Yesterday the new FIA Formula E series announced its first team entry, following up on recent announcements on race venues in Rio and Rome.
Lord Drayson’s team is the first of 10 which will contest the new series when it starts in 2014. Further venue and team announcements are due to follow in the coming months, including, it is understood, a race in London.
Recently I met up with the promoter of Formula E, Alejandro Agag for an interview which makes for interesting reading for anyone interested in new ideas. Agag has been around F1 for several years, and his BARWA ADDAX team won the GP2 teams title in 2008 and 2011.
Why do you think Formula E is the right formula?
“We are F1 and GP2 fans, but we think that there is a space for electric racing. When the FIA came up with the proposal we thought that it was a fantastic project. It’s what sponsors want, it’s what the industry needs. The electric car industry is still catching on, people still aren’t buying electric cars and there is the need to give the electric revolution a shot in the arm to make it more popular and to make people believe in it.”
There have been lots of new racing series that have been set up and which failed (e.g. A1 GP). What have you learned from those failures?
“We are very conscious about this and have tried to learn a lot, especially from the series that did not do well. One of the main reasons why they didn’t succeed is that they were trying to compete with F1. That’s really difficult. We think that we are very different because we race in cities and we are fully electric. That unique angle can be the base of our future success. We learned from A1GP, that had some good things and they were able to put together a global championship quickly, but they ran out of money because the business model behind it wasn’t working. We have a good business model, a good vision of cost control and we can impose that from the beginning.
“We have the agreement with the FIA, so it’s an FIA championship, which is important. Particularly for us as this is new technology. That support is really important.”
Your timing is good in terms of distributing the coverage of it, as you aren’t dependent on TV deals, you can stream the races on the web, right?
“Yes absolutely. We have a vision for the reach of our championship which is much more related to the digital and to streaming. Now technology allows for people all around the world to watch our races via internet. So we can be very flexible about where we race. It’s very important to us to have global reach, we have to be all over the world. So we are geographically distributing the cities where we race according to this.
“And we are succeeding; we have 15 cities around the world that want us to race there. We won’t be able to race in all of them in 2014, we will race in 10. Since we announced Rome another four cities have offered themselves. Sometimes it’s the Mayor, who contacts us sometimes it’s others, but it’s always the Mayor who signs the formal letter for the race. Mayors see it as a political asset for them. In cities all over the world a priority is to reduce pollution and the use of electric vehicles is a key element of that. So mayors see this series as a element of their policy that combines with other policies to get cleaner mobility.”
What are the benefits to you of having races in cities, rather than on race tracks?
“We think it’s about the message. And the message is for the people to see electric cars as a viable solution in their lives. So the people need to see the electric car where it is useful and that is in the cities. (FIA president Jean Todt) and I had the same vision on this. We always saw it as a series that was not for circuits.
What will the cars sound like?
“It will sound really cool, especially when it’s going fast. The motor (being produced by McLaren) makes a sound. It’s a futuristic fighter jet kind of sound. And I cannot want to hear the new engine when it comes in June.
“We have other noises that you don’t hear in other series, like the tyre noise. There will be a lot of drifting in this championship, because city tracks will be very slippery. We will go for duration and sustainability, rather than performance and pit stops on the tyres. A set may last for more than one race? You also hear the aero noise, which you never hear in formula racing.
Who is the target market from a fans point of view?
“A new market, perhaps not F1 fans, the diehards. This is a championship for younger people, who are interested in technology, people interested in environment. We want people who today are 14-16 years old to be inspired so that the first car they buy is an electric.
“The format of the races is a talking point. Drivers are going to switch cars during the race.
“If you look at the nature of the event, you cannot ask 25,000 people to come to a city venue for a 20 minute race.It’s not reasonable. You need to out on a show that is long enough for people to sit down and watch it, sit down in their houses and watch it. At least to get close to one hour.
“So a driver will have Car A and Car B. After around 30 minutes he will drop Car A, run a certain distance to his second car, race that, then come back to his first car, which has been on quick recharge and will be up to about 50% of the charge. So with 25 plus 25 plus 10 you are there at one hour.
“Of course we are showing an obvious limitation of electric cars, which is range. But over the years we will show the evolution of electric cars and batteries. And the video production people love it because it’s a new part of the show. We are going to try a lot of new things in this championship.”
What effect will this have on existing motorsport series?
“We think we are complimentary with other series. We want to make our contribution in terms of technology. We will become one more element of motor sport and competition. In our case we will also attract people who aren’t necessarily motorsport fans, but who like other things about our series. To see cars racing against backdrop of the Colliseum in Rome it’s going to be pretty unique. Like the London Olympics showed, the best backdrops are the cities and for the sponsors it offers all kinds of new possibilities.
Who is going to drive the cars?
“We aim to be a top driver series, so they’ll come from GP2, IndyCar, Formula 1. Guys that are young and who have experience, but who are racers in the middle of their careers. We have plenty of experience of drivers from GP2 (BARWA ran Petrov, Pic, van der Garde, Di Grassi etc).
“We see ourselves as a different proposition. For a driver coming out of F1 (like a Kovalainen or a Kobayashi or an Alguersuari), you cannot go back to GP2 but you could come to Formula E. Same for IndyCar. We think that drivers will see it as a good thing in their career, once they have achieved a certain moment.”