When drivers become CEOs: Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi takes helm of ‘Roborace’ series
Innovation
Posted By: Editor   |  13 Sep 2017   |  3:29 pm GMT  |  74 comments

Formula E champion and ex-Formula 1 driver Lucas di Grassi has joined driverless racing series Roborace as CEO. Di Grassi’s role was announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show (Sept. 13).

He joins some other famous ex F1 drivers in taking on a business management role, including Niki Lauda, Jody Scheckter, and Nelson Piquet.

The 33-year-old Brazilian became the 2016-17 FE champion for Audi Sport ABT and has been a strong supporter of electric and autonomous racing, having joined Roborace as an advisor last year.

Roborace’s first autonomous demo took place at the Paris ePrix in May 2017 and the series is looking to start racing next year. It also raced its two LMP3-based ‘Devbot’ vehicles together in Buenos Aires, one of which crashed.

Invented by Russian entrepreneur Denis Sverdlov, Roborace was conceived as a platform for driverless Artificial Intelligence in motorsport. The tight, city circuits that the series will test and eventually race on will be used to research autonomous vehicles.

So far, demonstrations have taken place at Marrakech, Buenos Aires, Berlin, New York and Montreal.

Sverdlov will step down as CEO and become an advisor to work on his other projects, such as his autonomous trucks business, ‘Arrival’, which has announced a partnership with Royal Mail to trial smart electric freight vehicles.

“We want to take Roborace where motorsport cannot go, focusing the platform on future road-relevant autonomous technology,” said di Grassi in a statement.

“The future of mobility is autonomous, that’s an industry consensus now.

“In the same way, I believe that motorsport is about the driver, who is the best human being behind the wheel.

“I want to develop the Roborace series to be complimentary to traditional motorsport, and not to replace it.

“We invite the OEMs, suppliers, technology companies and universities to use our platform to showcase their technology and intellectual capacity in driverless systems.

“With the technology evolving so fast we must remain flexible on the events, races and challenges we are promoting.”

“We are thrilled that Lucas has agreed to come on board in an official capacity as Roborace continues to grow,” added Sverdlov.

“He brings a wealth of knowledge from other motorsport competitions he has developed and evolved and we are privileged to benefit from his experience.

“Lucas truly understands the importance of what Roborace can achieve – making our roads smarter and safer by sharing the benefits of A.I. to advance everything from driver assistance to collision avoidance, security technologies to full autonomy.”

With this move, di Grassi joins a growing list of motorsport names who have diversified their interests and invested, owned and operated new business in new ventures.

1979 F1 champion Jody Scheckter owns an organic farm in Hampshire, UK called ‘Laverstoke Park Farm’, while three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet started a logistics tracking company called ‘Autotrac’ in 1994.

Niki Lauda attempted a foray into air travel with ‘Lauda Air’ and even David Coulthard, whilst not a CEO, co-founded production company ‘Whisper Films’, which is contracted by the UK’s Channel 4 to broadcast its 10 live F1 races until 2019 and does much of its sales in the F1 paddock.

Will you embrace autonomous motorsport in the future? Have your say on di Grassi’s involvement with Roborace in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.

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74 comments

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1

When Schumacher was driving, he was hailed for his precision and ability to repeat inputs perfectly in order to be able to replicate fast lap after fast lap after fast lap.

So, instead of finding a bunch of such human beings with incredible driving skills and ability to control the race car, which is supposed to be an extension of human body, we have allowed it to become perverted by software that sits between driver inputs and actual application of controls and functions of the car. This software goes through a sequence of desired ideal inputs each lap, and repeats it lap after lap. In essence, automation. That is Formula 1 today.

Lucas says : “The future of mobility is autonomous, that’s an industry consensus now.
In the same way, I believe that motorsport is about the driver, who is the best human being behind the wheel."

Really. How do you square that then, when all levels of automation and software input controls is permitted to be inserted between human holding the Formula 1 steering wheel and the tires touching the ground?

2

Really top drivers have this ability. Bobby Rahal could do lap after lap in his Indycar (CART at that time) during testing and be within a tenth of a second each lap! It was astonishing, yet not that unique in top level racing. Of course there was virtually unlimited testing back then.

3

Okay then, lets race. Set up a human driver car, say a current F1, with a driverless car, but carrying a dummy ballast for weight, etc., and which driverless car is unable to communicate with the pits during the race. Make it fair, by also having the driver car without communication.

4

Sebee, that's not why Schumacher was hated. All this stuff about automation and software control you have been coming out with lately is nonsense too. F1 cars currently have no traction control, no abs and no automated gearshifts, all things they have had in the past.

5

A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away there were real live actual humanoids Podracing - and their world was full of robots. Why can we not learn from history?

6

I'm sorry, what on earth has this got to do with real motor racing?.... anybody??

7

I don't know. But I think it has something to do with programming artifical intelligence.

So if you are one of those people who admires programmers' programming prowess, this should be right up your alley.

8

Just like PU era F1.

9

Is the point not road relevancy? 🤣🤣🤣

10

Yep
ROBO GRASSI DOES NOT COMPUTE🤖
DOES NOT COMPUTER🤖
MUST HIT OVER RIDE🤖
MUST IT OVER🤖
MUZZZZZZ⚊⚋ ⚌⚍ ⚎⚏ ☰☱ ☲☳ ☴☵ ☶☷ ▶⏹⏺⏏⛾⚈⚆⚇⚉🔚

This is RC racing for raincoat wearing ,thick spectacled 🤓, multi pen blotter in left shirt pocket Dungeons and Dragon loving space nerds (of which I'm an honorary member👻). Robot Wars without the tears.
It's nothing a Sinclair C5 on steriods.
Not F1 James k but need racing.

11

One day soon at the race track:

I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.
I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.
Look, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye...

Quotes from a classic old movie, that space tech nerds clearly recognize.
Maybe just for tech nerds today, but clearly where racing is going.
Personally I see nothing wrong in that. Adapt and evolve or become extinct!

12

I am more in line with cyborg advancement with AI. Man and Machine become one. Augmented. We go in the car and and patch in via some advance nfc so you can still feel the thrill of control. However I am good with no control as well. It is inevitable.

13

Simple really.

Roborace is the end result of driver aids, automation, software taking control away from drivers, engineers telling drivers what to do under race conditions.

Formula 1 is clearly allowing more and more automation to distort driver abilities and heading toward Roborace with drivers now less than 10% of the package.

All these driver aids are just steps on the path to convergence of Formula 1 into Roborace like thing, and F1 is well on it's way to that destination.

So, look at Roborace as the eventual end point for all this software that takes control away from Formula 1 drivers. Or as a warning, if that's not what Formula 1 should be. Which side do you think will win out?

14

'The Machines Sebee
the Machines !!
As soon as SkyNet (not the shoddy Murdoch media mafia) becomes operational we will be living in Subway dwellings Man !!
Watching a broken tv with a candle in it....
The Machines will be hunting us down. Except Kimi he can Fool the machines...unless he is a T1000 semi polymer alloy substructure over and organ skin 😲Arghhh!!

"THERE'S A STORM" Tiny Perez points upwards as Susie Wolf drives off (in her new Merc hypercar)into the distance. Toto Wolf being the Good Terminator rides along on a tiny Honda fun bike .😄

15

formula 1 has a set of regulations each team follows...it doesn't matter what the regulations say, so long as the competition is between people. after all, it is the differences in human ability which makes the difference. nothing to do with technological advancement..

16

If you mean difference in software engineering skills and software resources, then yes that is Formula 1 today.

17

Exactly. That's why I've saying that the road-relevance path is a dead end for f1, and the sooner that F1 gets off that path, the better.

Ironically, if F1 is to be relevant, it needs to become pure and simple again. Pure in the sense of putting the driver at the centre, with the car being an extension of his abilities, and simple in the sense of not allowing too much complexity and cost to dominate.

I think it's important to keep in mind that just because an option to defer to machines is available, it's not always beneficial to do so. I mean, I could buy one of those electric wheelchairs and I would never have to walk again; I could sit on my bum all day and surf the net. But would that be a good idea? I think the answer is a resounding "no".

18

@sebee
I haven't got a clue sebee, but if it ever happens to F1 ( and I honestly believe it won't. It would have to be banned first) I will cry for a day, then walk away. Motor racing is not motor racing without a human behind the wheel.
But is Roborace claiming to be a motor sport. This is a perfect platform for road car relevance and technology.
Now they can leave F1 alone.
I wonder if Roborace will get funding from some of the big manufacturers🤔

19

I certainly agree that in F1 the driver has become too small a percentage of the overall package.

An area for Ross Brawn to address.

20

I'm sorry Sebee but you do have a selective memory when you think about previous generations of f1 cars. The 1992/1993 Williams had active suspension and traction control, they even tried anti-lock brakes. I have a uk tv documentary following Williams during 1993 pre-season testing at Estoril. On a wet day Damon Hill was sent out to do test starts. He would do a start, come in to the pits to have the computer tweaked, then go out again until they had achieved the perfect start. The driver has to do it all by himself now. As for shift lights, they were on f1 cars long before the hybrid era.

21

When I watched Senna and they show the 1994 season and Senna concerned about that suspension and having that blank look on his face a few times, I wondered if he was thinking that robotics has replaced his skills and abilities, and anyone can do it now. That time was the start of this path, I agree.

Doesn't mean it is right.

22

Back to karting

23

Yes! But with V10s on the kart. Manual shifters too. Clutch and everything.

24

Actually a game not a sport no matter what you call it. Great for gamers maybe but I couldn't care less.

25

Spot on. Who can like it.... But this kind of game and AI in general is what is gonna cause havoc in not so distant future.

26

𝗪𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗺𝗼𝘃𝗲, 𝗱𝗶 𝗚𝗿𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗶 𝗷𝗼𝗶𝗻𝘀 𝗮 𝗴𝗿𝗼𝘄𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗹𝗶𝘀𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝗺𝗼𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁 𝗻𝗮𝗺𝗲𝘀 𝘄𝗵𝗼 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗱𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗶𝗿 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘁𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗶𝗻𝘃𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗱, 𝗼𝘄𝗻𝗲𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗻𝗲𝘄 𝗯𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝗻𝗲𝘄 𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲𝘀

Jean Alesi runs a vineyard in the Rhone Valley (not far from Paul Ricard), Jarno Trulli is also in the wine making business in Pescara, Nigel Mansell is President of a charity called UK Youth, Damon Hill dabbles in the music industry and Jenson Button has gone into sports management (his clients including Stoffel Vandoorne).

27

I see Jenson about nine times every night.

He keeps driving interrupting my podcasts to drive round Tokyo with some kart tour.

28

What about Ron Dennis?
What's he up too?
I assume slowly getting an F1 team together 😉

29

Real competition has to include a human factor. Humans are emotional creatures, we make errors and display sub-optimal behaviour. So it's impressive when a driver makes no errors over a race distance and rises above other competitors - think Senna's Monaco pole lap or Schumacher's record total of wins.

When a machine displays sub-optimal behaviour - that's just a bad machine. Sure, there are engineers and programmers behind it, but they are detached.

I can see Roborace being an interesting technical exercise, a curiosity to those who might watch it, and certainly a good arena for development but certainly not a spectator sport of any note.

30

So how do you feel about the engine modes in the current generation of F1 PU cars automating deployment of ERS (acceleration), activating regeneration (braking/brake bias), smoothing driver accelerator inputs, limiting inputs, telling driver when to shift based on shift lights as set by software engine mode being used, etc.

DYK that there is that level of automation already permitted on the track in F1? Did you see the comedy of errors with Kimi, Lewis, Nico with engine modes when engineers from the control room weren't allowed to talk to them and tell them what to do a while back?

31

So how do you feel about the engine modes in the current generation of F1 PU cars automating deployment of ERS (acceleration), activating regeneration (braking/brake bias), smoothing driver accelerator inputs, limiting inputs, telling driver when to shift based on shift lights as set by software engine mode being used, etc.

I'd rather we didn't have those things, or that they didn't play as big a role - but we do. It's not just the PU cars - F1 has been helping out the driver for years with active suspension, semi-auto gearboxes, and engineers could play a tune on the Renault engine in the back of Alonso's title winning car.

But, take the driver out of the car, and the car doesn't move. That's the key point.

32

You could make an F1 car move, is that the benchmark? And with this software, you could probably make it move quite well, quite quickly given some seat time. And isn't that the problem we're talking about.

When Kubica drove the Renault in Hungary everyone hailed him. No one really considered that maybe all this software automation is compensating for his restricted abilities.

33

But someone has to turn the steering wheel sebee😊

35

@sebee
You've posted that link before. It's great sebee, very impressive😊. But would you watch 20 of those cars race for an hour and a half on a Sunday??
Not me🍻

36

@sebee
Because motor racing isn't motor racing without a driver in the cockpit.

37

One day the robots will have sentience and that day they will want a motor racing series of their own.
watched too many science fiction films he has.

38

The force is strong with Singularity! ;o)

39
Tornillo Amarillo

Will you embrace autonomous motorsport in the future?

NO NEVER, it's replacing the human being.
If you want to see ROBORACE it's OK, but I don't, it's a matter of choice.

You can also be replaced in your job, in your car, in your...bed?

Human should be the most important future in any activiy, as important as nature.

Exemple, do you want also ROBO-ART? Pointless.

40

You can also be replaced in your...bed?

If you're a man then yes, you can be replaced in bed by a robot. A really simple, basic, stupid robot.

41

I think someone's missed the point of humans competing against other humans in a hostile environment of speed, danger, extreme skill and mental fortitude.
Roboracing is for robots to watch. I'd be interested in the audience stats!
What's the point? Just one I can think of - we wouldn't have to listen to Fernando whinging week in, week out.

42

The next step for "road relevance" after formula-e I guess.

Maybe we can have a "Roborace" on F1 tracks when the track is "too wet" to entertain the young fans!

43

All the automation, softwarization of F1 car, PU, driver inputs, engine modes, it has a final destination - it is autonomous.

All this hybridization, pretend greenness, pseudo fuel savings on Sunday when everyone is watching has a final destination - it is electrification.

Now, since Formula E has beaten Formula 1 to both of these destinations by going directly to the end point, what does Formula 1 want to be?

Does it slowly want to keep inching toward the inevitable end points these two things already exist? Or should it be the opposite of these two end points, offering a fair, human UFC on wheels without all these driver aids and electronics?

I personally would like to see 1200 HP V10 engines, single engine per GP, in a 600kg car with 6/7 speed manual - I'm not even willing to accept paddle shifting. If previous drivers could tame 1400 HP in a 555kg car with a 7 speed manual, what is suddenly the problem? Are these drivers too soft to shift their own gears? Manage their own car? You miss a shift, it's going to cost you track position. Precision and good driving will be rewarded. No DRS will be needed. No engineer yapping in driver's ear will need to tell him which automated engine mode he needs to drive in now and software showing him what shift points he needs to engage.

Pure. Minimum. Simple. Human drivers make huge difference.

Like a chess set. When you buy one, it doesn't come with a computer.

44
Tornillo Amarillo

About future autonomy...
In the future, because of safety concerns, would all the cars be autonomous?
What if I want to drive without destination in a sunny day, just to explore an area, just because I want to turn here or there whithout really think about it before? Would it be prohibited?

Maybe human driving is a civil right, a liberty, and I'm sure the Law should be analised too in such regard before intending to do autonommous car mandatory for everybody.

45

Q. What if I want to drive without destination in a sunny day, just to explore an area, just because I want to turn here or there whithout really think about it before?
A. Get a motorbike.

46

Oh, I guarantee it will be prohibited once the majority of vehicles are autonomous. They won't ban it, they'll just have eye-watering insurance premiums and a 'you want it, you pay for it' road tax.

20 years ago I bought a brand new MY99 WRX. I still use it as my daily driver, it only has 150,000 km on the clock, and it should last me another 20 years with ease. I just don't think I'll be allowed to drive it anywhere, which will be a shame.

47

I think the cars they have at the moment do require a human driver just in case, but that is a very good point.

What if the car won't go where I want it to go?

Worse still, what if the car wants to go somewhere I *don't* want to go?

There would have to be some kind of override.

48

Hopefully they will include a Halo device to protect the ....ah.... um .. the computer drivers

49

"Down with this sort of thing".

51

How come these fools can get away with this stuff and not critiqued as to environmental impact?

52

M-O-N-E-Y

53

This could be about as exciting to watch as a computer playing "Pong" with itself.

54

Now you're talking - on the slowest setting please!

55

Like seeing Mercedes win a F1 race today?

56

With no driver, can we throw health and safety culture out the window?

Could we see these cars races on actual interesting tracks, or will the race in the wide open spaces of Bahrain, Paul Ricard, Hockenheim, Abu Dahbi, etc.

Could Robo Race be a "contact sport"?

What about jumps? Stadium Super Trucks do it, let's see these things fly!!

Loop the loop?

"Do a Barrel Role" 😛

Or make it like Mario Kart, with banana peels and exploding shells.

But if these contraptions are just going to plod around ultra save FIA grade 1 circuits, or Formula E autocross tracks, who really gives a flying [mod].

Between this story and the Merc ONE, never has there been such crystal clear evidence of exactly what is so incredibly wrong with motor racing at the highest level. So much energy and resources wasted in such a nonsensicle persuit and direction.

Repeating myself, but imagine where F1 could be if all this development when into figuring out how to make the fastest cars that can race wheel to wheel.

These robots are going to have the same issues. "TURBULENT AIR. CAN NOT COMPUTE. ERROR. ERROR."

57

Are fans going to wear shirts and flags of their favorite coder to these events? Will the coder be on the podium? How does motorsport and leisure driving survive in an autonomous world? Will making a form of racing where its karts on steroids and the driver is the only factor come into play in he future? This makes sense in terms of R&D for autonomous cars if they can drive the limit racing they should be better driving normally. I know that go karting on slicks in the wet and racing my car on track has made me a better street driver. I just hope we can get something where we have hero's to cheer for driving on the limit. That what F1 should be like the Olympics at 20 different venues the worlds best drivers fighting for gold or in this case WDC. Competition so close like the 100m.

58

If you see any of the eGame competitions, you will see this is already reality with their fans attending there. And the players themselves can at times earn millions from winning just one event.

59

Is no one the least bit curious to see how this plays out? I mean, in theory, if all cars are identical, they should all be able to run the ideal line flawlessly and get identical lap times. If so, then the very slight margins will come from the way different programs handle the small, unforeseen variables - wind, temperature, changes in grip level, tyre evolution and such. That's interesting in itself but then we come to the race, with the cars following each other round, different programs interacting with each other, trying to pass, trying to block, trying not to crash. It could be fascinating. It could be hilarious.

The challenge, if they want to keep the public interested, will be in sharing what makes the cars behave differently, and how they decide what to do, without revealing any trade secrets.

Everyone says racing is a team sport, then you take out the driver and suddenly the human element is gone!? We'll see which is more exciting and unpredictable - this or F1.

60

Most on this forum probably recognize that F1 racing is a team sport, but for the general public its all about the hero driver that gets the recognition. While all the engineers and aero designers are sitting all but forgotten hidden back in the garage.

61

This has all the appeal of Drone Racing to me. No thanks...

62

What a load of Robo rubbish. Not for me thanks. Sebee you are bang on.

63

This is horrific when you pare it back to the basics of what is needed to power and direct modern technology.
We humans are now so reliant on the generation and storage of electric power that one major hiccup on a global level, (such as uber-sized magnetic solar flares from the sun which completely fries entire electrical systems or deliberate interference from military aggression or hackers), will see the entire world's automation come to a complete stand still. GPS devices won't work, batteries won't be charged, communication will cease, money won't move around electronically at all, food and water will cease to be available, no heating or cooling etc etc etc.
Nothing modern will work! NOTHING!
Imagine roads around the world suddenly blocked with millions of electric cars that have no power and no way to recharge their storage cells!
Silly thing is, in the Western and modernised parts of the world, we have a blindly modern society of "sheep-like" people which has never learned to look after itself without electricity or the comforts it brings to everyday life.
Most young people don't even know how to start a fire properly or find food and water to keep themselves alive. Without a microwave oven, fridge or mobile phone, they would simply sit on their asses hoping and praying their local governments will save them before they pathetically curl up into the foetal position and die.

Sounds like a foolish doom and gloom comment doesn't it?
The cold, harsh reality is ... it's the looming global disaster nobody wants to acknowledge because so far, they've never had to deal with not having electricity for more than 24 hours!

65

How can di Grassi, a man in his 30's, possibly be excited about this!! (I just can't relate to that!) Sure the technology involved is impressive, but just because you can doesn't mean you should! It's essentially, sterile, lifeless and dull... (Not that F1 isn't heading down that path and to irrelevancy when autonomous vehicles take off, but oh well...) R.I.P. Motorsport, another of life's pleasures soon to be taken away by progressives...

66

It'll be hard to sell the autonomous technology to potential consumers watching if the cars all crash at the first corner.

Interesting idea though, they might need to strap on some chainsaws and other weapons onto the cars to make it interesting for the fans to watch.

67

I would never, ever sit and watch computers driving around a track. I love computer games, have done for around 35 years now, and I really enjoy driving games/sims of all kinds on my PC (Dirt Rally and Spintires are astounding, for example).

I do agree that roborace would be a great showcase for manufacturers, and I think a 5 or 6 lap race as part of an F1 weekend would give the fans something to watch while they're sitting in the grandstands. Just not something I'm interested in at all.

68

I'm a big fan of tech and believe Formula E or a derivative of it will become F1. eventually.
But I also believe that the attraction of motor racing is the battle of driver against driver. The skill the tantrums the the egos...love it all.

69

I recently visited their facility in Yarnton and all the guys there are of the opinion that the car will never race. They said it will likely be used by universities etc oh and by the way the car weighs well over a ton!

70

The world is going crazy now. We should develop high-tech for the health industry and to protect the environment, but otherwise keep it sensible and human. Future looks way too artificial to me and the control is now in the hands of geek developers who live in an artificial bubble.

71

I just don't get why this type of technological development has to take the form of some "faux" motorsport series. Best keep it to manufacturer test tracks as I cannot see any audience for this after the initial novelty factor has worn off.

72

I suppose the "any driver could win in that car" and "the driver is only 10% of the package" advocates will flock to this.

I got my Roborace rocks off, watching single season US import, "Automan", in the last century - I'll stick with F1, thanks.

73

I am probably being naive to the technology to ask this question but how is it that cars in racing games that overtake and can be aggressive on real world simulated tracks and streets find it such a challenge in the 'real' world to race with the same gutso and precision in driverless cars? I would think with advanced AI in real cars it would be somewhat easier. What am I missing?

74

Sterile. An exercise in technology that will interest some, but will not have large mass appeal. The best analogy I can think of is RC racing. It's interesting in an abstract way, but doesn't attract a big following.

The human element is missing: The hero driver. The people in the team.
It's just a big: "meh."

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