Formula E – the world’s first racing series for electric cars – is leading the charge for change in motor racing.
Its ethos is simple – to prove electric cars are sexy and fast, and can drive world-class sporting entertainment.
Ten teams and 20 drivers – including defending champion Nelson Piquet Jr – are ready to power up for Season Two, which begins in Beijing on October 24th.
Going into its second year, Formula E has plenty of reasons to believe the future of motor sport is electric.
For a start, its 170KW battery-powered cars are relevant to trends in road car technology and the global car market. Soon one million electric vehicles [EV] are set to purr along our roads worldwide.
“Our ultimate goal is that all the cars in the world are electric,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag tells Euronews.com.
“The championship has two aims; to change people’s perceptions about electric cars and to be a platform for EV technology.”
Unlike other forms of motor sport, Formula E is run over a single day with the gates opening on Saturday mornings at 8am for practice and qualifying followed by a race, which starts at 4pm local time at every ePrix.
With an ‘EJ’ spinning electronic dance tunes during the event and after parties following the podium ceremonies, the idea is to give fans a full day of fun.
“It’s much more than a race,” says Agag. “It’s proven entertainment.”
Formula E also aims to take racing to the fans, rather than the other way around. The 10 Eprix are held in the heart of major cities from Beijing to London. This year Paris joins the calendar in April.
The championship could expand to as many 18 races and Agag is already looking at venues in Australia and Africa.
“It’s amazing to drive on big city street circuits around the world,” says Stephane Sarrazin, who drives for the Monaco-based Venturi team, co-owned by Monegasque EV entrepreneur Gildo Pastor and Hollywood A-lister Leonardo di Caprio.
“It’s very easy and cheap for the fans to come and watch the races. It’s a very good atmosphere. The fans like the show and we like the sport!”
Formula E is also embracing fans in another way. Fan power is a literal concept in this category as the ‘FanBoost’ voting system gives the driver with the most votes a five-second power boost during the race.
“It’s a unique way for fans to participate in the race from anywhere in the world,” says Agag. “Accessibility for fans is the key for us.”
A global TV audience of 190.3m had their money’s worth in Season One with star drivers, exciting on-track battles, a title race which went down to the final corner and, of course, the odd crash or two.
“There’s a lot of adrenalin because we’re so close to the barriers all the time,” explains French racer Sarrazin, who hits top speeds of 220kph.
There is, however, one question that Formula E faces over and over again… How can it ever expect to be bigger than Formula 1?
“We need to be different,” says Agag. “We cannot try to be similar to other sports as they’ve been there for a long time and have their own fans.
“We are creating a new product for the young generation. It’s very technical, very digital and very accessible. That’s the key to capturing the imagination of fans around the world and to becoming a destination event.”
Sarrazin, who’s driven in every form of motor sport from F1 to Le Mans, adds: “People need to discover Formula E. In 10 years it will be much, much bigger. Everything takes time; you cannot just arrive and get to the level of F1.”
Formula E may not want to challenge F1 for pole position but the newest form of motor racing also wants to maintain its links with the sport’s heritage – for example taking the opportunity to combine city-centre racing with a historic venue.
“It is very, very important to race in Monaco,” says Agag, who joined 23,000 fans in the Principality for the inaugural Monte Carlo race last year. “To race in Monaco is a symbol. Monaco represents the history and heritage of motor sport.
With the help of landmark events such as the Monaco ePrix – which will run biannually – Formula E has every chance of establishing a prestigious place on the sporting calendar.
In fact, it could even inspire other forms of motor sport to borrow some of its principles.
“F1 and sports car racing already use hybrid technology,” says Sarrazin. “Rallying will follow soon, I think.
“Everywhere in the world, from electric bicycles to electric cars, the future is electric.”
The inaugural Paris ePrix runs on 23 April 2016.
By Sarah Holt