Munich to spend a couple of days on the simulators. 

Steve:  And are these simulations of the actual tracks you’ll be racing?

Alexander:  Exactly that. We’ve got the coordinates of the race locations and we plot them on Google Maps to build up the course and to figure out the undulations of the track. I said, “we” just then… of course I’ve got nothing to do with that technical part, but rather some really talented IT specialists who make it possible! Our governing body, the FIA, then give all the teams extra information, like the positions of walls and other track features, as they understand the importance of simulators in modern racing. That way we can create a pretty representative version of what we’ll experience on the day.

Steve:  How realistic does the driving feel in a simulator? In my head I’m picturing you sat in front of a giant PlayStation screen, but I’m guess it’s probably a bit more sophisticated than that!

Alexander:  Ultimately it is pretty much that! The models that our simulators are based on aren’t really too far from PlayStation or Xbox games – as the latter have an enormous amount of money spent on them nowadays. The models are finer tuned to make the racing feel that bit more realistic and the big difference is that you have a 10-15 metre curved screen, so you can see everything that you’d see in real life. You’re sat in a replica cockpit with the same steering wheel and pedals, mimicked to be as close to the real thing as possible. It isn’t really possible to replicate the force you feel from the car or what it feels like for the car to be floating on top of the tyres, but the simulator does have some bumpiness and on-screen cues built in to it – so you get a pretty good idea.

Alexander Sims in simulator

Steve:  You said it’s a couple of days you spend on these simulators – I assume running all sorts of race scenarios in preparation?

Alexander:  We start off with some practice sessions and then do some qualifying simulations – trying to get a single fastest lap like we would on the day. Importantly, we also spend time focusing on energy management. With our Gen2 cars, you’ve got a 52kWh battery and you’ve got to make it last 45 minutes – which if you went flat out the entire time, you’d need 70kWh or so of capacity. That means part of practice is figuring out where to coast and use extra regen, discovering  where to give up lap time in order to maintain the battery’s state of charge.

Steve:  With a lot of the Formula E circuits being brand new, sounds like the simulators are pretty invaluable to race prep then!

Alexander:  Yes absolutely. As Formula E uses street circuits, we can’t get track time beforehand; practice sessions are only 45 minutes, which by the time you’ve come in and out of the pits, you probably only really get 20 laps going flat out. So simulators are definitely important to us being prepared. That said, on the day the track evolves hugely – it starts off being a very dirty, unused race track, but then as you keep going round and round rubber gets put down, and just in that short period of time the track can get as much as a second quicker per lap.

Steve:  How difficult was it to transition to Formula E? It seems like in addition to the challenge itself of learning how to drive a new car, there’s also a lot of science to get your head around too?

Alexander:  When it comes to the science behind our energy saving strategy, we’ve got an engineer whose one job is to look after that entirely – so our team makes it very easy for us drivers.

Steve:  Probably a good thing, getting “range anxiety” mid-race probably isn’t where you want to be!

Alexander:  Haha! Back in Season 1 of Formula E it was very much “there you go driver, sort it out during the race” and you’d have to wing it! However, as with everything in racing – things improve season after season. While I’m out on the track I get beeps in my ear to help me put in my best race. Firstly, you can get a high-pitch beep meaning ‘coast’, which is effectively the same as a combustion engine vehicle going into neutral and free-wheeling, a medium-pitch beep means ‘lift’, and a low-pitch beep for ‘re-gen’.

Want to find out more about our partnership with Alexander Sims?

At Tonik, we’re all about championing renewable energy, green technology and electric mobility. We’re thrilled to have found someone as excited about our low-carbon future as we are, in British racing driver Alexander Sims. Over the course of the season we’ll be creating all sorts of content together with Alexander to help make getting excited about low carbon tech really easy – and importantly, that the implications of selecting the right technology solutions for your home, workplace, or business are well understood too.

Click here to find out more.

How do I watch?

Each race lasts an action-packed 45 mins. Next stop on the series’ global tour is Santiago, Chile on 26th January. It’s available to watch on a range of channels, with the most notable being BBC (race only via the red button or online) and YouTube (screening extended build-up before each race).