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How does a driver learn Formula E?

We spoke to Venturi Chief Technical Officer Franck Baldet and newly announced development driver Michael Benyahia about the process of getting drivers ready for pre-season testing.

Formula E is notoriously difficult to adapt to, with drivers having to learn the technique of regen-braking as well as adapting to a totally new – and challenging – driving style. Venturi, in particular, have been working with a lot of new drivers in the build up to testing, as they develop the Season 4 car – including Moroccan rookie Michael Benyahia, who gets his first run in the car tomorrow after James Rossiter runs testing today.

Speaking to Franck Baldet, the teams CTO, we asked how hard it is to train drivers, especially to run complex test programmes correctly.

“It’s always a challenge. It challenges us all year because while we are racing we’re also developing the car – and it’s also a challenge because during these last two months or three months, you could say, from June until September, we want to test so many things and we have barely enough days to do it. And we also want to choose the correct drivers. So there’s plenty of complications on various fronts and we try to find the best solution.

“And the challenge is everywhere because if the weather is not good, then it’s impossible to maximise the performance of the car. If it’s another driver then you have to change the seat, the pedals, a lot of work around, unique to the drivers, how the car is running. And with new drivers how each of the buttons on the steering wheel is running, some drivers are already from Formula E so they know the complications, some are from different championships and they need to understand the goals and objects of Formula E.”

Regeneration, in particular, challenges drivers – it changes the drive of the car and is tricky to learn the limits of;

“It’s one of the trickiest parts – mainly for the drivers – for the engineers, we are not driving the car so it’s more indicative for data but for the driver, coming from a championship where everything is hot and they’re only using the mechanical brakes… In Formula E when the battery is full, 100% state of charge, when the battery is completely filled you can’t regen, you can’t brake with the electric motor, so you brake with the mechanical brakes, the hydraulics one. But everything is cold so it means the braking is very poor at the beginning. But while the brakes are getting hot, the battery is discharging and you’re now allowed to discharge the battery – you cannot charge to more than 100% so once you are arriving at 85% you can use what you used before, which means braking with the electric motor to give back energy to the battery.

“And so the driver needs to adapt with the rear braking, with what is called the brake balance, in order that they can apply more electric braking with the motor, by regeneration. And this is a very critical thing because you have to change the habits of the driver. They have to be as confident as possible and this braking is a very important phase.

“If the driver doesn’t feel confident because of the regen or because of the electric energy, if they don’t use the rear brakes in line with the mechanics then the car can become more unstable or it’s not braking enough because they don’t put enough brake on the rear. And if the car becomes unstable then the risk is that that driver becomes less confident, is losing time on track and not maximising the energy of the battery.

“That’s why mastering regeneration is one of the most important parts of the race for the drivers. We also try to do training during the summer tests and we try to explain as much as possible how the car behaves to the drivers.”

New team development driver, Michael Benyahia, has been going through this exact process to learn the car, ahead of his first testing session tomorrow morning. The Moroccan racer drove a Formula E car through the streets of Marrakesh last year ahead of the race there and is now officially signed to develop the Venturi car. He said adapting from Formula Renault, where he currently competes, had been a big step-

“I’m driving tomorrow in the morning – I’ve been spending a lot of time in the simulator, learning the car, learning some tracks, trying to find strategies for different places. For me, the steering wheel is a lot more complicated than what I’m used to. It’s pretty challenging compared to what I do in Formula Renault but it’s good.”

Coming into Formula E as a young driver, Michael said that he definitely views it as the future of motorsport-

“Yeah definitely Formula E is the future of motorsport because of electricity, it’s much better for the environment, much cleaner energy. It’s very important for me and it’s really important for Morocco because we’re trying to promote clean energy.”

Formula E pre-season testing continues this week, with Venturi’s driver announcement expected before the end of the month.

Image courtesy of FIA Formula E Media.