Jan 7, 2019 - 3min read
With the second Formula E race of the season coming up this weekend, we got our MD Chris Russell to have a quick chat with our favourite electric race car driver about his current renovation project and what he likes about driving really fast, electric vehicles...
Chris: Alexander, why don’t we start with you telling us a bit about where we are today?
Alexander: We’re at my barn that I purchased as a renovation project, with it being the first time it’ll be made residential. We want to try and get a synergy between the historic conservation building that it is, but also bring it up to modern day standards with new technologies such as renewable heating pumps, efficient insulation systems, and electric vehicle charging stations on the driveway.
Chris: So it’s very much bringing together the old and the new – which I guess has some parallels with the recent move you’ve made in your racing career?
Alexander: Yeah! I’ve been a racing driver for nearly 20 years now, but this is the first season that I’m driving electric racing cars in Formula E, bringing together my passions in electric cars and renewable technology. To be a driver today and actually be able to do two things that I love at the same time is fantastic, as only 5-10 years ago this just wouldn’t have been feasible.
Chris: The Formula E season is such an exciting event – what are the key differences and considerations between your previous motorsport activity with your new position as a Formula E driver?
Alexander: With Formula E there are so many things that are different to be honest! The fact that we’re racing solely on street circuits makes it incredibly exciting – meaning you’ve got walls on either side of you when you’re driving at 120mph which in itself is massive challenge and leaves you no room for error. The systems within the car can be a lot more advanced than some traditional combustion-engine vehicles because you’ve got the regeneration capability of the electric motor, which is a very usable and handy feature for races. You’ve also got the fact that the car is the same weight at the start and end of the race, as you’re not losing mass from burning petrol. You’ve got top racing drivers from across the world flocking towards Formula E too – so for all of those reasons I’m incredibly excited to be part of it!
Chris: Focusing on the regeneration capability of your Formula E car, can you tell us a bit about the strategy behind managing your car’s state of charge throughout the race?
Alexander: It certainly makes managing the race interesting for the BMW i Andretti Motorsport team – in fact we’ve got an engineer whose job it is to look at our energy saving strategy. The Formula E races are designed such that you can’t go flat out throughout, making the events a lot more interesting. It’s not just about preserving the state of charge of the battery though, but also when to use it too – as it gives us some great overtaking opportunities. It’s one of the unique challenges of Formula E.
Chris: When you’re out on the track, how do you know when to regenerate and when to put your foot to the floor?
Alexander: We get beeps in our ear from our comms connected helmets to give us an indication when to lift, when to regenerate, when to coast entirely around corners (basically putting the car in to netural) – but ultimately it’s the driver’s responsibility to make the call. If an opportunity to overtake presents itself then you might choose to do that instead of listening to the beeps.
Chris: Right, I’m going to ask you a really noddy question now coming from someone who has never been in a Formula E car – just how fast are the Gen2 cars?
Alexander: The immediate acceleration is fantastic even with them being rear wheel cars! The level of control and response you get from the car, especially when you’re not used to driving an EV, always surprises people – that’s not just the case with Formula E cars, but with cars like the one we’re perched on now, my BMW i3. The Formula E tracks are designed specifically to make the races exciting – they’re on streets, so come with lots of bumps and tight corners which in turn mean lots of braking areas and chances to overtake. Top speeds we get up to on the tracks are round about 130 to 140mph.
Chris: Finally, how are you looking forward to the rest of the season ahead after a pretty successful pre-season?
Alexander: Testing couldn’t have gone much better, but when it comes to competitive races it’s my first season in Formula E so I’m being optimistic, but realistic too. The BMW i Andretti Motorsport team have done a great job in building a car that gives me and my teammate, Antonio Felix da Costa, a great chance of doing well this season.
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