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McLaren gets picked to make a more powerful battery for Formula E

The new battery will last a full race and help the cars go faster

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McLaren Applied Technologies — the technology wing of McLaren’s Formula One team — has won the contract to provide Formula E with an all-new battery starting in 2018, the sport’s governing body announced today. McLaren beat out the likes of Porsche, Red Bull Technology, Renault, and even Williams Advanced Engineering — the company that made the current battery.

Formula E, an all-electric racing series that was started in 2014, begins its third season next month. All 10 teams are provided with the same chassis and battery, but are allowed some freedom to develop their own motors, gearboxes, and rear suspensions.

The new battery will solve two of the biggest problems with the otherwise impressive young series. According documents published by the FIA in March (which is when the contest was opened up), the battery will have at least 54 kWh of available energy — almost twice as much as the current 28kWh battery used by the series. This will let the cars race twice as long on one battery, removing the need to swap cars in the middle of the race.

The inverter sitting on top of a Formula E battery, as seen at the Miami race in season one.

The FIA also specified that the new battery should be capable of providing 220kW of power during the race. That’s 50kW more than the current batteries allow, and should increase the top speed of the cars, which currently plateaus around 150 miles per hour.

McLaren isn’t the biggest name in the consumer car world — in fact it’s a relatively small and independently owned company that focuses mainly on high-performance cars. But it has a long history when it comes to motorsports, and McLaren Applied Technologies employs thousands of people in service of advancing everything from race tech to health monitoring. MAT even does business with companies that are way outside the automotive world, sharing its technology with the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG. (All of this is why the recent rumors that Apple is interested in buying McLaren make so much sense.)

“We’re delighted McLaren has been chosen by the FIA to be the sole supplier of batteries to Formula E from 2018 to 2020,” Rodi Basso, the motorsport director of McLaren Applied Technologies said in a statement to The Verge. “As well as providing a global showcase for our sustainable technologies, this win provides another example of McLaren Applied Technologies’ vision to work closely with series partners to do our bit to help make the fan experience quicker and slicker.” 

McLaren’s battery will make it into Formula E’s cars in season 5, which starts in 2018. (Formula E will also debut a radical new chassis in season five, though the FIA still hasn’t said who will make it.) The FIA says that, because of “the ongoing rapid development of battery technology,” Formula E will only use McLaren’s battery for two seasons before another new contract will be awarded.