Although Formula E has been around for a couple of years, it’s still a surprise to see a single-seat racer that makes so little noise. When it departs, you hear little more than an urgent whine. From a distance, your ear could confuse it with a mobility scooter – but not when you see the car on the track. The whine turns more urgent, the cars look quick and on today’s drizzle-sheened track you can see that keeping the wheels in line demands concentration.
So does the driver’s management of the race. “The driver has a huge amount to do,” says Barclay. Battery conservation plays a large part, with the driver needing to trade coasting, regenerative braking and accelerating with staying in the race and getting to the end, and all with a car swap in between. “You can end up needing 3% to finish but only have 4% left, so you have to back off and defend,” says Barclay. That all adds excitement, although it highlights what undeniably remains one of the flaws of electric cars and, more positively, the reason to fast-track their development.
“We have real expertise in electrification already,” says Barclay. “We will have engineers embedded in the team who are part of the R&D department. The race team has direct links, so each can benefit from their key learnings. It doesn’t always happen, but we feel it can and there will be a free flow of information.
“There’s plenty to go at in terms of development with the powertrain; this is the crucial element, along with the motor generator, inverter, the rear suspension and the software.”
Powertrain development is not entirely unfettered, however, because it must fit within the car’s crash-tested carbonfibre structure. Despite this limitation, Barclay reckons we’ll see more development in the next two years than in the past two decades.
“The race engineers are getting excited about the technology,” he says. “One told me it’s the most engaging project they’ve ever been involved with.”
So is the Formula E travel plan. “I’ve never seen a race calendar like it,” he enthuses. “It starts in Hong Kong and ends in New York City; it doesn’t get a lot better. It’s the most accessible form of world motorsport.”
Admittedly, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires are a bit distant for weekend city breaks, but Berlin, Marrakech, Paris, Brussels and Monaco are all doable from the UK.
“What we’re really excited about,” Barclay says, “is bringing Jaguar back into motorsport, and to do it in a technical area that is becoming more relevant. It’s a brave decision, but we’re at the forefront.”