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DS Virgin Racing CTO Sylvain Filippi discusses his team’s ambitious goals for electric vehicle technology

In this article...

  • IT infrastructure is critical to DS Virgin Racing, which uses data analytics to win Formula E races
  • In this Q&A, we explore the tech behind Formula E racing and how it will help bring electric vehicles into the mainstream

As CTO of DS Virgin Racing, Sylvain Filippi manages the technical operations for the Formula E team and develops new technology for the race cars. In this article, Filippi discusses the technology behind DS Virgin Racing’s cars, the challenges his team faces and how Formula E will open the door to mainstream adoption of electric cars.

What technology will have the biggest impact on the future of Formula E racing?

Data analytics is at the core of everything we do—without data we don’t even exist! Getting data out and in the right format and interpreting it efficiently helps us set up a car better for a particular racetrack—which results in winning races.

“Data analytics is at the core of everything we do.”

Connectivity is also extremely relevant to the car industry. Car manufacturers are trying to think, “How can we make the experience of being in a car better?” For us, it’s all about performance. If we can replicate our trackside team setup back at our U.K. base, then we could have more engineers looking at the data, running more algorithms, using more compute power.

Tell me about DS Virgin Racing’s partnership with HPE.

We have ambitious goals for Formula E—build the sport really quickly, build a fan base and have amazing technology in the car. It quickly became apparent that we needed a very strong IT partner, and so we started working with HPE this year. Our first phase, which was to bring together all the necessary infrastructure, hardware and networking for the cars, is complete. We now have a system with our own server at the track, and we’ve started optimizing data flows to get information from the cars to the engineers as quickly as possible.

The main challenge is that we receive a lot of data in a lot of different formats—data from the timing, video feed, radio and so on—all of which are critical for us to run operations. HPE created a really cool solution to process all data through Vertica so we can digest what we need at any given time. That’s a huge improvement for us because we can analyze much more data more quickly to make better decisions.


What is Formula E’s role in pushing the future of consumer cars?

If you go back 50 years to the roots of motor racing, you can see that most of the innovations we have in our current cars—like rearview mirrors and automatic brakes—have been invented in motorsports. With Formula E, we will come up with a lot of innovations on the powertrain, the electric motors, invertors, electronics and software, that make these cars work.

Formula E is a real testbed for new technologies. We push technology to its limits in racing and we can test things that you could not otherwise test in normal driving environments. Additionally, we have over 150 million people watching our races, which can help change people’s mindsets about electric cars. The hope is that over the next two years, as our audience expands, people will think, “If these cars can do an hour race at 150 mph, then surely that’s good enough for my daily errands.”

“In 20 years, we’ll look back at petrol cars the way we look at steam trains now.”

Premal Shah, president and co-founder of Kiva, said at HPE Discover 2016 that his goal is to take a problem and eventually make it look absurd. For example, the way we think about cigarettes—we’d consider it absurd to smoke inside a bar nowadays. Do you think that applies to electric cars?

Absolutely. Last year, I was quoted as saying “In 20 years’ time, we will look back at petrol cars the way we look at steam trains,” which is the same idea. It’s becoming increasingly apparent to the entire automotive industry that the future of most of our transportation needs is electric. These cars are about 90 percent more efficient, they are better for public health and they make sense for daily commuters. The statistics show that most people who’ve tested an electric car very quickly buy one and never look back. For us, it’s a question of how to accelerate that.


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