Director of DS Automobiles’ motorsport division DS Performance speaks exclusively with Discover EV
Having enjoyed a successful career with the Citroen World Rally Team, former Deputy Team Principle of Citroën Racing was appointed head of DS Performance in 2016. We caught up with Xavier Mestelan Pinonat the launch of the DS3 CROSSBACK E-TENSE to talk about the 2019/20 Formula E Championship and the future of electric vehicles
For those who haven’t watched Formula E, could you explain a bit about the sport and what makes it different?
The main difference is that it’s pure electric racing cars – so a different noise and way to use energy, and to make for a faster race, the driver needs to manage their energy. Each driver starts off with the same level of energy, like having the same amount of fuel in a car, but with this energy you need to do your best to manage it and to recharge it to try and go as flat out as possible the whole race. All the races happen in the middle of major cities, so with this new approach it’s less noisy and more fun for the family; it’s motor racing 2.0!
What’s changed since the 2014-15 season?
For starters the all-electric racers have double the energy storage capacity of the Gen1 car, meaning it can complete a whole race, so no more mid-race car swaps. With 250kW of power, the Gen2 will accelerate from 0-62mph in 2.8-seconds and go on to a top speed of 174mph.
After an incredible season, DS TECHEETAH clinched the Teams’ Title and Jean-Éric Vergne became the first double world champion in ABB FIA Formula E history. Whilst being double world champions is an amazing achievement, it’s something else to keep that success going. How do you feel at the start of this new season?
To win isn’t easy, but to win again will be more difficult. We try to use our experience to improve our car, and with all of the engineers and drivers know-how we are at a great advantage at the beginning of the championship. If you want to win the championship you have to be ready to fight for the victory at the start. We have two very good drivers, two of the best, and both have won races before so we have some confidence we can win again. In the past I’ve won 11 titles in the World Rally Championship Series, but with this experience we know what is important to work on to win.
What is your biggest challenge for this season?
It’s so difficult to make a perfect weekend; the race weekend is only one day so everything is very concentrated. It’s not easy and it’s a big challenge, but it’s worth it.
If you could change one thing in the series, what would it be and why?
Take for example Paris, the Mayor of Paris is somebody who is known to dislike cars; she wanted to keep the cars out of the centre of Paris. However, she took the decision to have a Formula E race in the middle of the city. Formula E is not just about the motor racing, it’s something very new and very important. Maybe we can improve it, but it’s important to keep the DNA of the series. Due to the fact there is less noise and that the series is effectively a lab, if you like, for developing and demonstrating the latest technology, we need to think about appealing to the younger generation – to include more boys and girls in the grandstand. If we move to the F1 track, we could lose a lot of the engagement we have now.
Do you think there’s some work to be done to be fully accepted by the motorsport community?
Yes, it’s important to be accepted by the motorsport community. The most important thing is to convince their fan base and community that Formula E is the new way forward. I don’t like to compare them however, as I said, I think it’s important to keep their DNA separate.
Off the track, how important is Formula E in helping to develop battery-driven road vehicles?
Its key – Formula E is a way to accelerate the R&D of our road cars like the DS3 CROSSBACK E-TENSE. For example, today we use a battery with 400 volts. In Formula E we use a battery with 1000 volts, which means that we have better efficiency. These batteries use very specific components that will be on our future road cars. So this R&D for Formula E is pushing efficiency and range in full electric and hybrid cars of the future.
And it’s not just the battery tech that’s trickling down to EVs is it? What about the braking side of things?
In terms of the Formula E cars - the regenerative energy, the gearbox and how you use it can save energy. Another example is during a race around 30 per cent of the energy comes from the regen; the driver charges the battery. On a road car it’s something like 15 or 20 per cent, so we can improve a lot there, too.
What is your view of EV progress in Europe, in terms of motorists transitioning to EVs?
I think that today it’s not very good if you cover a lot of miles, but if you do a lot of city driving its perfect. For the future I’m pretty sure that the battery technology will change, we will certainly need it to improve – whether it’s for use in BEVs or hydrogen cars I’m not sure. The storage of energy or how you produce the energy – again perhaps with hydrogen – also needs to improve.
Do you see range anxiety or infrastructure as being the biggest challenge in getting people to accept EVs?
For me it’s not the biggest challenge, but how we explain to new customers how to use their new electric cars. For example, maybe for a longer journey you could use a car sharing scheme or public transport. When you discuss this with the younger generation they want to make changes, and everybody needs mobility and the freedom to move. I don’t think the electric car is the only way to get around – I think the development of innovative mobility solutions will be crucial to ensure that the future of transport is cleaner and safer.