António Félix da Costa is an extremely fast worker. The motorsports star has barely caught his breath since speeding at 250 km/h per hour into sixth place at a race in Sao Paulo, but he’s already back behind another wheel on another continent. 

The location of his latest ride is the carmaking hub of Stuttgart, Germany, the home of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. But you’ll never see these wheels spinning away — because they’re permanently parked.

A stationary cockpit encased by screens, the device replicates driving da Costa’s Porsche race car. That provides crucial testing for the real thing.

“Once we got to the racetrack in Sao Paulo, the start setup and settings had already been defined here in the simulator,” da Costa tells TNW. “That’s how close we believe that simulator is to the real car.”

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It’s one of many technologies transforming Formula E — the electric cousin of the petrol-powered Formula 1. At TNW Conference on June 14, da Costa will share the secrets of the sport’s digital transformation. Ahead of the talk, he gave us a glimpse into the progress.

Da Casta has steered this headway from the start. In 2013, the young Portuguese was on a path to debut in Formula 1, until his team made a controversial decision to employ another driver. But when that car door closed, another one opened.

Formula E was about to launch the first-ever sport with a net-zero certification. And one of the teams wanted to make da Costa their star driver.

The rise of Formula E

Back then, the cars were dubious attractions. Two of them were needed to complete a single race. They also offered just a fraction of the power provided in Formula 1.

“I thought I was going to be racing with 1,000 horsepower,” da Costa recollects. “Then I find myself racing something with less than 200 horsepower — and we need to swap cars in the middle of the race to complete the race because the batteries don’t have enough range.”

Despite the teething problems, da Costa recognised the potential. Electric vehicles (EVs) were moving into the mainstream and Formula E had a chance to accelerate their progress.

“I need to keep thinking about the car’s brain.

Da Costa rolled the dice and was soon cashing in. The 32-year-old went on to win a world championship in 2020 and drive in every season of the sport. That’s given him unique experiences with the tech transforming EVs.

Under the hood

Today’s Formula E teams use only one car, which has four times the power of the original racers. In a period of slowing development in Formula 1, the progress of electric racing has only accelerated. 

The constant search for extra speed often leads to software. Drivers regularly get digital upgrades to every aspect of their cars, from the gears and radio to the power and torque. 

With potential gains at every turn, the team welcomes experimentation. When new ideas emerge, they’re quickly tested in the simulator.

“Even the crazier ideas can end up in the racecar the day after,” da Costa says.

Black and white photo of Formula E driver António Félix da Costa, who's spearheading the development of electric vehicles (EVs)