BMW in Formula E


By Bunmi Ade | BMW launched their Season 5 Formula E Generation 2 car in September at their Welt facilities, and the event was also streamed live. Following the technical presentation, the Head of Design BMW Motorsport, Michael Scully, described the design aspects of the car – outlining the asymmetric design of their car and that the close proximity of Formula E spectators to the cars racing on city streets meant BMW started their design by considering the top view of the cars. Michael and his colleague Rudolf Dittrich (General Manager, BMW Motorsport Vehicle Development), expanded on the BMW iFE.18’s design features to the Paddock magazine.

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Michael, you mentioned that the matte-black non-reflective cockpit is for the driver’s benefit. Which other driver-friendly features have you incorporated into the design? Are there instances where an aesthetic choice has improved a technical/functional design feature?

Michael: The non-reflective matte-black cockpit element finds its inspiration from the hoods of 1960s sedan racers and aircraft canopy-surrounds for the reduction of glare. That same asymmetrical graphic component also serves as an extension of BMW’s renowned driver orientation theme from our production interiors: quite literally bringing that construct to the exterior of the car. The cockpit extension is also something we have defined as a shared element across M and i Motorsport liveries, visually unifying the BMW Group’s motorsport efforts.

With Formula E cars having common exterior body geometry for all teams, the livery is the one differentiating external design feature for the Gen2 Formula E cars. I do hope we eventually get the chance to develop the surfaces of the car to be as recognisably “BMW” as the innovative things our engineers are doing with the powertrain and rear suspension of the Gen2 car – those parts are beautiful.

As an example of the two-way relationship between design and functional efficiency that’s possible when the regulations do allow, I think the mirrors of our BMW M8GTE race car are successful in having an embedded aerodynamic function, integrating the iconic BMW M Design “hook” shape back toward the centreline of the car, and ultimately performing better than the baseline shape from which we started. For me, that’s when our development process is at its best.

Did the introduction of a halo safety device present any design challenges compared to the first generation car design? Formula 1 coverage shows an overlay of telemetry/graphics and drivers details onto the halo – can we expect the same in Formula E? How easy is it to detach and replace the Generation2 car nose cone if there is a front-end crash requiring a nose cone swap?

Michael: From a design perspective, we found two challenges with the halo: minimising its impact on the drivers’ field of vision, and maintaining recognisability of the drivers’ helmet for outside the car. Our solution to both of these issues was to make the halo matte-black as with the rest of the cockpit: first for the reduction of glare, and second to make it easier and less distracting for fans to see the drivers’ signature helmet designs under the halo. If we had implemented blue and/or white on the halo for example, both of these aspects would have suffered.

With regards to halo overlays, the Formula E series has some really exciting upcoming spectator engagements utilising the halo in Season 5, and I am sure the first race will be a great rollout for those features.

Rudolf: Yes, the front bodywork assembly, consisting of a nose cone, front wing and fenders, can be replaced quite quickly on the Gen2 car. This is something that our BMW i Andretti Motorsport team practices regularly. But if you have to change it during the race, the race is probably lost – because an ePrix is a sprint race.

The interplay between these techniques is really about finding the most efficient way forward rather than imposing one method over another.

BMW’s partnership team works to ensure your partners’ ideals and visions align with BMW’s. How do you resolve potential clashes of partners’ logos and your aesthetics?

Michael: Harmonising the overall design schematics and partners’ identities is critical for a racing livery’s success. Defining dedicated sponsor areas and positions can sometimes challenge the visual cohesion of a car, but those spatial requirements can also help structure the design: in fact, they give us something to build a design theme upon. In the case of the BMW IFE.18, we have used those differentiations of space to simultaneously reference the blue and white quarters of the BMW logo and gain visual contrast within the livery; something which is incredibly important for cars racing at high speeds.

Responding to constraints and turning them into an integral component of a design theme is what, for me, differentiates design as a discipline from visual expression alone. Comingling the functional and emotive aspects of an object or image in a way that resonates with a reason is challenging, but also very rewarding.

How soon are the new liveries translated into e-sports/e-race platforms?

Michael: For the first race of Season 5 in Ad Diriyah (Saudi Arabia), the new liveries will be used at the E-Race. Subsequently, you will find them in all other gaming products with Formula E cars from 2019. Beyond that, the series announced the launch of “FormulaE Ghost Racing”, a new racing game that gives fans the opportunity to race on their devices against drivers as they race in real time.

How long does concept-to-design take, and how large is the team working specifically on Formula E cars?

Michael: Our design process for the IFE.18 took several months to go from the initial sketch to the finished implementation. We combined advanced visualisations and pragmatic “old school” techniques to realise the design: for example, transitioning back and forth from super compelling computer renderings and physically taping lines on the car to find the “truth” of the surfaces and graphics.

For us, the interplay between these techniques is really about finding the most efficient way forward rather than imposing one method over another. Racing tends to be a “lean and mean” environment because the cars and development processes themselves are exactly that – efficient!

Having seen the other Formula E liveries during the pre-season test, whose designs (apart from yours) do you rate highly?

Michael: I’m a believer in strong, bold racing liveries that are high in contrast, carry a clear identity, and are easy to recognise at speed. The urban context of Formula E presents some unique challenges from a livery design standpoint: most notably spectators and media cameras are often closer to the track, and higher than on more traditional permanent road racing circuits: that’s the reason we began our design process looking at the top view of the car. I’ll reserve judgement on which livery is the most successful until seeing the cars run in their native habitat, the city streets!

Formula E is an all-electric racing series striving for environmental awareness and carbon neutrality, but what is the “least green” element of the BMW iFE.18, and what measures are being taken to reduce its environmental impact even further?

Rudolf: Formula E is an innovative and spectacular race series that has established itself as one of the top racing series in the world with a totally new approach to sustainability and events within just a few years. For BMW, Formula E is also the perfect test lab for production development.

In the BMW iFE.18, the pioneering spirit, innovation, and technological expertise of BMW Motorsport and BMW i come together. Making use of the knowledge and experience of the BMW i engineers from series production resulted in the drivetrain of the new Formula E car. In part, the same production plants are used as for the BMW i3. The collaboration between the motorsport and series production department works as an efficient cycle. The findings from Formula E flow directly back into the development of future series production drivetrains of forthcoming BMW i models.

Defining a “least green” element of Formula E is very difficult, as the innovative nature of the racing series makes it virtually impossible to compare with other series. With our commitment to Formula E, we are advancing the development towards sustainable and emission-free mobility, and are also making a contribution to the brand on its way to the BMW iNEXT.

Bunmi Ade is a motorsport consultant with several years’ experience as a Business Development Manager and Brand Influencer for motorsport brands. She has worked with Driven International since 2015 and is responsible for new markets at the consultancy whose clients include British Automobile Racing Club. Bunmi founded the GridPasses website, hosts regular business roundtable discussions with motorsport industry experts and occasionally writes for various publications like Times Newspaper, Paddock magazine and eRacingMagazine.

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