Developing a Formula E transmission solution for DS Performance

19 Dec 2022


The world of motorsport technology is always evolving. In the 50 years that Ricardo has been operating in the industry, our experts have been always at the forefront in supporting our clients to develop and integrate cutting edge technologies into their racing platforms. The advent of all-electric racing is no different.

In 2011, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship launched as the world’s first fully electric international single-seater spec-race series. It was conceived to develop driveline technologies for battery electric vehicles to promote clean solutions for the motorsport industry.

The first generation of Formula E, launched in 2014, was true spec racing with teams participating in identical vehicles. Initially, the battery capability at this stage meant that two vehicles had to be used to complete the race, but things evolved quickly.

The powertrain rules were relaxed for the second season vehicles (2015-2016), enabling teams to start developing new powertrain solutions which could give them the edge out on the track.

DS Performance and Ricardo: a partnership is formed

DS Performance first approached Ricardo to optimise a transmission solution in 2016. They required a solution which matched the series regulations, was sensitive to the unique requirements of electric powertrains, all whilst ensuring maximum performance on the track.

The designs were refined at concept level to minimise predicted losses through the gearbox. This allowed as much power as possible to be delivered to the rear wheels. Test gearboxes were then carefully analysed at DS Performance headquarters to validate efficiency predictions and feedback results for further improvements.

A new season with a new transmission

Season five saw the launch of the second generation of electric vehicles. A battery with more power and a larger capacity would provide a top speed of 280 km/h and meant that, for the first time since the series began, the race could be completed with a single car.

DS Performance needed a new transmission to accommodate these new specifications. Building on the learnings from the first generation vehicles, Ricardo developed a fully optimised single-speed gearbox with a two-stage reduction arrangement to match the high motor input speeds to the required vehicle speed.

The transmission was tailored for maximum performance and efficiency. The gears were made from aerospace steels to reduce the weight of the transmission and the tooth micro-geometry refined for maximum efficiency. The casing was also optimised for minimum weight.

Maximising performance and reducing power loss was also key to the success of the transmission. Careful consideration was given to the differential design to enable maximum performance. The oil system, rolling-element bearing design, casing design, and radial oil seals were all specified to reduce power losses through the gearbox.

Electric results for DS Performance

With DS Performance and Ricardo’s transmission technology on board, the DS Techeetah team went on to secure back-to-back Constructor’s Championship in season five and six. They also saw resounding success in the Driver’s Championship. Jean-Eric Vergne took the title in 2017-2018 and 2018-19, becoming the first series’ first repeat champion. António Félix da Costa then went on to win the 2019-2020 season, claiming the title with two races still to run.

In 2021, it was announced that Ricardo and DS Performance would be extending their partnership to develop a transmission solution for the third generation of electric vehicle for Formula E. This technology will appear in the vehicles of the DS Penske and Maserati MSG Racing teams. The ninth season will begin in early 2023 and will see the debut of this new vehicle specification.

Looking back on the collaboration with DS Performance, Steve Blevins, Head of Engineering for Ricardo’s Performance Products segment, comments:

“Developing technical solutions for the next generation of motorsports powertrain has always been at the heart of what we do at Ricardo. We place great emphasis on delivering transmissions which provide the maximum performance and efficiency and we are pleased to have played our part in enabling DS Performance to achieve championship success.”

Martin Starkey, Managing Director of Ricardo’s Performance Products segment, adds:

“We are proud to be able to continue our long and trusted history with DS Performance. Formula E is a catalyst not only help to decarbonise the motorsport industry, but also to refine the design of electric vehicles and improve the driving experience for everyday road car users all over the world.”

“In this, the final article celebrating 50 years in the motorsports industry for Ricardo, it is gratifying to the able to conclude by looking forward to the future. We are pleased to continue be at the forefront of developing sustainable, efficient, high-performance technical solutions which benefit not just to the motorsports industry but also the wider mobility market. Here’s to the next 50 years.”

Want to receive more expert insights from the Ricardo motorsport team?