An electric world championship

Electric racing cars will have their own FIA Championship in 2014. The federation has just awarded the commercial rights to the series to Formula E Holdings, a company that is registered in Hong Kong, but operates out of offices in Berkeley Square in London. The new organisation is headed by Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag, who runs the Addax GP2 team and has been involved in such enterprises as Queens Park Rangers football club. He is the son-in-law of former Prime Minister José María Aznar. He has long had ambitions of running his own F1 team, but seems to have decided that there might be more mileage in becoming the Bernie Ecclestone of electric racing. He will be in partnership with billionaire Enrique Banuelos, a real estate magnate who lost a lot of money in Spain when the the market there crashed, but who sold his business and has invested heavily in Brazil. Also involved are former British government minister Lord Drayson, who runs Drayson Racing Technologies and France’s Eric Barbaroux, formerly the director of special projects for Prost Grand Prix, who later become the CEO of the French Grand Prix, who has been working on electric cars since the event stopped in 2008.

“We are pleased with this agreement with Formula E Holdings as they bring a very strong experience in motorSport,” said Jean Todt. “The new events will provide a great way to engage the younger generation. This spectacular series will offer both entertainment and a new opportunity to share FIA values with a wide audience as clean energy, mobility and sustainability. This is a great day and a strong message to the motor sport community. The FIA is definitely looking to the future!”

The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro has already agreed to become the first to host a race. The plan is for the races to be held in city centres. Agag says that there are also plans for similar races in other major cities.

“In Mexico we are coordinating with key figures including Carlos Slim Domit (escuderia Telmex) and Federico Alaman (CIE), to identify which would be the best location in the country,” he says. “Prince Albert of Monaco has publicly stated his support for the electric car and his wish to host an Electric Grand Prix in Montecarlo. We would obviously love to race in a place with such a long and beautiful racing tradition. We will of course look for cities in North America, Europe, Africa, Oceania and we will place particular emphasis on Asia. Countries like China are investing huge resources in the promotion of the use of EVs. We think we can contribute to that effort.”

Barbaroux is the man who has been working longest on the concept

“Every sport has its own way of doing things and I think that is the best way to go,” he said in 2010. “The best way to illustrate what I am saying is to compare skiing and surfing. Downhill racing is spectacular and magnificent but surfing is a completely different culture. There is music, there is much more of a festival. I think that we should aim for that and change the way things are done and not try to compete with conventional racing cars. They are not comparable and thus you need a different strategy”.

Formulec developed the prototype EF01 in 2010 with Jules Bianchi and Alexandre Prémat conducting the testing and development. The EF01 was able to accelerate from 0-60mph in 3 seconds and had a top speed of 155mph. The primary problem remains the batteries with races not likely to go beyond 20 minutes at the beginning.

“The 100 metres in the Olympics takes just 10 seconds but it is the biggest media event is all sport, so the key is to build an event around the main race and create the right kind of atmosphere,” Barbaroux argued. “We do not see this being a three or four day event, but we will do it all in one day. In terms of TV coverage a main event of 30 minutes live racing, packaged with 20 minutes of highlights and interviews creates a package of around 50 minutes which is what the broadcasters are looking for.”

Formulec will provide the vehicles for teams to use in 2014. There will be 10 teams and 20 drivers and the aim is to draw competitors from traditional F1 teams, electric car companies and global brands.

Agag, Todt and Bañuelos sign the commercial agreement.

61 thoughts on “An electric world championship

    1. I disagree. I think taking racing and new technology to the people is absolutely the right thing to do.

      1. If the city circuit suits it, but I doubt for a single second that little detail will occupy the minds of the organisers.
        Having watched electric cars race on city streets, I know how painful they can be to watch.

      2. Makes a lot of sense – electric engines lend themselves pretty well to high-acceleration and low top speed – at 155mph max, some of the F1 straights could get positively boring. Plus fewer issues over noise, safety, etc.

        I’m excited and I suspect that big car companies could get seriously interested by this.

    2. Makes a lot of sense to me (particularly after sitting in a queue to get into the Silverstone car park yesterday, surrounded by hundreds of cars going nowhere with their engines running).

      As well as promoting mass transport to get people to and from the venue, cities are a natural habitat for electric cars (for now at least, until longer-range ones are developed) – and temporary circuits can be designed to bring out the best in the cars.

    3. One of the biggest impediments to holding a race in a city center is that a lot of people who live there don’t want the noise. Now that’s not an issue!

  1. If done right, this has the potential to be something very interesting.I hope they manage to get off the ground and establish themselves as a proper racing series.

  2. So, how much would anyone pay to see a 20 lap race? And how much speed/efficiency will be lost climbing the hills of Monaco? And it’s a spec racing series to boot? So the championship winner of the 2014 FIA electric racing series will be…………Formulec. What a prognosticator I am! Indycar racing on volts in lieu of gasoline.

    My favorite comparison is to surfing, creating a unique electric car racing culture. He’d do better to consider the X-games as a marketing model if he wants to capture the youth of the world.

    And no Joe, my mind is wide open, I just don’t see the sporting interest that can come from this. But mighty oaks do grow from acorns, I do hope this acorn has a place to take root.

    1. Actually, to solve the problem of having short races, what if they used a heat system similar to rally-cross.

    2. If you’re sceptical about a good race over 20 laps George, I suggest you take a look at a touring car race or two. Personally I’m really looking forward to this. Many thanks to you Joe for the heads up. I’m sure you’ll give us a shout when you find out who’s getting the TV rights!

  3. I should like to see the rules, if it’s an FIA championship presumably they will be publishing the rules and pretty soon too, if teams are to be established and vehicles built.

      1. It appears that it will not be a spec series. The official press releases state that manufacturers can design and build their own cars. However the Formulec cars will be available for those who want to use them. (Presumably no other customer cars are allowed.) In February technical specifications were released with the call for expressions of interest. They were fairly free in relation to motors, electrical components aerodynamics. There were dimension and weight limitations as well as safety requirements. These documents can be found on the FIA website..

  4. It would be great if the organisers just set maximum/minimum dimensions/weight plus safety standards and left the rest free. You would then get the electric equivalent of the 750kg formula, which lead to considerable innovation, as did the free prototype era at Le Mans of the 1960’s. You could have three and four wheel cars, slippery cars, sucker cars and lots of things that much cleverer people than I could dream up.

    Wilson

    1. One step at a time. To begin with they need a championship and at this stage of development it is best that everyone uses the same cars, otherwise one team would be far ahead and there would be no spectator interest in the event as a race. In the future, however, I believe the aim is to open up the technology to allow more systems and more cars.

      1. I have to agree with Wilson there. An series of relatively formulae worked very well for motor racing in the first half of the 20th century, engaging engineers in an amazing development race.

        The same is working in the world of electric motorbike racing – the TT Zero as it’s known has gone from a small demonstration a few years ago to a hotly contested development race today, although the bikes aren’t yet capable of racing further than 40 miles, they can now achieve an average speed over the 37.5 mile TT circuit (which has one heck of a lot more elevation changes in it that Monaco, believe me!) of over 100 mph.

        I do think Formula E would benefit from at least allowing competitors considerable freedom with how they prepare their ‘spec’ cars, even if they can’t come up with a truly open formula right from race 1.

  5. Joe,
    I just don’t get it! It is equivalent to watching Formula Ford\Renault with the sound off! Where is the spectacle? If it wants to be the premier series, then shoot for more than 155MPH. To be F1 with the sound off you have to be in the 200MPH+ range to at least get the thrill of an event!!!!…… And then no one wants it in a city for liability reasons.

    Make more sense to me to say here take a Prius and let’s see how fast you can make it go around a circuit and do little with the rules to prevent innovation! At least then you have bodywork/brand people can relate too.

    That is one thing that Bernie understands is how to do a high end show. He is missing the boat on the internet age and how to monetize it effectively and grow a new generation of fans, but he gets the basic show and if F1 management sent out races with no sound track on the world feed, then it would die. I see nothing here that is designed to create a show and that captures the imagination. It is another series hamstrung by no noise and lacking the speed to make up for that! I would love to see electric car racing, if it was an event! But this is not it! A bunch of sideshows is not going to make up for that, whatever analogies are drawn to surfing. They have to get the racing right first!

      1. Maybe I am, so on a sample of one the concept did not pass the seven year old son test! Time is going to tell on this one!

  6. There is a lot of innovation going on in Formula Student electric cars at present – let’s hope that this modern-day equivalent of enthusiastis in lockups that laid the basis of F1 evolution in the 1960s and 70s can be allowed to flourish in this new format. I understand that having a standard spec is an accepted way of building a new business model but the sort of Wild West thinking that Frank Williams, Ken Tyrrell and Colin Chapman is surely the type that will generate excitement, adrenaline and innovation.
    Don’t let this good idea end up as a sort of A1 GP or GP Masters type of format because it won’t fly.

    1. In many ways F1 was pretty much a spec formula in that era: Cosworth, Hewland and a bath tub on the front.

  7. It is only logical that this series is created separately from F1. I also agree with Joe that having the sport more accessible to the public has huge benefits. As others have pointed out, it would be nice if the engineers had more freedom, to create technology that could eventually filter down to road-going cars but I agree that the formula has to be stable from the outset. Is there any news yet about which teams or sponsors could be interested? I presume Toyota/Lexus could be game?

    I think it could be an ideal marketing opportunity for a producer of a new brand of micro but desirable electric cars to enter the market. A kind of car that is ultra-low maintenance, highly customisable, interconnectable with life-style devices and trend-setting. My vision would be to have such cars available at certain fixed contract packages comprising all running costs, including energy usage and insurance.

  8. I wonder what The Mole thinks about an electric FIA championship. He has certainly been keeping a low profile for the past few months. Hopefully he has been busy investigating……

  9. Was it another 100 year deal for peanuts? Start writing the Aero regulations now enlisting Adrian Newey to close the door on loop holes and you MAY be ready by the time they ‘open up the technology’ Also screw a speaker onto the car with pre recorded petrol engine sounds at appropriate points on the track to break the serene atmosphere as these cars ‘hum’ by.

      1. Ha Ha mine is in the loft unused for 20 years and yet all 3 of my kid claim ownership of it.
        Scalextric had one thing that I want to see in electric racing and that is shunt braking, this basically shorts the dc motor on a direct drive but generates back emf which can be used to re-charge batteries in a car.

        1. Stashed away somewhere at mums house in east kent, I have about 100 Scalextric Mabuchi motors and the magnets that would hold the car to the track, ‘Magnatraction’, it was called back then. #thatwasinteresting 😉

      2. My dad used to work for the makers of Scalextric and to design new scalextric cars they would get access to some data of old cars for their cad design and tooling systems. He used to send Scalextric cars to a guy who worked for what was then Benetton, who was a scalextric fan and in return he would send us tickets for the British GP and signed stuff memorabilia. We even went to the 1994 British GP tyre test. Think it was one of DC’s first outings in an F1 car, he looked so young !

  10. Any idea of how long the CR are sold for? Another 100 years perhaps?
    Silent, slow cars that can only go 20 laps are boring. Car companies aren’t selling electric cars atm, so they’re out.
    I predict tv ratings on par with the .1rl’s. In short, Epic Fail. 😛

  11. Joe reading all the PR I can not find any reference that this will be a spec series even in 2014. In fact the following quote from Agag’s Q&A points to the contrary:

    Q. What will a Formula E car be like?
    A. Formula E cars will be single seaters with amazing acceleration, able to reach speeds of over 200 km per hour, the only difference is that they will be solely powered by electric energy.
    The championship will be open to any car homologated as Formula E by the FIA. We as promoter want to guarantee that there will be a full grid of cars at the beginning of the first season in 2014. FEH owns the most advanced technology currently in use in electric Formula cars, and the only Formulec FE01 prototype.

    What I get from this quote is that Formulec will have the capability to provide 20 cars in 2014 if no one else builds a rival but it still is an open formula.

    1. “What I get from this quote is that Formulec will have the capability to provide 20 cars in 2014 if no one else builds a rival but it still is an open formula.”

      Sounds like a heavy financial burden.
      Do they have enough money to see this to the start?

    1. I’m going to put my neck on the line – at the risk of losing any credibility I might have – and start a bit of a controversy here :

      I won’t miss the noise at all.

      I went to Monaco with my Dad in May, we were sat side by side in the grandstand on the rear of the swimming pool but within 5 laps of the start (once the field had spread around the track a bit) we couldn’t communicate with each other without passing notes back and forth. The noise both directly and indirectly (we were both wearing earplugs) made conversation impossible.

      And it struck me right there that F1 fans don’t make any noise. They don’t cheer or sing or interact with the sport. They barely wave flags once the race has started.

      I honestly think that the live experience of F1 is only diminished by the noise – the intense screaming is uncomfortable and uninspiring to me.

      I’m not saying I’m not a bit of a petrolhead. I whipped around mid-sentence the other day to watch a 1960s Ford Mustang warble past doing 20 miles an hour. But the famous F1 noise is actually just quite irritating and detaches spectators from the event.

      Just because the sport is silent doesn’t mean the occasion has to be. Look at cycling at the London Olympics. The swimming pool. Or 19 Premier League football matches played every week. The spectators are part of those events because they aren’t drowned out and forced to submit to an assault on their ears.

      Near silent racing doesn’t have to be any less spectacular or any less exciting and I think it’ll actually be a lot better at connecting the fans with the sport.

      1. A point rarely made, thanks Jem. Le Mans still looks like a barrel of laughs, despite the whispering diesels. I had never thought of the noise as limiting crowd interaction at a race. I’m not sure it does, but it’s an interesting thought. I know it’s not quite the same thing, but loud music doesn’t mean that the crowd sits still, whereas quiet music will tend to result in a subdued audience.

        I will not miss the sound of a shrill racing engine, but a rumbling one is always a hit with me. I don’t think F1 has sounded pleasant since the 1970s; however, trackside at a GT race or a NASCAR event is a sonic treat I would hate to lose.

  12. I haven’t seen what the cars look like, but wouldn’t they be able to design pit crew removable battery packs so that they could “refuel” and run something more like a 40-60 minute race with pitstops? (Hmmm, safety concerns no doubt, but still…) I for one think this is overdue.

  13. The FIA signed the contract for electric car championship races, it is a brave move. Not everyone will be convinced, The top speed of 155 mph isnt a good move as cars wont be able to over take when they hit that limit. As joe have said bringing it to the people with new technology is the right thing to do, i agree. But races lasting for 20 minutes as the battery runs out is not very clever. As far as the public is concerned they have hit the buffers, battery tech is not ready for a racing series yet. When you have the paying public buying tickets and get nothing in return like f1, the noise , the heritage, the fan base, one and a half hour race and of course the speed. If they cant sort out the battery problems with road cars yet hence the weight what chance have a racing car got…..No offence mind…..

    1. Cast your mind back to the pre-DRS / KERS era – how many overtaking manoeuvres were pulled off on straights at top speed? Even in F1 with variable engine spec and no formally declared top speed, it was basically impossible. Overtaking will still be just as viable under breaking and cornering, just as it usually is.

  14. A spec series will enable the teams how to overcome the organizational problems involved in running an electric racer whilst evolving their own ideas how to build a bespoke car of their own, there is already a FIA rule book for electric cars. If you Google for this PDF you will see it is a very comprehensive document, I hope that this series will learn from F1 and make entertaining racing a priority.
    In the 60’s it wasn’t unusual to have F1 cars racing in Two Heats and a Final type events, come to think of it that’s the template in the BTCC and no one would say that’s not entertaining.
    This series looks like it is made for the Olympic Park and could get more momentum behind it than F1 from a green perspective. I wouldn’t bet against it being a Trojen Horse though.

  15. Barbaroux’s comment about avoiding emulating existing motorsport and choosing instead to work on creating a different format/culture around electric racing is a very encouraging sign I think. It will be interesting to see what they come up with for the race day format. I don’t see the 20 minute limit being a problem if the races are exciting. Infact, short races (heats/final etc) may prove to be the winning formula as they provide short periods of down-time for advertising and spectator breaks etc – look at baseball, NASCAR and NFL. They all involve the same and it helps keeps fans interested for the whole event – something F1 definitely struggles with.

    Presumably, a key part of the plan is to one day put in place the structures/industry engagement required to build up ‘feeder’ tiers in the sport that encourage more budget/amatuer teams and organisations to enter and produce the stars of tomorrow.

    By the way, I’m neither american nor am I averse to the longer race/event formats – to which no less than 15 visits to the Le Mans 24hr should attest. Nobody loves the sound of a full house race-engine more than I (bringing a lump to my throat on occasion), but I see electric-racing as almost another sport entirely (appealing to a new fan base) that will, inevitably, one day grow larger than combustion engine formulae.

    It has to start somewhere. Panning it before it has done so seems pointlessly negative to me.

  16. Sounds reasonable although two things strike:

    1 – somehow to me it seems like this is not the first time an electric world championship has been mooted, bit of a deja vu feel

    2 – nothing wrong with the idea per se but it’s the sort of thing you mutter to yourself “in 12-18 months time they’ll announce it’s delayed because of the global economic conditions”.

  17. The current breed of electric cars are an awful lot more advanced than the combustion engined car was when that started racing; and that didn’t turn out too badly!

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