Features/ Interviews/ Motorsport chats | In conversation with Karun Chandok | Formula E

Motorsport chats | In conversation with Karun Chandok | Formula E

Top Gear: We have now seen the new Gen Formula E cars on the racetrack, and they had quite a bit of promise with them being smaller and a lot of more power involved in it and a few other aspects that have been added to it. What would you say is still a point of improvement for the entire sport, even with the introduction of the gen 3 cars.

Karun Chandok: In terms of the cars you’re talking about?

Top Gear: Yes in terms of the cars

Karun Chandok: I think it's all the usual things that a racing driver wants. You want more power and more performance. But I think we have to look at it in the context of the wider landscape in the auto industry, which you, of course, will be very familiar with. There's a whole load of work going on in the EV world. And I think it's important that you can make a car faster, for example, now, but it's no point if the races are only 30 minutes. I'd rather have the races which are what they are now, 40 minutes length and have the power that they have at the moment. But it's changing. I think in 10 days time, I think next Thursday, they're launching the Gen Evo, which is the evolution of this Gen 3 car, which will come out for next season. Again, that will have more power, more recovery. More importantly, you can harvest more energy into the battery. So automatically, as soon as you can recover more energy into the battery, it means the drivers can go faster for longer. So in terms of As I say, you have to think of the wider landscape.

Karun Chandok: Internal combustion engines have been around since, I think it's 1870. If you go back, you're talking 150 years of the internal combustion engine. And I understand electric cars have been around for a long time. We had a Reva in India, the auto export, in 1993. It's not new. But I think in terms of the mass amplification of EV technology, really, it's only come in the last decade. Then you've seen governments around the world, you've seen automotive manufacturers around the world, really, and battery companies. It's really only since 2011, 2012 that you've seen this big push in the EV sector. So I think that's why you're seeing big steps in terms of evolution. And I'm interested to see. So for me, it's about more performance, so more recovery, more power already. We went where it was in Gen 1, where we used to have a 200 kilowatts race and 250 kilowatts qualifying. But that 250 kilowatts, we could do one lap, basically. And when you got to that end of that first lap, the batteries were overheated, the motors were overheated. We'd have to drive two laps at slow speed, cool it all down. And I remember in the first car, and now you've already gone from that to they're doing 350 kilowatts, and they can keep going around and around for several laps.

Karun Chandok: So you're talking about an extra, what is it, 40 % power that they're able to use on a more usable basis? So if you compare that to an ICE car, 40 % more power is huge, right? If you have to find it. And I think that's where I see it going. It's just, again, more power, more recovery, better reliability, better cooling. It's the whole package.

Top Gear: Yeah. So my question to you is, like we know, Formula E has, again, gotten a lot of attention over the years being the premium electric series and everything. My question to you is, do you see it... Like right now, a lot of the car is still homologated to all the companies together. Do you see it breaking out into a very Formula One angle where innovations are allowed on parts, or do you think that the sport is still in a comparatively nascent stage and the financials may not allow for such a dream to happen in Formula E currently?

Karun Chandok: Yeah, I think it's not a question of not allow it to... Financial don't allow it or anything like that, or the fact that it's an issue. I think it's logical because the car companies want to get involved in Formula E to develop their powertrain. There's no point in spending 50, 60, 70 million on aerodynamics, where if you're Nissan or Jaguar or Porsche who are doing Formula E, there's no point developing aerodynamics because it's got nothing to do with their road cars. It's got no relevance with their road cars. Whereas developing their powertrain and the software and maximising the software capabilities is directly transferable. And ultimately, that is why they're involved in the sport. So for me, it's actually a very smart thing to do is not to open up regulations. And I actually hope the opposite. I really hope they never open it up, the chassis regulation, because that is the best way to keep the costs down and keep it competitive. That's why you had six winners in the first six races. I think it was from five different teams, if I'm not mistaken. So I think that's really, really important. And you have to create your own USP.

Karun Chandok:I think every Championship has to create its own USP. Now, Formula One has Its history and legacy, and it's got all of that, which forms the bedrock of its success. You have sports car racing at Le Mans, things like this, which is, I think they're now going down the hybrid route, and they've got their whole USP is endurance and things like that. And I think for Formula E, it should be about efficiency. And a big part of that is all to do with the electric powertrain, not really to do with Developing and designing new front wings. That let Formula One do that. Okay.

Top Gear: Okay. As you said, the aerodynamics are still not a progressible future for it. So Apart from transmission software, how do you think companies would be more involved inside Formula E? Or do you think we are corresponding to the best approachable solution that we have for Formula E to thrive and sustain? It's the same in a sense.

Karun Chandok: I guess the next thing is if you open up the batteries. At the moment it is a specced battery, everyone gets the same specification of battery, which I think is the right thing because it is still in its nascent stages. The rate of development of the batteries is going up and up and up very quickly. For example, Envision, which is one of the teams involved in Formula E, there are 11 gigafactories around the world, including one in India. You see all of these battery companies coming up with their technology. So I think for me that is where the next philosophical change will come, if they open up the battery regulations and the teams start to have their own individual battery partners, a bit like an engine partner in F1. I think that’s the next big change, but at this stage it's still a little premature, because you will see big differences. Let’s say Envision themselves put their own battery in it. The rate of development is so high that they can suddenly be 3 seconds a lap faster than everybody else, and that’s bad for the sport. So I think at the moment you have to find the right balance between economics and entertainment. And I think that balance is good but in the next few years that’s where you’ll see the next big shift. 

Sony Sports Network is the official broadcaster for Formula E in India.

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TopGear Magazine July 2024