Prowling in Paris: Jaguar’s hunt for points in its first Formula E season

Alphr catches up with Panasonic Jaguar Racing's team director, James Barclay

Curtis Moldrich
8 Jun 2017
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The Jaguar name conjures up images of classic cars with delicate, flowing lines and gas guzzlers like John Prescott’s iconic pair of saloons – but in 2017 one of Britain’s most famous carmakers couldn’t be more different. Sure, Jaguar still does executive saloons like the XE and XF, but it’s also made some bold, forward-thinking decisions recently. In the past few months, Jaguar has declared a renewed focus on electric powertrains, and it’s employed a two-pronged approach to further its EV development.

First, Jaguar announced the I-Pace, an all-electric SUV designed to take on the Tesla Model X. And then, just a few months later, Jaguar announced its entry to Formula E, marking the brand’s return to motorsport after a 12-year absence.

Just over halfway into its first ever Formula E season, thing are going well. Jaguar Panasonic Racing is joint-eighth place in the standings, in the mix with established teams such as Faraday Future and Venturi Racing – but it hasn’t been easy. Despite picking up points in what was only its fourth race ever, the Jaguar Panasonic Racing team has to contend with more experienced teams, a lack of development time and a new approach to racing weekends in general. 

To find out how things were going six races into to the season, Alphr spoke to Jaguar Panasonic’s team director James Barclay – just before the Paris ePrix.

Technical difficulties

Jaguar announced its decision to enter the Formula E back in November last year, two years after the series had started – and that came with one huge hurdle. Jaguar didn’t have the same level of experience as the other teams, giving the team a significant handicap. For the past two years, Jaguar’s competitors had learnt about their cars and the tracks teams will race on throughout the season. Testing, while important, is nowhere near as helpful as genuine race time.

“Testing was our first real opportunity to take to the track with Jaguar’s first ever all-electric racing car. For us, the focus was to learn as much as possible about this new technology and record consistent, reliable data, which was incredibly valuable for our engineers,” said Barclay. “Testing was critical for us in that we had to quickly get up to speed with the teams around us who had two seasons’ head start on us, but we also used testing as a platform for our final driver selection, which was very exciting.”

Like F1, Formula E teams aren’t really allowed to test during the season – but unlike F1, they’re not allowed to develop the car either, so any shortcomings at the beginning of the season become “locked in” for the rest of the year. “It’s no secret that we had a shorter time than we would have liked to develop and homologate our car before our debut,” admitted Barclay. “But we have been impressed with what we are achieving with the Jaguar I-Type 1.”

Racing experience 

The Jaguar team is playing catch-up not just in technical terms, but in organisation and workflow areas too. Unlike F1, Formula E races exclusively in cities. This means what would take three days in Formula 1 takes hours for Formula E teams – and this comes with big challenges. 

“The greatest learning curve in Formula E is that all the racing action – including two free practice sessions, qualifying and the race – takes place in one day,” said Barclay. “I can’t say that we underestimated it, but we quickly had to get into the spirit of making quick decisions and establishing clear communication channels to be on top of the fast nature of Formula E.”

Looking to next year 

While the Jaguar team is learning a great deal both technically and procedurally with this year’s car, it’s already focusing on the 2017/2018 season. “Each of the Formula E manufacturers will already be working hard on their cars for next year, and we’re no different. 

“We’re really looking forward to bringing the Season 4 Jaguar I-Type to the Formula E pre-season test later this year and getting out there with our competitors,” said Barclay. “It’s such an exciting time in any series, but the real difference with Formula E is that you can really sense the contribution that this series is already making to the future of battery electric vehicle technology.” 

Next year will see the rules remain relatively static, but it’s the year after that which is of most most interest to Formula E engineers. Alongside the entry of the factory BMW team, the 2018/2019 season will see new rules introduced that will change the sport significantly. New batteries will be supplied by McLaren – not Williams Advanced Engineering, as they have been since the beginning of the sport.

What’s more, cars will be required to run the entire race on one battery, removing the need for a pit stop and making races more of a sprint. This will place an onus on teams to get the most out of their batteries, and therefore develop technology that could filter down to road-going EVs too. 

To see the Jaguar Panasonic Racing team in action, you can watch the Berlin ePrix, the seventh round of the Formula E season, this weekend.

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