Why software plays such a big role in Formula E

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Why software plays such a big role in Formula E

Season 9 champion Jake Dennis (Andretti) tells us about one of the biggest factors in Formula E.

Jake Dennis Diriyah 1

A commonly asked question in motorsport is what separates Formula 1 and Formula E? We’re both proud FIA World Championships, with great racing and incredible locations. However, there are notable differences. 

The most obvious is probably what we’re powered by. The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is all-electric and the first and only sport to be certified net zero carbon since inception. We use powertrains, whereas F1 has a 1.6-litre turbo V6 hybrid engine. 

GET TO KNOW: What is Formula E?

However, away from that, there are several other big variables. Software has been a huge part of the latest GEN3 era, with drivers saying that getting it right is fundamental. Explaining this vital part of Formula E’s DNA is reigning champion, Andretti’s Jake Dennis

Dennis had a shaky start to Season 10, finishing ninth in Mexico City. Yet, he came back fighting for the next rounds, a double-header in Diriyah. During Round 2, Dennis was ready to be back at the front and ended up winning the race with an incredible 13.289s lead to second-placed Jean-Eric Vergne (DS PENSKE). Yet, just hours after standing on the top step of the podium on Friday, Dennis’ car wasn’t behaving how he’d like for Saturday’s race day. Labelling his X99, “the worst car I have ever driven in Formula E”, it shows just how crucial software is to get right. 

Jake Dennis Diriyah 2

“I think the biggest thing between our Formula 1 and Formula E is the software side of things,” Dennis explained after his Diriyah weekend. The 28-year-old won Friday’s race, but was only able to finish 12th in Round 3. 

As well as his responsibilities with Andretti in Formula E, Dennis also works with Red Bull Racing in Formula 1 as their Simulator Driver. He was even given the opportunity to drive the championship-winning RB19 in Abu Dhabi last year, and works very closely with the current Constructors’ Champions. 

How much does software impact a driver?

“Generally, Formula 1 is all about the mechanical grip and downforce. If you've got that in a good window, throughout the weekend, then you'll be competitive because you've got pure grip and performance. Whereas in Formula E, with the software being so advanced – and probably 80% of the performance comes from software – it's very easy to fall out of that window if certain situations don't fall into your strengths.

“I think that's ultimately what can happen between teams from day to day. Obviously, we really struggled from Friday to Saturday in Diriyah, but there weren’t a lot of teams which went from bad to good. But, look at Nissan, they went from being terrible to then being probably the best car on the grid.

Jake Dennis 2024 Diriyah E-Prix highlights

“I guess from Nissan’s side, they generally perform better on high grip circuits, and it was obviously a much grippier day on Saturday for them and they delivered a good result.”

Nissan’s Oliver Rowland managed to secure the Julius Baer Pole Position on the Saturday, with both him and teammate Sacha Fenestraz getting into the qualifying Duels.

In addition to software and getting that right, it can also be tough if the tyres aren’t performing as hoped: “if you're not quite in the perfect window, the tyre can magnify your software issues because you've ultimately got less grip. 

“If you've got a load of grip, and a really good balance, you can generally suffer a little bit more with software. But when you've got a bad balance, and the software is on the limit, and you're struggling with your limitations, it then just magnifies everything. That's ultimately what happened to us, hence why it was a pointless day for the team.”

What can you change in the software?

With Formula E having such a compact schedule, with practice, qualifying and the race all in one day, it can be challenging to make changes and turn around the car with such a short timeframe - but not impossible. 

Jake Dennis Diriyah 4

So, what can you amend when it comes to software? Well, Dennis was fairly tight-lipped, not wanting to give away any secrets as all 11 teams will likely have different things they can tweak to improve the car’s drivability. 

“It’s all kinds of things with brake balance, regeneration, or the differential. There are plenty of different things that you can adjust, and every team has different ones. It's nothing out of the ordinary, but if it's not in the window in the correct session, which is qualifying, you're then at the back, and then there's only so much overtaking you can do when the races are energy limited.”

Both Mexico and Diriyah are races that haven’t allowed Formula E to showcase its normal chaos and craziness - however, things should be back to normal for the championship’s next race in São Paulo. 

Where will Formula E race in Season 10 and what's the schedule?

I think when we get to Brazil, you could qualify top eight and probably still win the race,” Dennis previewed. Misano and Portland will be how it used to be! I also saw an onboard of the Tokyo circuit, and when we go to London, it's going to be utterly critical to qualify at the front.”