A summer of speed for EPFL Racing

EPFL Racing Team's students spent a day demonstrating their technical expertise to qualify. ©Alain Herzog/EPFL

EPFL Racing Team's students spent a day demonstrating their technical expertise to qualify. ©Alain Herzog/EPFL

EPFL and its electric single-seater racing car will take part in Formula Student motor racing competitions in Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany this summer.


For members of EPFL Racing Team, many of whom are students from the School of Engineering, the winter exam session ended with an additional – and significant – challenge: on 31 January, the students spent the day demonstrating their technical expertise in an attempt to qualify for this summer’s Formula Student races. They qualified for competitions in Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany this summer, having already made it into July’s season-opening race in Zurich as one of the home teams. So it will be a summer of speed for the approximately 50 students, including two women, who are taking part in EPFL’s motor racing adventure.

For many of the team’s members, the challenge started more than a year ago. “Our 2020 car is the result of all the experience we gained in 2019 and the lessons we learned from the mistakes we made,” explains José Hajjar, who is in charge of partnerships. “Last year, our aim was to have a functioning car. This year, we want a high-performance car. We’re doing all the same things, but twice as well.”

The team’s efforts have focused on improving the car’s engine, weight, batteries, layout and structure. EPFL Racing Team’s single-seater will have two engines, one to control each of the rear wheels, supported by an electronic assistance system instead of a differential. “The control software will take into account all of the car’s fundamental parameters in real time in order to control things like skid and stability,” says team leader Pierre Georges. “So it will really boost performance.”

Lighter and faster

The car is not only smarter but also lighter, because some of the mechanical equipment is no longer required. Although the 2020 model features roughly the same design as last year’s version, its weight will drop from around 300 kg to around 200 kg. That reduction is the result of improvements in the construction process, but also in materials due to greater use of carbon fiber for example. The battery represents another key enhancement. “By using copper connections between the battery cells, we can reduce resistance and increase output throughout a race,” says Hajjar. All of these innovations do not come cheap: the budget has almost doubled between 2019 and 2020.

“This year we have rethought every aspect and how it affects the rest of the car,” says Georges. The team has received support from EPFL through the MAKE program and is advised by Mario Paolone, a leading expert in batteries.

Public unveiling on 12 May

The design process for all of the car’s various components has now been completed and the custom parts are being built in-house. Final assembly will take place between mid-March and mid-April, in time for 12 May, when the car will be unveiled to the public at EPFL’s Rolex Learning Center. Its first competition will take place from 15 to 19 July in Zurich. EPFL Racing Team will then take part in races in Most, Czech Republic from 20 to 26 July, Zalaegerszeg, in Hungary from 4 to 9 August, and in Hockenheim, Germany from 17 to 23 August.

Formula Student, which was created 40 years ago, gives engineering students a chance to design a single-seater racing car to take part in competitions in various countries. The challenge involves designing the car and racing in up to nine competitions in Europe per year. Vehicles are tested through three static events focusing on technological solutions, cost management and presentation. They also undergo five dynamic events – acceleration, skidpad, autocross, endurance and fuel economy – that test the cars’ pure performance.