Benoit Treluyer's been the man behind the wheel of every ABB FIA Formula E World Championship prototype and car to-date, leading the development efforts from the drivers' side across Gen1, Gen2 and now Gen3.
The multiple sportscar champion and three-time Le Mans winner has pools of experience to count on in ensuring Formula E's generational leaps provide the best for drivers, engineers alike - as well as to the spectacle for those watching on from the grandstands and on TV.
GEN3 FACTS: Performance x Efficiency x Sustainability
For Gen3, Benoit sees the biggest leap in technology and performance the series has yet seen, and he was on-hand at the Gen3 launch yesterday in Monte Carlo to explain what makes Gen3, and what drivers and fans can expect when it hits the circuit in Season 9.
On jumping from Gen1 to Gen2 and now Gen3
I’ve been lucky enough to experience Gen1, Gen2 and now Gen3 from the beginning and the change has been huge. Gen1 was a lower power car, a heavier car but it was very interesting given the electric technology, which was completely unique. It surprised me at the time – it was good to drive and you could really concentrate on driving it like a go-kart.
Gen2 was a good step. It was more powerful, no car swaps as with Gen1 with the bigger battery capacity and drivability is good. It wasn’t a huge step in driving feel – mainly in power and design – but Gen3 for me is where that really big step comes in.
You have more power, a lighter car and the centre of gravity is more ideal and feels lower. It really looks like a single-seater and I’ve enjoyed driving it, not just as a new experience but from a technology point of view. The teams will enjoy working on the car because there’s so many possibilities to make the difference.
How much of a leap is Gen3?
Gen3 is the biggest step we’ve made, for sure. The car is made for street racing and the performance is right up there with the best. Traction and front grip are key when racing around streets and it feels great. We haven’t had much chance to set the car up and try things but the car’s reacted really well so far. Downforce is really good as well – you could really feel what was missing when we tested without various bits of the bodywork. Without certain pieces the car became unbalanced and if we didn’t put everything on the car it had a definite impact on performance.
GALLERY: Gen3: All the angles
With Gen2, you could lose some parts of the car without much of an impact on downforce or balance. Now, it will be crucial for drivers to keep clean in the race - this is more pure in terms of racing. We have top level drivers in Formula E and it has to stay like that. The respect between drivers is also a base of the sport and less aggression, from my point of view, is a good thing.
Another big factor is the braking system – there are no mechanical brakes on the rear of the car and we only have small mechanical brakes on the front. We mainly use the electric motor to slow the car down and recuperate energy through regen. You can play with the software to balance the braking feel. It gives the drivers more options and it will be really interesting for drivers to try unique things with the brakes – directional braking, and more braking power on certain corners of the car, for example.
So, the new car is more powerful, lighter, with bigger tires and more downforce. So it will be much quicker – by about two to five seconds per lap. It will also be more physical for drivers, which I could feel when I was driving. Depending on your sense of yourself as well, the steering is heavy. You feel you have grip, and you have a good strong grip and you can set up the car with really good strong grip. When you are doing more than 40 minutes driving in the street, and I mean street racing, you never really take a breath: you you just turn, brake, turn, brake, accelerate. With that grip and that performance of the car, they will have to go back to the gym, for sure.
What do you think of the Gen3's design?
Having seen the car in full now, I think it’s very cool. I like the rear wing, the front-end and the lines they’ve made across the car – it’s completely different to anything we’ve seen before. You could say it’s designed to be different, but it’s also functional. It’s shaped to be efficient through the air and there’s downforce at play.
The first time I saw the car was without the bodywork – just the monocoque and the way the car’s built. It looked really forward-thinking. The way they fixed the dampers and things looks completely different to a lot of race cars and with the front powertrain in the front monocoque there’s not much space and they have packaged it very simply, and very well.
When I sat in the car I was surprised at how well I fit – again, this isn’t always the case. I’ve got long limbs and I can have problems with single-seaters. So, it was a good first impression.
Behind the wheel
Gen3 will be completely different to other race cars in terms of feel but I think it will be better for drivers than Gen2, if it’s engineered and set up well. The braking system is key and the reduction in size and weight makes a big improvement compared to Gen1 and Gen2.
The intricacies of balancing the braking system will seem complex for many drivers at first but there are so many possibilities to set things up exactly how they want. You have to be less aggressive when you first attack the brake but you can modulate it really well and tailor it to how you want it to feel and your driving style. It will be interesting to see how drivers adapt as it is still unlike pretty much anything else they will have raced in the past.
One of the weaker points in the previous generation was the weight of the car, which you really feel around tight, bumpy streets. It makes cars harder to stop when drivers make mistakes and more cumbersome. Less weight and a smaller footprint means they will be more agile and the new tyres help with feel as well.
What can fans expect when it hits the track in Season 9?
I think the first race will be very interesting. It will be much quicker in qualifying with the 350kW power output and I can tell you, in the street with a small car, it will be quite something – especially with the tyres designed for race distances and all conditions, not outright single-lap performances. It will be tricky for the drivers, for sure, and it will be great fun to watch and see who adapts.
Starting from the front will be something special and in that first race and then the first corner will be very interesting – it will be the first experience they have of racing the Gen3. Batteries are full at the beginning and regen is more difficult then, so strategies will be completely different and teams will go in different directions. Some drivers might start hard and others might try to be more conservative. I don’t know what to expect and I don’t want to miss the start!
I’ve not given anything away! They’ve asked me how it is to drive and I’ve told them how fun it is – much more fun than what they’ve drive in the past. I’ve told them they have to stay around to try it out – it’s a proper race car.
How does it feel to be a key part of the car’s development?
The connection between my career and Formula E goes back to driving Audi’s e-tron sportscar. That was the first time for me having to save energy in races and use the torque and power of electricity. This was completely new and at the time we didn’t have the software to make it work to its best. We had to do it by ourselves as drivers and we had to think where to use it and where to save it.
We realised how key engineering is to racing EVs – it really is teamwork, even more than it’s been in the past and in Formula E the level is so high.
It’s something very special for a driver to be involved in developing the car – giving the direction to where we should go in terms of driver feel. There are so many parameters at play and there always has to be compromises with what the driver might want but you’re always proud to be part of the development.