02 Apr 20

The important role of simulator test drivers in Formula E

Strictly speaking, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship consists of more than 24 drivers, as each team also includes two test and development drivers. Rather than performing tests on the race track they spend countless hours completing virtual laps in the simulator.

“I can’t emphasise enough how important the role of simulator work is in Formula E. More than in any other sport, we wouldn’t be able to win anything on the track without our team at home,” says Allan McNish, the team principal for Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler.

While simulators are also used in other racing series to prepare for certain tracks, undertaking virtual laps in Formula E takes on added significance. “Conserving battery power is vitally important. In the simulator, we are able to figure out the bends on which we can save energy by driving slowly or lifting the accelerator and where it is worth speeding up, i.e. using a lot of energy,” says Neel Jani of TAG Heuer Porsche.

This information must be communicated to drivers before race day, an importance that Audi Sport's McNish stresses: “After all, our drivers are there to get to grips with the track in the free practice sessions and not spend their time doing tests for optimal energy management.”

On average, teams will spend three days in the simulator before a race. The first runs are usually done by the reserve and test drivers, these laps are essential to provide precise data on energy consumption for the respective track. With this in mind, the teams create different software programmes that the drivers can then activate during the race depending on the situation and their tactics, from energy conservation to an all-out attack.

The data supplied by the test drivers also makes it easier for the race engineers to manage the tyres and the general setup of the vehicle. Only after the test drivers have delivered this essential information do the regular racers climb into the simulator to complete laps in qualifying mode and a full race simulation, and this is all before the Formula E teams hit the track for real.