Is Formula E about to overtake F1?

Interview with Enrique Buenaventura, general counsel for Formula E Operations

Text: Laura Bueno
Picture: Christopher Lyzcen _ Shutterstock.com

It was during a dinner in Paris attended by Jean Todt, president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings Limited, that Formula E first began to take shape. The idea of a competition of single-seat electric cars similar to those in Formula 1 was the brainchild of Todt. “The European Commission had already expressed to the FIA its interest in some project that would favour care of the environment.” Alejandro Agag didn’t leave the suggestion of the FIA president at that. He gave it shape until coming up with the formula that was unveiled in September of 2014, when the first race in this new competition was held. Enrique Buenaventura has been its general counsel from the start.

The electric car has been around for some time now, and the appearance of a competition like Formula E only confirms this. Buenaventura is confident that this new alternative for motorsports will help consolidate the market for electric vehicles:

“It positions this kind of automobile as a very attractive option, especially for young people. In addition, it’s an excellent testing ground for the manufacturers of cars, batteries, electric motors, etc.”

These include some of the partners in the championship, for whom the competition and races have become an excellent laboratory. “That’s the case of Qualcomm, for example, the sponsor and investor from the very start. It’s developing a wireless system of recharging their batteries, which would avoid having to plug them in.”

Among the peculiarities of Formula E there’s one that stands out: most of the races are held in urban circuits. And this in spite of the fact that, as Buenaventura points out, using conventional racecourses would be much easier “because of the operating costs and because it’s much easier than building one.” The reason the organisation opted for this urban solution is because of the need to send a message that was consistent with its original Formula E environmental stance.

“Nowadays the CO2 emissions problems from cars are mainly produced in the cities, which is why we decided that the cities should be the scene for a competition of this nature.” Rather than the traditional raceways, which are normally outside the cities, these improvised downtown circuits make it easier for more families to attend via public transport, bicycle or even walking.

Formula E positions this kind of electric vehicle as a very attractive option, especially for young people. It is also an excellent testing ground for the manufacturers of cars, batteries, electric motors, etc.

Buenos Aires, Beijing, Berlin, Paris and Monaco are some of the sites of the ePrix. “There are no plans yet to race in a Spanish city, but we would love to.” There are plenty of reasons: “Besides the obvious benefits of events of this kind – among them tourism and greater prominence for a city– this kind of race would be a very important signal of intentions. It shows the city’s support for more sustainable traffic and its interest in the latest technological advances.”

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The motor-racing teams are certain of the opportunities of Formula E. In the three years it has been going, the championship has included manufacturers such as Renault, Jaguar, DS, Mahindra, Faraday Future and NIO. “For the fourth season, BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Porsche have confirmed their participation.” And there have been plenty of sponsors and investors from the start: “Formula E is a way of showing your brand to the world, and also a way of being part of a story.”

The news media, especially television, are helping tell that story. With more than 200 million spectators all over the world so far, Formula E can be considered a big success, especially in those places where races are held or where country’s team or drivers is located. “It’s a little like what happened in Spain when Fernando Alonso began to win Formula 1 races.”

And while Formula E continues to gain fans, electric cars are doing the same thing among people who believe that mobility and sustainability can and should go hand-in-hand. Buenaventura says there are three challenges: the speed of recharging a battery and the weight and cost of those batteries. “Formula 1 is a testing ground for all this. It’s estimated that within five years these cars will almost double their autonomy and go faster. And this development will be exponential as new and more powerful manufacturers take part.”

Cities and highways should also renew their infrastructures. “There must be new recharging systems. First in the
cities –wireless recharging in car parks, at street lights, etc.– and little by little extending them to the highways. It must be a parallel development. There will come a day when it will no longer be necessary to plug cars in the recharge them. There will be wireless recharging plates underneath the streets or highways, or some other alternative invention in which those responsible for streets and public thoroughfares will play an important role,” he says.

 

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