BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt talks about the BMW i drivetrain’s key role in Formula E and looks back at the six races of Season 5 to date.
BMW i Andretti Motorsport has contested six races in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship – and celebrated one win and two further podiums. António Félix da Costa (POR) is in first place in the driver standings with 62 points to his name. The basis for this positive interim result is the highly efficient Racing eDrive01, which powers the two BMW iFE.18 – and impressively holds a BMW Group pioneer role when it comes to electrification and racing.
What is the significance of BMW Group’s expertise in electrification for BMW i Andretti Motorsport?
Jens Marquardt: “Naturally, BMW Group’s experience when it comes to electrification is of great significance for our BMW i Motorsport project. At the start of the development process for the E drive in Formula E we were faced with the question: do we build up our own expertise at BMW Motorsport, or do we use the extensive BMW i experience in this area. We soon arrived at an answer. Naturally, it made sense to make use of the wealth of experience of our colleagues in production. We established an efficient development cycle, without duplicating roles unnecessarily. The experienced specialists from production look after the electric motor hardware and the inverter, meaning the entire high-voltage area. This includes the software that the inverter uses to control the E motor, as well as the materials used, such as for the rotor or stator. On the motorsport side, we handle matters such as the low-voltage control area, for example. We devise recuperation strategies, undertook the design and implementation of the entire rear axle structure and developed the cooling concept. Everything that each area can do best was intertwined with full transparency. The technology transfer between our BMW Motorsport engineers and BMW i colleagues works really well.”
How much of the production version is in the Formula E drivetrain?
“A great deal. For example, the control software for the high-voltage area, which controls the E motor via the inverter is used in both the BMW iFE.18 and the BMW i3. However, the transfer works in both directions. In the extreme conditions in Formula E, we gather findings together, which can then flow into further development – on both sides, meaning that every BMW i customer benefits from our joint progress in racing.”
Where are the BMW iFE.18’s strengths?
“With its drivetrain developed by BMW i, the BMW iFE.18 has been one of the top packages in all races. One reason for that is the high level of energy efficiency that we achieve with the Racing eDrive01 and that is what makes the difference in Formula E. We saw that in Mexico, for example, when it was a close call in terms of energy for some of our rivals towards the end of the race. We are in an excellent position with our package in this respect. Our drivetrain is based on that of the BMW i3, and its use in the BMW iFE.18 serves as a ‘TechLab’ for iNEXT. Future models benefit directly from the racing experience. This technology transfer has taken us to the top level. We want to stay there if possible.”
First place in the driver standings after six races: how happy are you with BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s maiden season in Formula E?
“Naturally, I am really pleased that with António Félix da Costa we are the frontrunner for the driver title after six races. This just goes to show that both our BMW iFE.18, with the BMW i drivetrain and the newly established BMW i Andretti Motorsport team, have been extremely competitive right from the start in our maiden Formula E season. And António has done a great job with his win in the very first race in Ad-Diriyah and two other podiums. No doubt Alex will be further up the field as well in the second half of the season and contribute some good results – he certainly has the speed. However, looking at the driver standings, we’re talking about a snapshot at best. The Formula E field is incredibly close; the season will remain exciting down to the final round in New York. What is already clear is that everyone in the team is working hard to remain as competitive as possible.”
Six winners in six races: How do you explain this balance in the field?
“It’s evident that it’s not always the overall package with the best performance that wins in Formula E. Rather, many factors must come together to be successful in the end. One example is qualifying, in which the drivers take to the track in championship standings order. This means that it is extremely difficult for a successful driver to be consistently driving for wins because the conditions in the early qualifying groups are often the most difficult. Also, when you’re in the middle of the field in Formula E, the risk of retiring increases significantly on the narrow street circuits. António didn’t pick up any points in two races – and still leads the championship standings. Consistency is a very important key to success, but also very difficult to achieve.”
Is it ultimately the driver who takes the fewest risks that wins in Formula E?
“It’s not quite like that, but it might be true to say that in Formula E you need to know when and where to take risks and when it’s better to hold back more than you do in other series. Every point counts, literally. For example, our expectations were high for the race in Sanya because the track and its demands suited us. Both drivers made it into the Superpole. Yet once again we were unable to get both drivers to the finish line and pick up maximum points for the team standings. Alex retired yet again through no fault of his own after a fierce duel with a rival. In Marrakesh we made things difficult for ourselves and missed out on a lot of points. The experiences we gained in the first races definitely made us stronger. We keep learning with every E-Prix.”
How do you feel the season has been so far for your drivers?
“António Félix da Costa has deployed all of his experience from almost 50 Formula E races fantastically. I’m really pleased for him that he won right at the season opener and is now in first place. As a Formula E rookie, Alexander Sims can learn a lot from him. In terms of his pace, Alex should be much higher in the standings. In some races he was incredibly unlucky and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he gets that bit of racing luck you need, he can also battle for the top positions; he has shown that in every race so far. It’s important to finish in the points consistently with both cars because we want to do well in the team standings as well.”
How has Formula E progressed in Season 5?
“As we’re learning from race to race, the whole championship is constantly developing. This dynamic is unique. On the track, elements such as FANBOOST or the new ATTACK MODE make for extra excitement. Off track, the significance of Formula E as an international stage for the mobility of the future is growing. In the races, and in the E Village, we present BMW Group’s visions and innovative strength to fans. The other manufacturers and Formula E partners involved also emphasise features. This makes for an exceptionally exciting platform. It is also a challenge for Formula E to keep up with all the new developments.”
How will you approach the Europe season?
“The objective is clear: We want to convert the huge potential of our BMW package into good results in as many races as possible and pick up points with both drivers. This is a very ambitious goal in this championship. We also want to create a strong presence among BMW fans in Europe and show them just how sporty and exciting electromobility is.”