Biz / Auto

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?

Shen Mengdan
China has emerged as a dominant player in the field of NEVs. The arrival of FE in Shanghai after a lengthy absence is clearly no coincidence, but rather a reflection of the times.
Shen Mengdan

The Shanghai International Circuit will host the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship on May 25 and May 26, nearly a decade after its Chinese debut in Beijing.

Unlike FE, which is still quite young, the Formula One World Championship (F1), founded in 1950, has a long history and a huge fan following, being known as one of the world's top three sporting events, along with the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup.

In addition to the participation of famous car brands, such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault, as well as a series of big names in F1 racing, such as Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, F1 is like a spiritual totem, a faith of many.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

The first Formula E World Championship was held in Beijing in 2014.

In a competition dominated by big names of European car companies, F1 finds no fleet of Chinese companies, which is unfortunate for many Chinese fans. The pity was compensated a bit by the cheers from the crowd for Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu, China's first F1 racer, who drove at a Chinese Grand Prix for the first time last month in the city.

As a result, the FE revival raises hopes for the future success of Chinese racing vehicles.

China has emerged as a formidable force in the field of electric vehicles. The industry has undergone unprecedented changes in a decade. The penetration rate of NEVs in China has grown from 0.08 percent in 2013 to 31.6 percent in 2023.

Last year, the production and sales of Chinese autos reached 30.2 million and 30.1 million, respectively, ranking top worldwide for the 15th consecutive year, according to the data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. It also contributed to making China the world's largest car exporter in 2023.

In the first quarter of 2024, on the global NEV sales rankings, Chinese models accounted for 16 among the 20 most popular models of NEVs globally, with BYD's two new models ranking second and third, respectively, behind Tesla.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

In 2022, Shanghai-born racer Zhou Guanyu made his F1 debut and finished 10th, achieving the first point in F1 history for a Chinese team.

The landing of FE in Shanghai after a long absence is thus no coincidence but a call of the times.

Wang Jiawei is a racing engineer. He is the CTO of Stable Engineering and was a scrutineer in F1 Shanghai for seven years after graduating with a degree in vehicle engineering.

He is now the chief national scrutineer for FE Shanghai 2024.

He was also part of the telemetry team, supporting the deployment of the telemetry system in FE Beijing 2014, FE Hong Kong 2016, and FE Sanya 2019.

He feels China is a significant market for electric formula race cars.

"If an international EV event is not held in China, it cannot be considered international. Besides, I think the number of races in China organized by FE is a little low."

He anticipates that his efforts will help to close the engineering gap in Chinese motorsport and underscore the need for training racing engineers.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Shen Mengdan / SHINE

Wang Jiawei, CTO of Stable Engineering, and chief national scrutineer of FE Shanghai 2024, talks to Shanghai Daily in an exclusive interview.

"Many people in China have no clue what a racing engineer is. In a racing team, engineers play a key role. For example, the driver can only describe how they feel about driving in words after testing the car, which is not accurate, while the engineers can objectively analyze the car's performance based on the recorded data on the track, which involves complex calculations."

Racing engineers also design racing engines and other key components. However, there are currently no related majors nationwide and no corresponding faculty so far, which is urgently needed improvement, according to Wang.

Formula racing competition is not only a competitive event with high entertainment value, but also a test field for the continuous technological progress of the automobile industry. Many modern car technologies first made their appearance on the Formula One circuit.

For example, the paddle shift is designed to make the driver concentrate more on driving, allowing both hands to stay on the steering wheel while shifting gears. At the same time, compared with manual shifting, paddle shift also reduces misuse and protects the car and the engine.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

Wang Jiawei was a scrutineer for the F1 Shanghai in 2012.

Like the original racing car usage, sedans now feature small-displacement turbocharged engines and the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, a common feature in NEVs. This system converts the car's kinetic energy into electrical energy for storage during deceleration, and then provides additional power to propel the vehicle when acceleration is required.

"Nissan, Porsche, and Maserati all use power engineering to test cutting-edge technologies on FE cars. Racing is a useful way to determine whether or not technologies are effective."

Wang explained that they will be able to determine the level of their technology by comparing it with others.

"I hope more Chinese manufacturers will see the racing industry itself as a valuable position to invest more resources in," he said.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

Wang Jiawei was also involved in the development of the MG6 TCR race car and led the team in Italy for the race.

With vast expertise in the racing vehicle industry, he believes that racing may help Chinese carmakers enhance their global brand image.

"Racing is an effective technique to establish brand image. Advertising would be very expensive. In comparison, the investment in racing is negligible.

"The motorsports industry is a very cost-effective avenue for investment," he said.

NIO, a Chinese brand, has already gone global in motorsports. Founded in November 2014, it has already established design and R&D labs in Silicon Valley, Munich, Shanghai, and London.

Since its inception, NIO has competed in the FIA Formula Electric Championship, winning the inaugural FIA Formula Electric Drivers' Championship in 2015.

The NIO 333 Formula Electric team competed for seven full seasons before withdrawing sponsorships due to new cash injections and a change in shareholding.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

NIO 333 was part of FE as a Chinese representative.

Wang Jiawei hopes for further investment from local vehicle producers in FE, as well as the development of Chinese car racers.

"Zhou Guanyu's participation in 2024 exposed many Chinese people to F1 for the first time. I believe that if FE wants to get traction in China, it must learn to convey the Chinese story rather than attempt to sell the European tale in China," Wang said.

The nation also began to focus on developing racing talent. There is already an established structure of karting competitions, with professional team groupings providing young drivers with job opportunities.

"A number of domestic drivers have already demonstrated exceptional talent. "If we want them to be more professional, we can only rely on domestic automakers to invest more resources," Wang stated.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

There is a new generation of great racers in China, such as Shanghai racer Cui Yue.

Since 2011, China has also begun to organize college electric formula racing, similar to European countries. This competition must test the students' comprehensive qualities, including engineering research and development, business and endurance races, as well as their racing engineering and management abilities.

There are a lot of students who worked later for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) after graduation, with a small portion entering the motorsports industry, according to Wang.

"I would like to see a team of our own on the FE stage one day, but I also think that the feeling of national pride is a by-product instead of a goal. The only way is to stick to our advantages and keep innovating, "said Wang.

Could FE serve as a breeding ground for Chinese racing cars?
Ti Gong

Participants celebrate the 2023 Formula Student Electric China.

Special Reports