After the latest preparatory races in mid-August on England's Donington Park circuit, all eyes are now on the first world championship of electric cars, to be held Sept. 13 in Beijing. Get used to the name: it's called Formula E.
“Even if it will probably never overtake Formula One, Formula E should be considered the automobile competition of the future," says French racer and former F1 champion Alain Prost.
Formula E is the first championship organized by the International Federation of Automobile (FIA) for vehicles powered by electric engines. The competition was first conceived of in 2011 when the president of FIA, Frenchman and former Peugeot and Ferrari manager Jean Todt, felt it was high time they created an environmentally friendly competition.
But the project only saw the light of day in 2013, thanks to Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag, son-in-law of Spain's former Prime Minister José Maria Aznar — and more importantly, close friend of Bernie Ecclestone, the president and CEO of Formula One Management.
As the owner of the GP2 Campos, Agag persuaded the FIA to organize a real Championship, now slated to begin next month in the Chinese capital. Malaysia, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Miami, Long Beach, Berlin, Monte Carlo and eventually London will all join in the game in the two years to come.
Keep the sizzle
Like Formula One, racers accumulate points through each race, with the winner raking in five million euros. For the first season, all teams are composed of two drivers, using the same car. The French automobile industry is central to the construction of the vehicle: a Spark Renault SRT_01E with a Renault engine, Michelin tires and a Williams battery. Each team has four cars since the battery only lasts for 40 minutes — meaning that in the middle of the race, drivers must make e-pit stops, and jump into another car!
In contrast with Formula One and its trademark noise and pollution, this new discipline offers the possibility of holding the races in city centers. “The cars should go and reach the audience, not the other way around," says Rob Arnott, manager of the Andretti team.
French F1 legend Alain Prost himself has just become the co-owner of the team e.dams Renault. “I wish I had committed from the very beginning, but we should remain cautious, since we are entering a whole new field,” he says.
During the summer, the final prep races in Donington drew in more than 6,500 spectators, attracted by the design of the cars, the speed (up to 270 km/h or 168 mph), the barely audible noise and the skills the pro drivers, including a dozen former F1 racers. “I’m already more interested in Formula E than in the GP2 Series because the cars in the Formula E are magnificent. I tried hard to get tickets for the London race. Formula E is the future,” says a young karting racer from Newcastle.
Contracts with top broadcasters such as Canal+ in France, ITV in Britain and CCTV in China are already signed, as well as advertising partnership agreements with sponsors like DHL. Which means that the host cities won’t have to spend a great deal of money to hold Formula E events. Says Jaume Sallers the marketing director of the competition:“We negotiated with local governments, and we both agree that we need their help more in organization than in finance."