Interview: The man with a plan to change motorsport
Posted By: James Allen  |  10 Jan 2013   |  3:35 pm GMT  |  88 comments

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.”

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I'm not sure that Agag is the right man to be leading this championship especially after seeing the QPR documentary with him and Flavio Briatore


God can you imagen the pit stop for refueling? pull in, team run around looking for a plug, realise it wont reach so ask the wife if she has seen the extension, disapear to the shed out the back finally returning with a 4 gang extension to plug into the wall.....then sit and wait for 2 hrs while the batteries are charged.



Dude, they don't wait for the car to be recharged. They use two cars.


@Phil H

O... now I get it.. haha! Silly me.


@ JB

Completely missing the sarcasm.


Ha, ha- that's brilliant!


I'm looking forward to this series. However, I'd rather see a pit-stop for fresh batteries than a car change.

But, things being as they are, I have a question. I understand the plan is for an open formula. Would it be possible (as far as rules are concerned) for a team to have higher capacity batteries and change car only once or are the two stops mandatory?


Why not? Higher capacity batteries are heavier thus the cars will either be slower or do less laps per battery. So it will come down to a choice like it used to be in F1 eg how many stops is fastest, how much fuel to put in?

Only when we get graphene batteries will the charge rate be high enough to recharge during a race. (then the current will be seriously high) Battery explosion could be v nasty


Stops are mandatory to start with.

However I see this series eventually going to the new technology where current from a primary coil under the road surface is picked up by a secondary coil in the car.

That is the future of electric in cities and I reckon Formula E will be the showcase for it. Will be a bit like Scalextric!!!


"That is the future of electric in cities "

With all due respect James I think you're dreaming in technicolour.

Cities will *never be able to afford this, even in 200 years. (and where would the electricity come from anyway - somebody elses back yard!)

Far, far more likely that fuel cells will produce the power on board.

The automobile *is our dominant mass-transit system for one reason: the freedom to go *anywhere there is a road.


"zero emissions in cities"

And the electricity is generated by?

Coal fired power stations?


Wait and see. I think many will. It's a "no-brainer"

You dig up the roads once and you have a power grid for cars for generations and zero emissions in cities.

Open your mind


I sincerely hope Mr Allen is wrong about cars racing over a cable embedded in the roadway. The automobile represents freedom to go ANYWHERE. That would be like racing trams!


"but if you are racing on a track you go in loops, not anywhere." Tell that to Kimi!


Yes, just to clarify, the cars can drive anywhere - on the race track - and still receive a charge electromagnetically. They won't be stuck in slots like Scalextric!

- And, an added bonus, some drivers (like Vettel, to pick a name at random!) would be at a disadvantage if they choose to drive off the proper track to make a pass, since they'd lose some power charge as a result!

- unless they decide to put charging coils under the entire drivable area (i.e. including run-offs) so that cars in trouble can still drive off the racing track and still limp back to the pits...


Yes, but if you are racing on a track you go in loops, not anywhere.


"Will be a bit like Scalextric!!!"

I think it will be like that already. That's pretty much the sound I'm expecting. And that's great!

The recharging while moving reminds more of Nintendo's F-Zero. And that's better! Imagine trading a pit lane for a "recharge area". ¦¬)


With developements in Graphene based super capictors starting to match the energy storage of conventional bateries, while having a much much faster charge time. The image of an F-Zero style charging lane might not be that unrealistic!

This is what excites me about an E-Formula. If the rules allow for development, this could be fantastic.



Would it not be easier to have just tyre changes? I think car changes would be tedious for fans.


They'd have been better off running two 25-minute races than a single one-hour race where you have to swap cars twice. It just emphasises the major disadvantage of the thing they're trying to promote.


Totally agree with you.

The audience will question: Why the heck won't they just swap the batteries to make things easier?

It ain't like in real life they can swap their own family electric cars if it ran out of batt while on a journey to the countryside for a good vacation.

Dumb idea to swap cars to be honest.


Swapping cars is a terrible idea. The only thing worse would be for the final 10 minutes the drivers would be made get out and push.


Yes I agree, hardly the best advertisement for electric cars.


They get out of the car and run to a 2nd one?! And then back again for the final stint because the charge won't even make half the race distance? I hope they improve the technology pretty quickly, coz that arrangement sounds somewhat farcical. And while I'm sure they've got the details all worked out, the idea of a driver having to "run a certain distance to his second car" with a whole bunch of other drivers trying to come in at the same time to do their own car switch is giving me images of drivers running each over in the pit lane.

I'm hoping the rules will allow some proper development to go on in the category once it gets going, rather than it being clamped down to the point where the teams are stuck finding tenths in areas that have no real world relevance. Not having a go at F1 there, but they're talking FE up as being about promoting electric cars out in the real world. So let 'em go wild on developing technologies that might actually find their way into their slower road relatives. Bugger the aero, make 'em work hard on the stuff that's relevant.


Aero *is relevant, even today in road cars. Haven't you noticed that the cars of today are much more aerodynamic that those of only 10 years ago?


What, Chelsea tractors? 😉


2012 BMW X5 has a drag-coefficient of 0.34 vs a Mk3 golf at 0.42. So would say aero is hugely relevant.


I'm really looking forward to this series, its the technologist dream. We all think of F1 as the cutting edge in motor sport, however with its reliance on old school fuel the power train technology is pretty antiquated.

James, is this series a single design or do teams have a blank canvas al la F1?

I also hope they fit all of the cars with neon lights, very Tron.


Likewise, I'm also very interested in this - interested in any new form of Motorsport, and I'm both a two decade die hard F1 fan and not particularly young.


I wrote a piece on this back in September when FormulaE was still very much in it's infancy ( Since Agag etc have taken the reins it's become more obvious that it will become a spec series, which is a shame in some respects but makes more sense as an initial marketable product. I look forward to seeing the series take shape especially if they can get the likes of Senna, Kobayashi, Barrichello, Alguersuari etc to take the wheel. The problem as ever with motorsport will be funding and so having it as a standalone series in cities may seem the right thing to do but in terms of longevity pairing it with another series may have created a better platform.


It isn't a spec series, as I understand it. They encourage teams to do their own cars but to get it started they are offering to supply cars

I think that if it takes off you will see cars from EV specialists as well as the Toyotas etc of this world

Then cost control will be crucial


Well, sorry, but if it quacks like a duck...

Ofc its a spec series! One manufacturer, one engine supplier = spec series.

Is there an FIA rule book anywhere? I bet not.If so,lets see it!


It's not a spec series, the rules are clear that other teams can come in with their own cars, the idea is to develop EV tech.

But being realistic, to get a series like this off the ground with Europe in recession you need to get started with teams, even if they have to use the same cars at the outset. But everyone hopes to see Honda, Toyota and electric specialists entering different vehicles.


Sorry James I didn't mean to imply it was a spec series, just that it was leaning toward one. I have a copy of the regulations that the FIA originally put forward and let's just say they are virtually a blank canvas in terms of aero.

The problem is that as you say costs could get the better of it and rather than it being about the Electric element it could become another development race driven by aero. However (from memory as the regs are on my work computer) only a couple of aero modifications are allowed each season.


Everyone here needs to just give up on the idea of "doing away with aero."

It aint going to happen, in *any series.

Simply due to the laws of physics, in anything going faster than about 50 mph aero is going to be significant, if not dominant.

If you outlaw wind tunnels it will be done with CFD.

If you outlaw computers, it'll be done with sliderules.

The E-type Jag was done with sliderule and pencil and paper.

So just give it up and accept that aero is here to stay.

Scuderia McLaren

Wow. Unique idea. Cool idea.

Love the only street circut idea. It give the series a unique sporting challenge and identity to compliment the electric tech which gives the series the obvious technical challenge and identity. Am a fan of street circuts in particular and if electric cars don't take my fancy, will watch for the street appeal anyway.


Agree with you.

It can only succeed being different to F1, by having more street races. Series like A1 GP failed coz it tried to match F1 but F1 provided better spectacle hence A1 GP could never take off.

Scuderia McLaren


Love the name Stable Ferrari!!!


at the TT they have electric bikes. the top riders have started riding them and they are getting to a similar performance as the standard bikes. So it could be a good series.

would they be able to have them as support races for F1 at street tracks? IE Monaco, Singapore. this would cut out some expense while getting more exposer and the chance of bigger TV audiances?


“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.”

Giorgio Pantano raced in F1 (2004) and then went to GP2 (2005 to 2008). He had done F3000 before F1 and rules allowed him to go back to the second series. Rules changed? Drivers coming out of F1 can't go back to GP2 anymore? That could be a problem for drivers coming out of F1 now or can they do something else and go to Formula E in 2014?


I belibe Grosjean got to F1 through GP2 and then went back to GP2 after he was dropped by Renault at the end of 2009.


Yes, so rules stay the same, drivers can go back to GP2, only it is unusual to go there after F1 (I can only remember about Glock, Pantano and Grosjean and they were all champions in the series). My only doubt now is if drivers racing in DTM or something else in 2013 (outside F1, GP2 or F Indy) can go to Formula E. I think they can but I'm not sure, as Agag said that new series is for drivers coming from F1, GP2 or F Indy...


Correction: if drivers leaving F1 now and racing in DTM in 2013 can go to Formula E in 2014...


I took it to mean that to go back to GP2 is a step down career-wise, not that it's not allowed. He's lining Formula-E as an equally top-level formula with F1 and Indy.


What I would really want to see are fuel cells in this series. Batteries mid-term technologies, fuel cells long-term. For this format to accelerate fuel cell development would be revolutionary and of huge benefit.

With fuel cells being actively championed by Honda, BMW and Mercedes you have an excellent platform for competition which could migrate into F1 within 10-15 years.

I don't see anything making batteries viable to the consumer compared with zero emission fuel cells.

Now Hydrogen refuelling in pit stops would be worth the ticket price alone!


Yes indeed. imagine a hydrogen powered version of the old 3 litre V10


Thanks, James -- very insightful from several angles. Regarding the difficulty of electric cars catching on in the general public it could be as simple as the economic issue of cost per mile, especially given the premium asking prices. The secondary issue is that the jury seems to still be out on the environmental consequences of battery manufacturing -- perhaps not the same type as the internal combustion engines, yet also of a very negative nature. Just thinking out loud.


AND also the disposal of said batterys, Garrett.



James, you should include a poll with this article. > I am a fan of the Formula E series. Twenty years the senior of their target audience …


Absolutely. I think he'll be surprised how many of us long-tooth die-hard F1 fans will welcome it.


Interesting article and proper placemate (Inovation Briefing) on your site, James. Who knows, you could become the "DSJ" of the electric car era, regaling the grandkids with "war-stories".

2 thoughts immediately sprang to mind as I read this. The old LeMans starts of the '60's & what a run the internal combustion engine has had to date.

It just might work in reverse & get kids interested in F1!



Edit: should read "placement" vice "placemate".



James, how fast will these cars be able to go? We all love F1 cause of the sheer jaw dropping speed of its cars.


Around 250 km/h - pretty quick on city streets


That's like high-end sportscar top speed tho o_O... though for an electric motor that'd be pretty impressive.


I am not at all sure that street circuits will be feasible. They are excessively uneven, bumpy, dirty and have large metal plates in them eg drain covers, manhole covers etc. (I am thinking here of damaged batteries which presumably would be on the bottom of the car for the lowest centre of mass.


If they're even at any risk, all they'd have to do is have a rule that puts the battery in a safer place. In a basic version, if the regs state the batteries have to sit a minimum of whatever height above the floor of the car, everyone has the same COG problem to deal with. From memory there are tight COG rules already in F1's engine regs, so it's not like it's completely new territory. I think the bigger problem they'll have to deal with is keeping the batteries cooled..

The thing I'm not sure about with the whole street circuit only thing is the actual quality of the racing. They'll want to get the layouts right, coz a bunch of guys following the leader around, unable to overtake, race after race... doesn't sound like a particularly interesting category to get people interested.


Plus having hard tyres that slip and slide and spin up! It could be interesting to see them accelerating out of corners smoking the tyres with armfulls of oposite lock! With the clectric motor screeming! (And the tyres screeming).

As long as they don't stuff it all up by alowing traction control and other electronic "driver aids"!



Yes I agree but:

The work done on battery change for road cars s looking at: drive over a jig like in a car wash, then a mechanism unlocks the old battery and lowers it, then takes it off to be recharged. Then a new battery is slid up into place locked in and you drive off.

This was mentioned in "The Charging Point blog, which sadly has lain dormant for several months.

A national network of battery replacement stations obviously ideally at existing petrol stations was planned by one manufacturer. The was to be a trial run with a new car in Israel. Pity the blog went dead. (What happened James?

BTW re someone else above, if the specs do not include electric brakes those who wrote them want shooting. It is an obvious energy recovery system. (can you get the voltages to match though?)


I think a series of short races would be a better option. Swapping cars mid race seems a tad silly.


I think it will be great and fascinating. I'm willing to 'get into it' and accept the differences (eg engine noise).

I'll also look forward to the technical developments. Think of current F1 advances - who'd have imagined pit stops under 3 seconds?! So now consider the FE car-changing: Do you remember the TV puppet series Captain Scarlet, and their 'Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle' (where the driver faced backwards - for crash safety - driving via a monitor screen). The whole driver's seat assembly slid sideways out of the side of the vehicle for faster egress... FE could do that to save pitstop time!

- Or else, stick with one car, and a huge interchangeable tray of batteries they simply slide out and in under the car body?


Not a fan of the idea of switching cars but overall not a bad idea. I would've thought say a 45 minute race (in the same) would be enough of a show if they packaged the race with other events (sort of like a full day festival).


I do not see why switching cars seems odd. In LMS we have a change of driver several times and we used to have a Le Mans start in historic races.


... which was stopped coz of the danger in running towards cars. There's a point in why it stopped.

Plus if F-E was to promote the thing for city use, seeing drivers swap cars due to the battery doesn't last does nothing to help to promote it.


As a race fan and tech geek I'm pretty interested in this, and you never know it might be the start of something big. I will definitely be tuning in.


Is it going to be on tv?????


I'm still not sure that having a "standalone" series is a good idea.

Are they really expecting paying punters to attend in tens/hundreds of thousands to offset their set-up and infrastructure costs ? Or are sponsors already lined-up to handover those millions of dollars ? Or are the taxpayers of the individual cities going to pay the bills ?

To me, it would've made a LOT more sense to put the series into existing street-circuit race-weekends in combination with F1 or other major series so they could kickstart this news series with existing crowds sitting at the track and neglible/reduced infrastructure costs for the set-up.


I'm guessing for one they don't want it labelled as a junior or lesser support type of category. They want it viewed as the top of its own heap, rather than something that tags along as an F1 side show or whatever.

The thought just occurred to me of a whole bunch of electric cars, scattered throughout a lap of Spa, parked and out of power. Haha. I hope when it gets giong, the laps are relatively short and they've got some accurate telemetry on the battery charge!


If car changes were part of F1 reckon on teams spending millions on technologies for quick driver eject and re-strap in. Mechanically assisted running suits to shave 0.2s off the sprint between the two cars.

The FIA will of course ban it a season later for being too expensive, but then the teams will develop high performance artificial knee replacements to claw the lost 0.2s back.

The new technology will open up new revenue streams for the teams to provide advanced joint replacements. will have a pair MacLaren advanced artificial knees by 2020 and be able to outrun a current F1 car.


It will be interesting to see the development- to me that will be more interesting than the racing in 2014.


Epic fail of a series. Just sayin'.


Instead of refueling / recharging at pit stops, it would be awesome to see them changing BATTERIES.

They'd turn the cars over, remove a plastic hatch and then replace 4 drum-like battery packs (which look a bit like giant AA batteries), held in place by coil springs. Occasionally, a pit crew member may have to use a giant screwdriver to dislodge each of the battery packs.


Nice one!

Need to keep those contact springs clean too, and require a big lever to get the new batts in against the springs.


I hope the safety chaps are on the ball with this one. I fear that if the car changes are part of the racing then at some point someone is going to drive off without being buckled in properly.


Works ok (mostly) in LMS.


Like others, I am skeptical about the whole driver change thing as I think two short races would be better, but this could be interesting.


Good for Agag. He's very intelligent and on the ball (or a million of them). He will no doubt use this as a stepping stone to take over where Mr. E leaves off.


Hardly! I think he's got enough on his plate getting Formula E to the start line for 2014


This is going to make as much sense as the WNBA or the Lingerie Football League. Electric cars and electric motorcycles are about as useful as Segway scooters!


I reckon F-E will need more big name manufacturers to join in order to make the series attractive.


So if a driver crashed on the last lap before the car change could he just run around and then get in the new one? 😉


In fairness, I like some of the ideas here. Streaming on the net sounds good, and also the street circuits, as many others have said.

But I think one of the main problems with getting yougsters or others interested in the idea of buying electric cars is that they mostly look like domestic appliances or pretend real cars.

It might be better to have futuristic looking cool cars that have a closer relation to street production cars.


i wonder if mr.newey will be listening to the "aero noise"...


I fear this is doomed to failure for the same reason that A1GP and Superleague Formula failed: you can't just invent a big-money, international racing formula out of nothing.

All the successful ones I can think of have evolved organically, from amateur racing, through professional and national championships, and finally becoming international.

When we get to the point of several countries having thriving national championships in an electric open-wheeled formula, then it will be time to launch FIA Formula E.


Love the entire idea of the series and think it will be a great step forward for tech advancements.

How do we speed up the process of producing main stream electric vehicles? ---We put the most competitive people in the world on the job.

I like it.

As a driver though, I just don't know about the "running to another car" to make a change and then keep on going??? In sports cars this is much easier to carry out, and it's usually not the same person getting in and out of the car to go back out again... but in a formula car?? I'm not sure. I'd hate to have a bunch of frantic drivers running around and then rushing, not having their belts done properly, or having something else go wrong.

I'm a smaller racing driver, so making sure my belts are tight is extremely important and sometimes takes time.

LOVE the idea though. Think it would be a great place to showcase manufacturers in a race to the best electric car... would be a great world-wide competition. And I really like their angle of inspiring the 14-16 yr old kids.

Tesla motors would be perfect.


It is the wave of the future, Tesla has got it right along with several other manufactures. Will admit it will be an interesting & quiet race series.


Rome? would that be the Gran Turismo track i wonder... I'm hanging to hear the sound of a futuristic fighter jet, sounds sick! Oh there's 3 street circuits in Australia each year FIA... Albert park, Gold Coast, and Adelaide.... hmmm... also I think it would be cool to Televise it, say, just before f1 practice session 1 maybe...

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