Monaco and motorsport go together like cheese and fine wine. Whether it’s car racing or rallying, or even just a place for drivers to call home in between races, the links with the Principality and the world of motorsport are long and illustrious. Yet for all this, when it comes to car manufacture, its history is much less star-studded… For now.
Venturi Automobiles was founded in 1984 in France with the aim of become a maker of luxury sportscars. Initially called MVS – its Ventury model was unveiled in 1985, with production getting under way in 1987.
The renamed Venturi company briefly dabbled in motorsport, taking over the Larousse Formula 1 team in 1992 and running numerous GT versions of its cars at Le Mans and in sportscar racing. Despite fairing extremely well against its established rivals from Porsche and Ferrari, the company was struggling financially and in 2000 it was declared bankrupt.
However, there was a saviour waiting in the wings in the form of Monegasque businessman Gildo Pallanca Pastor, who acquired the assets in 2001. He made a strategic decision that the company would focus on low-volume, high-tech electric cars, putting in place the process that would ultimately take the Venturi brand into the all-electric Formula E championship.
Venturi’s adventures in electric vehicle development are far from confined to Formula E – through its sensational VBB3 ‘rocket’ it holds the Electric Land Speed record – while it has put its knowledge of operating EVs at extremes to the test with a series of expeditions to Antarctica.
While these three endeavors may appear diffuse at a glance, each has a way of helping to benefit the knowledge pool that might be transferable to a sister project, as Franck Baldet, Venturi’s Chief Technical Officer, explains.
“Mainly it happens to improve the simulation, because we always start from a simulation,” he says. “Having different kinds of vehicles means we can have different kinds of powertrain models, battery models, tracks or whatever. On the mechanical side working on a very high-speed vehicle means looking for very high-speed wheels, bearings, shafts and so on, so we can get some knowhow from this project and use it on Formula E. Then in Formula E, as in Antarctica, you need torque and torque is stress on materials. All these projects are using materials that are very high level like carbon, titanium, because we are always looking to maximize the concept.
“I can’t say that we are using a motor from VBB3 to do Formula E because the specification is different and it’s exactly the same with Antarctica. But on one side for Antarctica we are looking for torque and for VBB3 we are looking for speed and Formula E is torque and speed, so we merge the projects.”
When Venturi was among the 10 brave electric racing pioneers who committed to the first season of Formula E, it was still a low volume constructor of electric cars, and sub-contracted the running of the race team.
However, when the regulations were opened up for Season 2, Venturi became a manufacturer in its own right. To handle the increased workload, the car production was put on hold and all efforts were focused on the VM-200-FE-01 – it’s first-ever all-electric competition racing car.
The original Formula E car had a motor supplied by McLaren Applied Technologies. This was based on the one in the P1 hypercar. Venturi has continued its relationship with the sister company to the world-famous grand prix team, but the motor has evolved significantly over the following two seasons.
“McLaren is a fantastic supplier,” says Baldet. “We are designing the specifications of the motor and I think they have a lot of knowhow internally. We are working very nearby all together and up to now it’s a very good team.
“What we have today compared to Season 1 is completely different. The package seems externally the same – the dimensions – but it’s completely new, new rotor, new laminations, new electric wires, new everything internally. You can’t see it externally but we put a lot of effort into the redesign. We defined the targets and McLaren succeeded in reaching the requirements.”
In Season 2, Venturi supplied its technology to Dragon Racing, and Baldet says it’s keen to become a supplier again when two new teams join the series in Season 5. However, he is less enthusiastic about the prospect of Venturi partnering with any of the existing OEMs in Formula E. There are big changes afoot in Season 5, with the switch to a new battery capable of completing a full race distance and Venturi has already confirmed that its next gen powertrain will be built in conjunction with engineering giant ZF. In Monaco, it also announced a new partnership with Farasis Energy, an American-Chinese specialist in Lithium Ion batteries.
“There will be nine manufacturers for Season 5, which have all been announced,” states Baldet. “And there will be 12 teams. As a manufacturer, and because it’s written in the FIA rules, we have to provide powertrains to other teams. For the development of the new powertrain we have a fantastic partnership with Rohm, which is a leader in semiconductors. The combination of Rohm components and our powertrain design is a unique combination in Formula E.”
Baldet previously worked at Ferrari, where he was responsible for integrating the company’s Formula 1 technology into its production cars. Having such a comprehensive understanding of the differences between the two types of engineering challenges, and looking ahead at the workload Venturi faces over the next three seasons, he doesn’t anticipate road car production returning in the immediate future.
On the weekend of the Monaco ePrix, the local football team, AS Monaco, won the League 1 title for the first time since 1999-00. Coming off the back of the club’s excellent showing in the Champions League, where it made it to the semi-final, local sporting pride in the Principality is at a high.
Venturi did its bit too, with Maro Engel securing the team’s best qualifying and race result this season by starting and finishing the race in fifth place. A podium is the team’s next target, with its maiden win in its sights once that has been achieved.
“It’s very important for the Principality of Monaco to have a great football team, to have a Formula E team that is racing all around the world,” Baldet says.
The team’s next opportunity to race for the pride of Monaco comes this weekend with the Qatar Airways Paris ePrix. Last year the team’s other driver, Stephane Sarrazin, was a solid fifth at the Les Invalides track, so everyone will be pushing hard to seal that breakthrough result.