In Europe for example, the Isle of Man TT’s zero emission SES TT Zero class has created manufacturer interest and rivalry and in America, the same is happening at the equally historic Pikes Peak International Hillclimb with Toyota and Mitsubishi in particular going head-to-head with factory backed, record breaking programmes.
As impressive as these domestic events are, electric racing is set to go truly “global” next year with the inaugural running of the FIA Formula E, fully-electric racing championship. The FIA and series organizers, Formula E Holdings have set ambitious and worthy goals.
Exciting races are promised that also demonstrate current and developing technology relating to electric vehicles. Also important is public education on clean and sustainable mobility and the benefits of electric vehicles, especially in highly populated, cities around the world where Formula E will be hosting their races. The series is looking to attract city residents as well as a young, tech savy audience.
Surely though the cars will be slow and quiet? Not so, they will be more than fast enough for the street circuits they will race at and possible feature additional noise enhancement. Of course they will be “quieter” than typical petrol-engined racers, this though will probably be welcomed by many residents living close-by and has also been one of the reasons that Formula E has been able to gain the support of city mayors and officials. Bear in my too, not everyone that attends races likes having to wear ear-defenders or hear the constant high-pitched wail of a racing engine, especially the very young or elderly.
Who is involved in the series so far and who might the drivers be? Formula E has already signed-on an impressive roster of partners that include subsidiaries of the Williams and McLaren Formula 1 teams, TAG-Heuer, Michelin and Renault to name a few.
Drivers could come from many internationally known series such as F1, IndyCar, World Endurance Championship and possibly NASCAR. Former Virgin F1 and current Audi sportscar driver Lucas di Grassi has already been appointed Formula E’s test & development driver and Nicholas Prost, Bruno Senna, Jamie Alguersuari and Vitantonio Liuzzi all attended Formula E’s Silverstone fan and media forum back in April.
Also in attendance at the forum was Le Mans/ACO President Pierre Fillion, Lord Drayson (who has officially entered his team in the championship) and Prodrive/Aston Martin chief David Richards.
So, with all this said, I recently caught-up with Alejandro Agag, CEO of series promoter Formula E Holdings to find out more details on what promises to be an exciting new championship and era in motorsport.
JF: Alejandro, first of all congratulations on the success of recent Formula E events and city demonstrations. Can we expect to see demonstration runs this year in the other cities that are nominated for races next year? What other events are we likely to see as well?
AA: “Since launching the FIA Formula E Championship at the end of last year the response has been overwhelming and as such we’re working hard to showcase the car in as many cities as possible. Last month we were in Bangkok to announce the Thai capital as our ninth host city and in a few weeks we will be revealing our 10th with another event similar to our LA one. We will also be unveiling the new car at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September with a number of static and running events planned for after, although I can’t give too much away yet!”
JF: Other than the race events already nominated for next year, what other cities would you like to see added to the Formula E calendar over time and why?
AA: “We’ve received formal requests to host Formula E races from 23 cities across five continents and the number continues to grow which is very encouraging. In the first year we will race in 10 cities but we’re hoping to grow this by two every year and hopefully have a race in every continent before too long.”
JF: So the plan is for the inaugural calendar to host 10 global races in total. What kind of breakdown would you like to see regarding where these races are held, i.e. 2 races in North America, 4 in Europe, 3 in Asia etc?
AA: “We always wanted to include a wide spread of cities across the world and we believe we’ve achieved this from the nine (of 10) that we have already revealed with; London, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Miami, Beijing, Putrajaya (Malaysia), Buenos Aires, Bangkok.”
JF: Will Formula E races be standalone events or held in partnership with other racing series? For example, could we see Formula E hosting a race during an F1 weekend at say Monaco, Singapore etc?
AA: “They will be stand-alone events taking place all in one day so as to minimize disruption to the city in terms of road closures. There will also be a music concert in the evening so they will be fantastic all-day family events.”
JF: As you will be aware, depending on the layout and venue, street circuits can produce processional races where overtaking can be very difficult. How can Formula E ensure races are not simply a high-speed procession of cars running nose to tail?
AA: “We have thought long and hard about this and will introduce a number of measures. The first is our Push-to-Pass system which will give drivers an additional powerboost to aid overtaking. The second, is that each driver will have to make two mandatory pitstops to change cars so these elements should make for some exciting racing.”
JF: How much horsepower, shall we say, can we expect from a Formula E car?
AA: “Although we have yet to fully test our new Spark-Renault SRT_01E Formula E car we’re expecting it to produce around 200kw of power or 270bhp.”
JF: Will teams run a sole “series specified” chassis and power unit or will they have the ability to build or choose their own?
AA: “Formula E is very much an ‘open championship’ as we want to encourage manufacturers and constructers to design and build their own cars, in accordance with the FIA regulations. This we believe will push the boundaries of technology in regards to electric motors and vehicles. However, for the first year we decided it would be best to introduce a car for everyone to use in order to get things ‘off the ground’ so to speak.”
JF: As I mentioned earlier, one of the goals for Formula E is to educate and promote to the public the benefits of electric road cars and clean mobility. This of course is of interest to car manufacturers, would you welcome factory teams in the championship or would you see manufacturers involved mainly as technology partners?
AA: “Yes we would certainly welcome both be it teams or partners, just as Renault have done as they are now our Official Technical Partner overseeing the systems integration for the new car.”
JF: My understanding is that a Formula E race will last one hour with drivers stopping to pit and then running 100 meters to a new, fully changed car. A couple of questions here, Some might suggest that a better solution would be to change battery packs on the car during a pitstop or have shorter races, say two 30 minute races? Are there not potential safety concerns with drivers running that distance to another car during a pitstop?
AA: “Firstly, all car changes will be done in a driver’s pit box so there will be no running! Also, every change will be monitored by an FIA steward to ensure it is safe before the driver will be able to exit the pit lane. Changing battery packs is simply not an option on grounds of time and safety and we preferred to make the races longer and make the swapping of cars part of the excitement and strategy of a driver and team, much the same as changing tyres are in F1.”
GR: With an “open technology” championship concept and racing on street circuits which can also produce several car accidents, could this not be an expensive championship for teams to compete in? What measures can you and the FIA take to control costs for teams and manufacturers to compete in the championship?
AA: “Cost saving is extremely important to us, especially in these difficult economic times. Our team operating costs will be a fraction of those in F1 and we will use measures such as fixed gear ratios and limited tyres to reduce costs further. We will also not be changing tyres during the race so teams won’t have to invest in expensive pit equipment.”
JF: Finally, here are a few ideas that I think would be a great addition to Formula E, what are your thoughts?
An open paddock where all fans can get up close to the cars, teams and drivers.
AA: “Yes this is something we have been considering although we have to take safety issues into account.”
A 2-seater Formula E car built that could be driven by a well known driver and used for media/sponsor and fan rides.
AA: “We will be looking into this for sure.”
An onsite pavilion where manufacturers can display their electric road cars and technology and fans can talk with manufacturer representatives.
AA: “We will certainly be having a technology area, along with many other interactive zones for race-day fans to enjoy in between sessions, along with things like video games and of course we’re always happy to hear of more.”
A guest/celebrity car that can entered and raced in each event. Imagine for example the publicity you could get if you had say actor/racer Patrick Dempsey compete in one of the American races or Alessandro Zanardi in the Italian race!
AA: “We will certainly look into it or maybe even a celebrity race using electric road cars.”
GR: Thank you Alejandro for taking the time to talk with Girlracer magazine, we are looking forward to next year already and the inaugural Formula E championship.
AA: “Thank you and anyone interested in finding out more can visit our new website, coming in early July, at www.fiaformulae.com.” By james Foreman