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  |  76 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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1

OK, the people that want to do it (make and race autonomous toys) can do it, but they better not think I am going to watch it, even if they pay me to!
PK.

2

this interesting articles make me watch again TRAVIS SCOTT – Butterfly Effect
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EyZUTDAH0U

3

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.”

4

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?

5

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.

6

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.

7

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.

8

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!

9

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.

10

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.

11

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.

12

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…

14

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!

15

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

16

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

17

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.

18

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.

19

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.

20

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.

21

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.”

22

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

23

Now you’re talking – on the slowest setting please!

24

Like seeing Mercedes win a F1 race today?

25

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

26

M-O-N-E-Y

27

“Down with this sort of thing”.

29

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

30
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.

31

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.

32

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.

33

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.

34

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!

35

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.

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