A new, high-profile and all-electric motorsport will debut on the city streets of Beijing this September, and it's called Formula E. While it's a form of entertainment like any racing series, the championship has a far greater aspiration than just putting on a good show, and that's to accelerate the development of new technology that can benefit consumer EVs. "The real purpose is to drive innovation... to put the most talented engineers onto a problem and solve it," Sylvain Filippi, Chief Technology Officer of the Virgin Racing team, told us.
"This is the first series to do anything like this; it's very unique in the respect," added Virgin driver Sam Bird while chatting to us on a Formula E test day at the UK's Donington Park circuit. The teams have only a handful of these days to send their identical cars round the track, and tinker with their setups before the first competitive race. The longer-term goal of Formula E isn't forgotten even in these precious moments, however.
"In the petrol racing world... it usually takes at least ten years for technology to trickle down to road cars. In the electric car industry we can do that in six months," Filippi said. Beyond trying to improve all the individual components that make up an electric vehicle, "the overall efficiency of the system" is key. "Most of this is battery-related... and software, which by definition can translate to road cars very, very quickly."
And it's not just Virgin Racing that's committed to delivering new and better technologies for the consumer market. "We are all in agreement... we should not waste energy and resources on developing aerodynamic and chassis technologies, because it's not needed for the car industry," Filippi told us of the unwritten arrangement between the ten Formula E teams. "We are going to focus our energy on the power train."
Reece de Ville contributed to this report.