Electromagnetic Attraction: Faraday Future and Formula E
Faraday Future, the start-up EV technology specialist designing and building ‘intelligent electric vehicles’ for the next decade, arrived in Formula E last summer in a somewhat stealthy manner.
Exclusive Motorsport.com interview with Nick Sampson, the Senior Vice President of Research & Development at Faraday Future.
It was one which reflected its seemingly invincible confidence in the automotive sector, which has seen the company grow from nothing to a staff of over 1000 in two-and-a-half years.
One of the public faces of their operation is Nick Sampson, the Senior Vice President Research Development. Sampson is also a founding executive member of Faraday Future.
An ex-Tesla director of vehicle and chassis engineering, the Los Angeles-domiciled Brit often assimilates Faraday’s nascent programmes to the early pioneering days of his old employer and the visionary ebullience of his former boss Elon Musk.
But before he completed a two-year stint at Tesla, Sampson was a mainstay of British engineering legends Jaguar, Lotus and RML. From these rather conservative beginnings, a maverick and inventive zeal in the future of EVs took over.
Indeed, a consultant engineer to Tom Walkinshaw during the glory days of the European Touring Car Championship and Group C, Sampson was often been a man behind the scenes – mainly in automotive but sometimes in racing, especially as a vehicle dynamics specialist which ‘Major Tom’ tapped into on many occasions.
Today, Sampson helps oversee the company which debuted its first production vehicle, the connected FF 91, at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show last January. Just 300 “Alliance Edition” launch units are set to be made available, with first deliveries targeted for 2018.
He was a central part of getting Faraday into Formula E by helping join some dots that existed between staff that worked within Dragon Racing boss Jay Penske’s media empire and LeCo, the Chinese consumer electronics giant which was founded by Jia Yeuting and is the primary investor in Faraday Future.
So far, the partnership has heralded an integration of Faraday engineers in to the existing Dragon Racing set up, which is now formally known as Faraday Future Dragon Racing. A dramatic new livery was unveiled for season three and Faraday’s brand is clearly evident.
What isn’t widely known yet is what mark the company will make from a long-term perspective in Formula E.
“At this point we are finding our way quite gently and progressively,” says Sampson, who has attended most of the races in season three so far. “At present it is just the powertrains we are looking at, not any other systems yet because that is for the future perhaps.
“As an engineer it can be slightly frustrating as you would like to be able to jump in with the technology, but equally you could destroy what is becoming a really good formula from a costs and economics perspective.
“If they open it up too much then somebody is going to throw silly money at it and everyone else is going to lose interest. It is fantastic that almost every team down the pitlane has a manufacturer tightly or loosely connected with them.”
Sampson adds: “We have some of our Faraday engineers involved in the team at present, largely helping on the software side on developing a proposal for energy management and to look into that even more.
“The strength of the relationship is growing over time, to try and create an integrated team. Our aim long-term is to be more technically involved, which is why we got into it in the first place, to have that tangible technical input.”
For a man who has been immersed in the automotive world since the mid-1970s but also retains a deep-rooted passion for motorsport, Sampson is ideally placed to appraise the current correlation between the automotive and motorsport industries.
“I think it is a two-way thing, I really do,” he says. “A lot of people see how motorsport feeds back, in a diluted way, into the automotive industry, but in a lot of places there is quite a lot of good stuff going on in the automotive world which could help the motorsport one too, so it is a two-way transfer.
“At Faraday Future we have a special projects group formed to do anything which is non-related to our core production work to enable the production team to stay mainly focused on delivering the first car, the FF 91.
“It is very easy for people to get distracted, as it is great fun to work on the race car or whatever, but people need to remain focussed to deliver the production version.
“Therefore we have a small group of people who are focussed on this Formula E programme, which one we view as vital to our future development.”
For a company named after English scientist Michael Faraday, who discovered the Law of Induction and Electromagnetism, Faraday Future would appear to have an eye on the long-term when it comes to electric racing and particularly Formula E.
“Right from the early stages we could see that Formula E was a very interesting tool for us,” says Sampson. “Definitely as a technology proving ground, but also getting the EV message into the environments it needs to, so it can go properly mainstream.
“It is about saying what is good about this; such as it is run in city centres, it seems to be attracting a different crowd, in terms of people coming because it is on their doorstep, so those who don’t have to travel out of town to get to a motorsport event might be attracted to this.
“It is a series which is thinking about trying to integrate with the digital age with the fanboost and things being available online, all things to attract a different market, rather than perhaps the die-hard, traditional motorsport fans among us. It captures a lot of people.”
Sampson continues: “I genuinely believe, having been in the EV world for a while now, that the EV is a better product, it is more exciting to drive now.
“I think that was the trouble in the early days that people thought we might be saving the planet, but we are not going to enjoy driving the car. But actually they are now fantastic to drive.
For Sampson and Faraday Future there is one key sporting aspect they desire more than anything else. It is one likely to be shared by Jay Penske too – a race in California once again.
“In terms of racing in the USA, it is sad that there isn’t a west-coast race,” he says. “California is one of our biggest markets for EVs by a long way, so to not have a race there is really a bit of a shame.
“New York will be fantastic, but in an ideal world we would love for there to be an east- and west-coast ePrix.”