As one of the founding partners of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, Michelin has supplied tyres to the teams and competitors since the inaugural 2014/15 season. The French firm renewed its commitment to furthering the sustainability and performance of its road tyres through world class electric motorsportin 2017, and leaves Formula E at the end of the Gen2 era a key part of the series' history.
Michelin’s Pilot Sport EV tyres reached their third generation inside eight seasons of Formula E competition, having been the tyre of choice since the championship’s very first race in 2014. They’re the only 18 inch tyre to feature in a single seater FIA World Championship and the only one that’s engineered to perform in both wet and dry conditions.
With Formula E’s being all about racing sustainably and having a positive impact on the planet, every aspect of the series has to work to make these goals a reality. Tyres are one of, if not the most, disposable parts of a racing car given they’re rendered unsafe or unfit for purpose after a specific period of time. So, how has Michelin gone about producing a more sustainable racing tyre over its time in the series?
“It started right from the beginning of the championship,” said Jerome Mondain, Michelin Motorsport’s Formula E Manager. “We proposed to the FIA and Formula E to use only a single tyre for any condition: very cold, very hot, dry or wet. The idea was to produce as few tyres as possible with fewer raw materials. We had to mix the mindset of the motorsport spirit and the road purpose mindset."
The company more than achieved its goals during its eight-season partnership with Formula E as Official Tyre Supplier that saw its race tyre tech feed into its road-going consumer rubber, and here's how.
Built to balance sustainability, usability and efficiency
Michelin improved the sustainability credentials of the tyres across three generations of its Pilot Sport EV tyres. They’re about 20 per cent lighter than they were in Season 1, without any real loss of grip or tyre life. That saves some 9kg per car which comes together across 22 cars over a course of a season – as well as meaning less weight for the car’s powertrain to fire around a race track, and a smaller amount of energy needed to do so.
For Season 7 onwards, the teams had 25 per cent fewer tyres to use at a single race event, and up to 50 per cent fewer at double-headers, meaning fewer tyres need to be made, shipped and recycled than in any other FIA championship. This saved around 720 tyres over a season, resulting in a reduction of 50 tonnes of CO2 – slashing their impact by a third.
The life of Formula E’s tyres doesn’t end after they’ve left the race track, though, as 100 per cent of them go on to be recycled and are given a second life.
“All of our tyres after each event go back to the warehouse and they’re recycled,” adds Mondain. “One was they’re recycled is use in cement plants as the replacement for fossil fuels, and another example of a use they’re given is in playground and kindergarten floors.
"They're also used in roads to give elasticity to cope with expansions and contractions between winter and summer so they don’t buckle and crack, and helps the road last longer."
What are they like to race on?
With fewer sets to race on now than before, and an all-weather treaded tyre with less grip than a racing slick, the onus is on the skill and race craft of the driver, and the mastery of balancing pure pace with looking after their Michelins – a balance of efficiency and longevity with pace that’s seen across Formula E from its powertrains to the tyres.
“We have a bit less grip which means corner speeds are lower than if you were on slicks and that makes the racing more difficult as the cars are sliding more,” says Nissan e.dams' Sebastien Buemi. “We need to look after them a little bit but at the same time we’re pushing close to the walls. The slightest mistakes make you hit the wall or lose a lot of lap time.
“The driver has a bigger impact in Formula E than in other categories. From this season onward we’ve just got two sets of tyres for a double-header or one-and-a-half sets for a normal weekend. This isn’t easy and makes looking after them even more important.
“It shows just how good they are though because we can do the whole weekend on near enough one set of tyres. As much as you want all the grip on slick tyres, I like these as they make the racing exciting.
“Michelin uses Formula E and the tyres they develop for the championship as a laboratory for their road tyres, so you can expect to see the technology that we use on our race car on your normal car in the near future.”
So, the research and development that goes into making these tyres perform in pressure-cooker conditions over a Formula E weekend then informs what Michelin is doing with its road car products, making them last longer, perform better and deliver greater fuel efficiency for consumers.
Michelin has also employed sensors inside the tyres to harvest real-time data as the cars raced – a first in international motorsport. The analysis allowed lower tyre pressures to be used throughout the last four races of the season to give drivers better traction and more consistency in performance.
Belief from day one
"Michelin believed in the concept of the championship since before day one, sharing our vision as an innovative platform to test and develop technology for future road vehicles. Formula E is about forward-thinking and Michelin has built a tyre specific to our needs, but also relevant to the everyday cars we drive at home,” said Formula E Founder and CEO Alejandro Agag.