YPS Insight: How motorsport is driving EVs

Almost since the invention of the motorcar, motorsport has been where many of the automotive world’s most important ideas have been developed. Whether it’s safety, power, or efficiency, the crucible of competition has driven engineers to find better ways of doing things. And now with electric cars, things are no different. We look at how motorsport is driving development in electric vehicles.


Most motor racing is about doing as much as you can possibly get away with, within a certain set of rules. Whether that’s at the top level such as Formula 1, World Rallying, or World Endurance championship, or at grass roots level such as hill-climbing to national championships. The rules are in place to try and keep competition even, but those designing the cars have very different ideas. 

And this is good for us normal drivers. By having engineers push the envelope for what is possible with racing cars, the developments filter down to road cars in time, benefiting those piloting more humble machinery.

Electric motorsport


A relatively recent phenomenon is electric motorsport; certainly at a high level anyway. The creation of Formula E, now well established on the calendar, has seen not only a number of manufacturers commit to the competition, but also a series of World Champions, which helps attract top level driving talent.

Although the drivers help bring in the fans, it is the prospect of improving the next generation of electric cars that has brought the brands in. Alongside traditional racing team operations, the likes of DS Automobiles, Jaguar, Mahindra, Mercedes-Benz, Nio, Nissan and Porsche see some of the biggest names in the car world and up-coming manufacturers buy into the competition.

What is good about Formula E is that the rules have been laid out over a number of seasons that sees increasing levels of components able to be developed in-house, rather than have stock, bought-in parts for cheaper and level competition. This gives manufacturers the prospect of stealing a march on rivals be developing better motors, improved brake regeneration systems, greater capacity and/or lighter batteries… the list goes on.

If a company can boost its competition by improving components, these can be translated into parts for road cars. As such, we are seeing improved electric motors, control systems, charging controls, and batteries.

It’s not just Formula E that is leading the charge either. There is also Extreme E, which is a global off-road rallying championship, also using exclusively electric cars, and with a focus on sustainable running - and there’s even a hydrogen championship on its way in the next couple of years to help develop fuel cell technology.

Hybrid boost


Although pure-electric motorsport is an important place to develop electric cars, it’s too niche at the moment. But there are other ways and areas to work on electric powertrains. You may have heard of some of them; perhaps a little known series called Formula 1. Or a small race called the 24 Hours of Le Mans?

Both F1 and the World Endurance Championship - of which Le Mans is a key race - have hybrid cars able to enter. And not just at the lower levels of the latter, but for the fastest cars. By electrifying the engines, racing teams have made the cars faster, more efficient, and more applicable to road car development. As such, more manufacturers have come into the sports, with Mercedes-Benz, Alpine, McLaren, Ferrari, and Aston Martin participating in F1.

If F1 has boosted electric development, the draw to endurance racing is even greater. Having recently had a hybrid prototype era for the top level cars, with Audi, Porsche, and Toyota competing, a new era is just starting. This new LMDh set of rules allows manufacturers to create racing cars more closely resembling road machines, nut every bit as high-tech as the previous prototype racers from before.

As such, Le Mans hypercar makes will include Peugeot, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, and Toyota enter the racing soon. Shortly after that, Lamborghini, Alpine, Cadillac, and Acura (Honda) will start racing new hybrid models.

This means, when combining F1, WEC, Formula E, the Electric Touring Car Championship, et al, that every major manufacturing group has a stake in at least one electric or electrified racing series. It’s all pitching development for electric cars at the highest possible level.

Then combine racing teams and parts developers such as Williams Advanced Engineering - part of the company that runs Williams F1 Team - and suppliers such as Brembo, Bosch and Magnetti Marelli, and the work towards improving the next generation of EVs is ramping up.