“McLaren turn electric”

It was announced this week that McLaren Electronic Systems are to provide electric engines, transmissions and ECU’s for the FIA’s new Formula E series.

McLaren have teamed up with Spark Racing Technology – headed by Frédéric Vasseur {note 1} – to develop and build ultra-efficient electric vehicles, for competition at major international cities across the globe.

Although the championship will not be launching until 2014, there are plans for several demonstration races in the latter half of next year, with Rio believed to be the first stopping point.

Should this be confirmed, it would prove to be another key scalp for the city, which is already set to host the 2016 Olympic Games and several matches during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Indeed McLaren Group’s CEO, Martin Whitmarsh, believes this category to be an important step in the development of electric road vehicles in the future. “I’m a passionate believer in the role that motorsport can play in showcasing and spearheading the development of future technologies, and regard the Formula E concept as an exciting innovation for global motorsport.”
Whitmarsh continued: “working together in Formula E, McLaren’s world-class technology and Spark Racing Technology’s expert knowledge will combine to allow both companies to stay at the forefront of technical innovation and hopefully open up great opportunities for the racing cars of tomorrow.”

Rather unsurprisingly, Vasseur shared a similar viewpoint: “I am proud and happy to give birth to this project that is innovative and extremely rewarding for a company both technically and philosophically. Sport and society are evolving and Spark Racing Technology is proud to be the pioneer and leader in the new field of electric cars that will revolutionize the motor racing industry and attitude.”

Since its very beginnings, motorsport has helped new technologies develop through competition and it is hoped the electric car will follow a similar path of technological growth in time.
Although the category will begin as a specification series in order to keep costs down, there are hopes that elements of the machines may eventually be opened up to individual design interpretations, as long term design stagnation may only serve to suffocate the series.

{note 1}
Frédéric Vasseur may be a name unfamiliar to many, but the Frenchman has a touch of history behind him. Having founded the racing group ASM in 1991, they competed in Formula Renault 2.0 before Vasseur moved to French Formula 3 six years later, eventually guiding David Saelens and Tristan Gommendy to their respective titles in 1998 and 2002.
When the French and German F3 championships were amalgamated into the Formula 3 Euro Series for 2003, ASM followed too, but a new partnership with Nicolas Todt at the end of 2004 saw the team renamed ART Grand Prix for the next season.

Before the name change Jamie Green claimed the F3ES crown with ASM/ART Grand Prix making it six consecutive titles before the end of the decade with Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg and Jules Bianchi all taking top prizes – quite a roll call. However, by the end of 2010, the F3ES was struggling badly for numbers and competition, leading to ART GP’s withdrawl at the end of that season.

ART GP joined the new GP2 Series in 2005 and claimed the drivers title in its first two years with Nico Rosberg and Hamilton, while F3 graduate Hulkenberg made that a third title in 2009. The team have also been involved in the GP3 Series since its beginning in 2010, with ART GP claiming all three Teams’ Championships, while Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas took a Drivers’ Championship each.
From 2011, the team have been heavily backed in GP2 and GP3 by Lotus and currently run with their colour scheme and title name as a result. A bid to become the 13th team in Formula One for the 2011 season failed when the FIA denied them a slot on the grid.

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