Formula E - an industry built on rapid innovation

You will find Virgin companies working in some of the most forward-thinking and fast-paced industries in the world, from space travel to healthcare, but few are as reliant on new technological innovations to fuel their progress as that of Formula E...

To get a better understanding of how DS Virgin Racing embraces change and leverages the power of new technology we spoke to their Chief Technology Officer, Sylvain Filippi. As he explains, the impact of new electric vehicle innovations won’t just have an impact on the standings of the FIA Formula E Championship rankings, but on wider society.

You work in an industry that is at the cutting edge of technological innovation, what challenges does this throw up?

Sylvain: Electric Vehicle technology, in particular in the context of Formula E racing, has a very high rate of development. This is great news as it shows that we are able to innovate at a very rapid pace and transfer these technological innovations to electric road cars. It however creates an immense challenge for us, in the sense that we constantly have to question what we are doing and always have to push further to find the latest innovation that will make our Formula E race cars more competitive.

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What’s the best thing about working in an industry which is so intrinsically linked to ground-breaking technology?

I think it gives a sense of purpose to our team, i.e. we are not racing for the sake of going round race tracks as fast as possible, but rather to develop technologies that will make a real difference in peoples’ lives, by accelerating the uptake of electric cars and as a result improve air quality, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, etc. In short, it is highly satisfying!

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How do you see the technology being developed for your sport influencing wider society?

To expand on my last answer, technical innovation is at the heart of what we do, and our technology roadmap is very closely aligned to the needs of the automotive industry regarding the development of Electric Vehicles. We are not focusing on chassis and aerodynamic development but rather on developing high performance electric powertrains (e-motors, inverters, gearbox, software and soon batteries) that are lighter and more efficient every year, and will trickle down to electric road cars to improve their range and performance.

What one new piece of tech has had the biggest impact on your life in recent years, either inside or outside of work?

Easy, it has to be my new electric car! Fast, comfortable, far less stressful in London traffic jams and it costs me 4p per mile…

How do you ensure your team is agile enough to take advantage of new innovations and stays ahead of the competition?

The most important thing is to build the right team, with talented engineers who not only understand the latest EV technologies, but also thrive on racing success and are constantly motivated to develop our technology further. Beyond the team itself, the double challenge that represents the rapid pace of motorsport and EV technology means that our organisation and our procedures need to be highly efficient, so no time is wasted on unproductive tasks. Everything we do has to be guided by the ultimate goal of developing technologies and winning races!

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