Is Formula E on target? We ask the man in charge of the newest world motorsport series
Innovation
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Feb 2014   |  7:26 am GMT  |  264 comments

At a recent F1 related event I was approached by a senior figure from one of the leading F1 teams; “This Formula E series, what do you think? Will it happen?”

The question, laced with a mixture if curiosity and scepticism, still arises.

“We are on schedule,” says Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag, when I put this question to him in his office in London’s Hammersmith area. “We just ran a test with the car using the large battery for the first time (on a test track outside Paris) and we did 55 laps with no glitches. Williams have done a fantastic job on the batteries.”


It is exactly seven months until the first Formula E race, in Beijing and the focus is now moving on to race organisation and logistics; the team behind the FIA’s newest world series is growing fast – 45 employees at the moment, with another 30 joining in the next four weeks, mainly on the operations side and marketing.

“Most of the work is done already, “says Agag. “The actors are there; the cites where the races are taking place, the teams, the partners and the drivers. The teams will gradually announce the drivers over the coming weeks with Audisport ABT announcing former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi and DTM driver Daniel Abt.”

Among the teams are some interesting names, like Hollywood star Leonardo di Caprio and Sir Richard Branson via his Virgin Group, which failed to get a grip of F1, but is trying its hand at the new series.

Meanwhile other former F1 stars including Jaime Alguersuari and Christian Klien have joined the drivers’ club and will be announced by their respective teams shortly.

Formula E Holdings has also taken on some investors, including Boston Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and his co-owners in the NBA franchise who invested $21 million into the fledgling series.

Agag says that two other investors are following Grousbeck in, “from a different region”, which is likely to mean Asia.


So the infrastructure is in place, but what about the racing and some of the fundamental problems, like the range of the cars? Does Agag still plan to run a single race with drivers forced to change cars part way through? He does, although he admits that they have considered the alternative which is to run two 30 minute races with a short break between races for a change of vehicles, allowing broadcasters to take a commercial break. This is a model which Flavio Briatore once proposed for F1 races, with viewers unhappy about interrupting races for commercial breaks, as networks do in most countries around the world.

Agag is setting great store by the “fan boost” initiative, whereby fans can vote for which driver should get a special push to pass opportunity in a race. This would see fans actually entering into the competitive picture of the race and influencing the outcome. Fans will vote via social media using #drivername

“No other sport allows direct interaction from fans, allowing them to affect the result,” says Agag.

The planning around the two-car concept has recently developed a twist, with drivers having cars with two different profiles; an energy car and an attack car and so there is a level of strategy involved in when you deploy which car.

If they stick with the single race format and the frantic change of cars, they hope that the development race which will start in Year 2, when teams get the chance to race their own technology, will highlight technological progress as the need for a change of cars reduces over five years or so of development. The idea is that this technology will filter down to the automotive industry and help to counter range anxiety.

I put it to Agag that since FIA president Jean Todt first floated the idea of Formula E in April 2011, the car industry has moved on from pure Electric cars towards plug in hybrids, which can run electric in cities and then have a small petrol hybrid engine for long distance motoring.

Agag accepts this, but feels that it doesn’t affect his series, which is still all about technology, sustainability and innovation; battery and range development and making electric motoring look sexy to younger consumers.

“The host cities will become synonymous with electric,” says Agag. Maybe 10 years from now most major cities in the world will have the equivalent of a congestion charge zone only for vehicles running on zero emissions and in the intervening years we hope to give confidence to the industry and to consumers.

Formula E will cost about the same for a team to compete in as GP2, roughly £2.5 million for two cars a year.

They plan to simulate two complete race weekends at Donington in July and August, to iron out any glitches and operational problems in what is a brand new racing series, from scrutineering to chequered flag fall.

A UK TV deal will be announced in the next two weeks.

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1

I’d like to find out more? I’d want to find out more details.

2

I think formula E hasn’t quite worked out what it is. If it is to become a development series ( after the rifst year) focussing on electric efficiency, improved batteries and management of the amount of energy available, with the lessons being passed on to road cars, then, “fan-boost’ has no part (winning should depend on driving, tactics and, above all,. a car with good batteries electrics etc). Also push to pass should be unlimited, if you can produce more power for this, you should be free to use it. Tactics should be free, endurance and attack cars, whatever the team thinks will enable them to get to the finish first. If the idea is primarily entairnment for the fans, do whatever they think will attract them. But don’t then expect it to work to develop electric cars.

3
Clarks4WheelDrift

Cars look cool, but also very exposed and fragile!

So, let me see, the business plan goes like this:

A free app downloaded to your Ipadhonedroid device (‘includes in app purchases’ in small print)

App opens and gives info on all the FE cars and drivers.

Single use ‘fan boost’ available for $0.99

Sack of ‘fan boosts’ $24.99

Chest of ‘fan boosts’ $69.99 (bargain!)

The winning FE team sacks their aero team and employs some smart software engineer hackers to write a bot program giving their driver constant fan boost picks for the entire race…

Never going to work, they should stick to tried and tested boost pads in the track the drivers have to go over, and perhaps bananas they can throw out the back when another car gets in their slipstream.

4

…first floated the idea of Formula E in April 2011, the car industry has moved on from pure Electric cars towards plug in hybrids, which can run electric in cities and then have a small petrol hybrid engine for long distance motoring. …

You heard of Tesla Model S right?!

Ps: I did a test drive yesterday of P85+ with my expectations fully set. And there were 2 words I was repeating for 10 minutes during the drive: WOW and Ridiculous. It was completely over the top. It was like I was playing Gran Turismo, only it was real and 1000 times better. WOW!!!!!!!! Seriously, it was that good!!! WOW!!!!!

5
Tom Haythornthwaite

Sorry, I’m not going to read all 200+ comments so I don’t know how many people agree with me, but if there is public voting for push to pass I PROMISE I will not watch a single Formula E race.

6

You wouldn’t have had to look too hard to find some that agree with you 😉

7

I have n idea why dont they cut some slots in the track and the fans? can control the cars from their iphones

8

I do like the idea of Formula E. But for me it will just never beat the real thing. The sounds, the speed, the history.

9

Hell, I think practical all electric cars in the Real World are at least 10 years away, probably more. To have this hyped-up racing series based on this new technology now is a waste of money and marketing…

10

But if Agag (or whoever) waits another ten years to get the ball rolling it will be too late. You have to give him credit for at least one thing: he’s pretty much ahead of the curve.

If all goes well then in ten years time F-E will have matured into a well known and successful racing series well placed to showcase the new electric car market.

At least that’s the plan – we’ll see how it pans out 🙂

11

Cant put my finger on why exactly, but this series has me possibly more excited than the upcoming F1 season. Its fresh, unique in many ways, and the cars are flat out cool looking.

12

If i wanted to see slow cars go round & round trying to use as little fuel as possible & trying not to break down I’d watch formula1 2014 not this rubbish.

13

“Agag is setting great store by the “fan boost” initiative, whereby fans can vote for which driver should get a special push to pass opportunity in a race. This would see fans actually entering into the competitive picture of the race and influencing the outcome.”

This may be the weak point of the series but not so much as people think. We don’t like but it seems it will be used only once in a race, so it won’t have the influence purists fear it will have. So i hope most of the races will be decided on track and not by the vote of fans.

Drivers like Buemi, Di Grassi, Senna, Alguersuari, Klien, Sato, Bourdais or Luizzi are very good ones. But what about Paul di Resta? It’s a shame he’s not part of the FE Drivers’ Club. Kobayashi would also be a great asset had he not gone to Caterham. It’s also a shame other good ex-f1 (or other potentially f1 material if given proper chances) are absent. Some of them maybe want to see how FE will be before committing to the series, while others may think it is too late to come back to single seaters…

14

I like the look of the larger wheels.

15

We have to have electric cars, simply because we’re running out of oil, so petrol will not exist in the future. Motor racing will be the driver for development, as it always has been. Unless this Thorium concept actually happens…

16
Mike from Colombia

Al Gore would be most happy with this.

17

I’m really looking forward to this series, even though I fear it may see a bit of a bumpy start (e.g. the car switching may put people off). But when it becomes an open series, then things get interesting. 🙂

While it is true that road cars are evolvig to more hybrid rather than pure electric, this mainly has a practical reason: range and usability. You cannot charge quickly, so there always is range anxiety. Having the E series pure electric will for sure advance battery technology and energy recovery. This will benefit future hybrid cars, and may evolve to the point that a pure electric car will have proper range as well.

As for spectacle, I wonder if we will not see some different race patterns/strategies, due the torque being present constantly (a Tesla Model S, the 4 person sedan, performs similar to the latest Corvette in a drag race!) and the energy recovery needs.

I do love the fact that they plan city races: that gives it something unique. And it can be hosted in cities that would not allow normal races due to emissions.

18

I agree that once teams are producing their own cars it will become significantly more credible. To me, it seems like that is quite a hurdle to achieve and at this stage it must be a fairly remote possibility.

I wish them well anyway. If it is broadcast on terrestrial TV in the UK I will certainly be watching.

19

Electric or not, what prevents this formula from going the same way as A1GP?

20

Formula E(urovision Driving Contest)

21

Lol 🙂

22

I am disappointed with the universal dislike of the ‘fan boost’ idea, from reading the comments on this thread. Please remember that this is a brand new series, so there is no history or tradition to disrespect, as I understand there would be in F1 for example. Instead this is an opportunity to redefine what we mean by ‘sport’, to bring it into line with modern culture which is all about interaction with fans/consumers, or readers of blogs such as this. Like it or not, TV shows such as X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are the most popular shows on UK TV, and are all about identifying and rewarding the most popular competitor, not the *best* singer or dancer. Also, externalities in sport are nothing new – what about the advantage gained by the team with the most sponsorship, or the well accepted ‘home advantage’ gained by a team in football or other sports? Personally I am excited about this opportunity for fans to shift the balance of advantage during a race/season based upon their own interests, and think it will encourage the teams and drivers to compete in a different way – a competition for publicity and popularity as well as technology, machinery and driver skill. I encourage others commenting here to also be a bit more open to change and this new idea. As a final thought; how might Vettel’s 2013 season have been different, after Sepang, if fans could reward or penalise drivers based upon their actions on circuit?

23

The whole idea is based on stupidity.

Dumb fans will waste their money to influence the outcome of a race. How moronic, on so many levels.

The race result will simply be a measure of stupidity of fans.

Might as well let the fans remote control the car too…

24

I see what you’re saying, but let “reality” shows be reality shows and racing be racing.

25

If that is the way that Formula E wishes to proceed, then they have 100% lost all of my interest.

And please do not think that I am not “open to change” as you put it.

It’s just that I like to watch sport, not gameshows.

27

“Like it or not, TV shows such as X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are the most popular shows on UK TV, and are all about identifying and rewarding the most popular competitor, not the *best* singer or dancer.”

And this is a good thing?

“As a final thought; how might Vettel’s 2013 season have been different, after Sepang, if fans could reward or penalise drivers based upon their actions on circuit?”

And this is a good thing?

28

@James: If the question is “How to ensure the success of this series?” then I think the answer is “Yes”. Probably by appealing to a different audience to existing motor sport series.

29

I don’t believe this *is* a good way to ensure the success of the series.

I’m sure there are plenty of ways to ensure the success of the series without alienating your core potential audience..

The reaction amongst potential followers of the sport has been negative. I shall no longer be watching it, and many people here have also said they have lost interest in doing so. Therefore they have alienated their main potential market to go after a new market which is completely unproven in the sector.

Yes shows like x-factor are popular with the 8pm-10pm audience who like to see famous people [self mod]ing themselves, or unknowns trying to become famous; but do you think the same kind of people are going to start watching a car race, full of people they have never heard of, just so they can vote for people they’ve never heard of? I don’t think they will, unless you start actually putting celebrities in the race seats – even then you’ve got the problem of the races being in the middle of the day on a weekend – this is X-Factor rerun territory, not prime time live cash in.

30

Main problem with Formula E: The “engines” make no sound at all.

31

Sooner or later we will refuse from burning oil. Hence Formula E is a research towards alternative powers.

32

‘Fan boost’! A sign of desperation gearing up for a new generation of short attention spell fans. This is truly insulting. James, even my young son said, “WTF dad”.

33

Kudos to your kid, there’s hope for the future yet 🙂

34

Just did some reading on keeping an EV charged and learned that on average in the US, an EV consumes 450 kwH worth of electricity per month just for a range of 40 miles per day.

I’m quite energy conscious and our household of 4 uses around 400 kwH per month in electricity. Could be better but I’ve seen far worse. The big concern is that it will double my electricity consumption every month to drive a full EV. Still cheaper than petrol, but if the whole point is to go green, the biggest contributor of carbon emissions in our country (South Africa) is electricity production. 80% of the CO2 pumped into our atmosphere every year is from coal burning power plants, with vehicle emissions only contributing 5%.

So where, exactly, does the idea that EV vehicles are green come from?

35

Exactly.

36

Voting via social media for a driver to get an unfair advantage of his rivals? Wow! That must be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of. There is very good reason no other sport does it.

About the cars – swapping cars is still a disappointing aspect, rather than batteries. Another thing, do these cars have any kind of energy recovery systems to recharge the battery somewhat and extend the range?

37

So each team now need four cars for each race, a new meaning to greening.

38

I wonder if allowing ground effect aero would make this series competitive. Maybe it will be fine just as is. Hope it is televised or something so we can at least judge for ourselves.

39

Will we ever get to see a proper racing series? This artificial stuff is pathetic, and extremely boring.

No to DRS and No to Fan DRS… totally pathetic.

If Indycar could get rid of those annoying ovals, I could at least get into that type of racing… I just despair at the situation we are all in. I feel really sorry for the great drivers out there (not Vettel or Button)… they would have done great in a proper racing series, but now they must avoid using their skills so some annoying button pusher can get to the front of the grid.

40

Indy Cars are not any better, yes they use ethanol, an alcohol made from corn. It has one safety aspect that fires can be extinguished with water. That is the only green part of it.Distilling the alcohol is not green.

41

I’m seriously thinking of following Indycar. I think it’s probably the purest form of racing these days? I mean the tyres are decent and as far as I’m aware there’s no DRS or anything?

Watched the Indy 500 race last year as it followed directly after one of the F1 games. The commentary was really hard to bear, though.

I don’t mind a couple of ovals a year but I think Indy is pretty much 50/50 at the moment is it not?

43

Indycar actually has far more street courses/road courses than ovals – there’s only 6 at the moment (much to my annoyance). It’s definitely the purest and most entertaining form of racing at the moment – just needs people to watch it.

44

Problem is, Indycar customer base is North America and Australasia………..and that’s about it. Can’t imagine Europe, Africa and Far East switching to Indycar in the same way can’t imagine the European food industry customer base switching from fine dining to burgers.

That’s the problem: F1 is haute cuisine and champagne………Indycar is burgers and Budwesier.

Just saying.

45

Each to their own, but swapping F1 for Indycars? That’s a regressive transition, surely? Keep faith with the old world……….and F1.

46

My food analogy was a bit ironic, but the point I was making was that Indycar and F1 are culturally very different, that’s all.

My issue with Indycars are the ovals. To me, running at 200 Mph + next to concrete is sheer lunacy.

Also, Indycar and NASCAR safety record is diabolical. I know any racing driver accept the risk, but in F1 it’s about minimising that risk. Nobody wants to witness a loss of life, we’ve lost Dan Wheldon a few years ago. He was only in his mid 30s, what a waste of a healthy young man’s life. The sad thing is, had Dan been racing in F1, he might still be with us. Yes, F1 had its problems in the past, but in those days FIA was run by the buffers in blazers to whom the safety issue was “if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Thankfully, safety – and attitudes in F1 have changed.

I watch F1 to be entertained, not to watch somebody crash to his death. Indycars safety leaves a lot to be desired.

47

” Can’t imagine Europe, Africa and Far East switching to Indycar in the same way can’t imagine the European food industry customer base switching from fine dining to burgers.” [sorry it’s from a different post of yours]

I don’t know what part of Europe you come from, but in England, at least, it’s quite easy to find a burger bar – and pretty much every pub that does food will have at least one, more normally a selection, of burgers on the menu.

AAAANYway I digress. I’m not going to keep following F1 just ‘because its F1’. I’d love to keep faith but double points, pirelli and DRS are I fear just the start of the circus. So I’ll probably start following Indy once I get a sports-enabled cable package. Whether I continue to follow F1 depends on how interesting I find the Indy races, and how much more F1 does to discredit itself.

Do I expect a lot of people to follow my lead? Absolutely not; I’m just a nobody commenting on somebody elses blog. The *real* trigger would be if one of the big names, the champions, said “I’ve had enough of the F1 gimmiks, I want to race” and made the switch. If either Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kimi or Button were to do that (and with Hamilton’s management team – who knows?), they’d take a sizable following with them. Not enough to rock the F1 boat initially, but certainly enough to start the Indy bandwagon rolling and if the Indy management were sensible they would follow this up by trying to persuade another couple of racers to follow, and perhaps securing some races in classic F1 venues (Spa, flat out with no fuel restrictions and tyres that actually last, anybody?)

A more European friendly style of TV coverage, especially commentary would be required, that’s for sure.

I doubt any successful driver will leave F1 for Indy, certainly not without getting another championship under their belt each, so this is all pretty irrelevant, but the point is that it’s theoretically possible for Indy to gain momentum in Europe.

48

I have to ask what is the point of powering cars with electricity? It seems the most backwards of steps to me.

Instead of putting a fossil fuel directly into a vehicle, there needs to be a coal fired power station burning fossil fuels, which is then transmitted out to where it’s needed, which is then used in the vehicle.

So, it’s the antithesis of ‘green’ racing.

A petrol engine has been refined over the years to become staggeringly efficient (in some cases).

Now, designers/engineers want to apply batteries to a vehicle, simply to enable it to go. These batteries are horrendously ‘un-green’, necessitating digging up huge swathes of China and elsewhere in order to mine the metals required.

Electric cars are such a backwards step, they still require fossil fuels to generate the electricity, and they need highly poisonous and destructive devices in order to store that electricity.

49

Thank You!

I already started thinking that no one else sees this situation in the same light!

Unfortunately it looks like big corps got their way and brainwashed\misled the majority of other people – they all think modern electicity is “green”…

50

Correct, like recycling of paper has stopped as it’s even more toxic.

Energy warfare from corporations will be a huge cover up for the so called ‘green’ thingy. It’s more like dollar green!

51

You assume that fossil fuels are also used for electricity generation. However, there are various alternatives: nuclear, solar, wind, water, tidal, from waste burning or even waste energy from factories. For example, a waste burning powerplant in my city generates electricity, hot water (centralized hot water infrastructure!), heating (also centralized) and clean water (they filter the water before it goes through the turbine, the steam is not relased but captured and sold to a factory that needs clean water.

Your comment is quite true for many current countries, but electric cars disconnect the energy user from the energy producer, which in a next step allows to upgrade the energyproducer. 🙂

52

Well give me a shout when the cars have a wind turbine on the roof, wired to something other than batteries…..

53

Do you realize waste burning is also nowhere near “green”?

Regarding energy production – let me open your eyes – somewhat “clean” energy sources are exceptions in the world.

The almost 90% of the world electicity is generated using coal, oil and gas. Nuclear energy is not developing at any meaningful way, and by the way it can’t be considered clean at all – just ask someone from Pripyat and Fukushima… disasters apart – just think that nuclear waste can’t be simply disposed or burnt…

54

You have a point. Athough latest statistics are at 80% of the world energy. Some countries have quite different numbers (e.g. Belgium: 6.5%).

The change is coming. But we need to have the technology ready when that change comes. Which means starting research NOW, when it is not fully necessary, but when we still have the time for a learning curve. The amount of electric cars is still very limited, but it provides a huge testbed for real world usage. And when cleaner energy sources are more common, the transportation sector would be ready for it.

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