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Formula E’s Global Launch

July 1, 2014

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Formula E last night hosted an evening entitled the Global Launch Event, for the fast approaching FIA sanctioned, fully electric race series and I was privileged to attend.

As a motorsport fan and someone with history and a vested interest in Formula One, I’m intrigued and excited by the sporting aspect of the project. Racing around city centres in almost anything should provide a thrilling spectacle, so I can’t wait for that first day in Beijing, when all twenty drivers are unleashed at once in the new machinery.

I’m of course fascinated by the technology. The cars are a collaboration of contributions from some highly respected and well known players in both the motorsport and wider technological world and what they’ve all managed to achieve in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable.

In fact ‘remarkable’ is a great word to describe many of the achievements of Formula E to date. The initial deal between the FIA and Alejandro Agag’s newly formed company, Formula E Holdings, was only signed in August of 2012 and yet yesterday, at The Roundhouse in London, we were surrounded by a full fleet of teams, their cars, partners and some major players from sport, business and politics.

Formula E’s operational headquarters, based here in the UK at Donington Park, sprung out of the ground and moved in its occupants in a mere fifteen weeks, which is impressive in itself. A seven figure sum’s been invested in the 44,000 square feet of space to house all ten teams, their cars and equipment, along with FE staff, and upwards of 50 million euros has been secured in investment in the project so far.

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The fact that The Roundhouse was packed to the rafters for the event was testament enough to the interest being generated around the new championship, but the fact it was packed full of some of the biggest and most prestigious players from the automotive industry, British government and Formula One, holds testament to it’s growing momentum as a serious enterprise and pioneering British export.

There were a host of announcements at the launch event. A second female racer; a support vehicle partnership with BMW; a fantastic initiative to get school children involved in EV engineering and the unveiling of Battersea Park as the London race venue, amongst others. All great assets to the series, I don’t think anyone could disagree.
What a lot of people do seem to disagree with already, even before it’s been given a chance, is Formula E’s much talked about FanBoost system.

I’ve been a big fan and supporter of FE from the very beginning, seeing the positives associated with the project and the huge benefits it could bring us all in the future. My most obvious area of expertise is technical and operational, but I also work a lot in the business and corporate sector today, talking to different industries about what they might learn from F1 and its methods.
More and more I’m seeing trends where actually in certain areas, namely online and digital, many of these companies I’m supposed to be inspiring are light years ahead of F1, not the other way round…awkward.

As a result I’ve had to look for new examples of my industry leading the way in an experimental digital world that I can share with others and so, as a result, I’ve turned to Formula E as it’s doing exactly that.
Who knows if FanBoost will be a success or not, not even the organisers know that right now? But how about we applaud them for trying to use social media and engage with a young and enthusiastic audience and let’s just see how it goes?
Because my world largely exists around Formula One, the direct feedback I’ve seen has mainly been from F1 fans and it’s not all been that great. That’s not really a surprise. Apart from the fact that F1 fans and insiders alike, seem to be caught up in an era of publicly complaining about their own sport, despite attempts from the organisers to try and address issues that have arisen, they’re almost all looking at FE through their F1 conditioned eyes.
The tag line of Formula E, you might have noticed is “The Future is Electric”, it’s not The Future Of Motorsport is Electric. Motor racing is merely the chosen vehicle, excuse the pun, to help promote the technology and the message that sustainable and emission free motoring is the way forward.
Organisers hope to push that message to the teenagers of today and their families, because they know that they’re the ones who’s minds they need to change over the next couple of years before they buy their first cars. If they’re excited by FE, if they engage with it, feel involved and enjoy it, electric cars become cool. Those kids are not necessarily F1 fans in general, mainly because F1’s ignored them for so long and done little to reach out to them through their chosen channels.
The Formula E city centre event, or TV show, however we choose to take it in, looks like being a thoroughly entertaining experience for people of all ages. It’s not aimed specifically at F1 fans, but there should be no reason at all they shouldn’t enjoy it along with everyone else.
The first thing they need to do for that to happen though, is look at this like a new form of groundbreaking entertainment, which happens to have a personal connection to them through motorsport. Look at it with an open mind, give ideas like FanBoost a chance and see how it all unfolds.
Try not to be negative, but be positive about something that, if it does indeed succeed, could not only make a brilliant and entertaining spectacle, but benefit us all in the long run.

Marc Priestley
@f1elvis

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8 Comments
  1. Cody permalink

    I’m hugely in favor of FE. Unlike many fans in the car scene I enjoy and respect all quality new technology even if it doesn’t make as much (or any) noise. You might recall I recommend you drive a Model S on twitter several times ;-). Electric cars have promise. There already are done that are super cool and just need to be given a chance. FE looks very very exciting to me.

    HOWEVER, fanboost makes the event a popularity contest, not a contest of the better electric car and driver. FE has the chance to drive innovation in the electric car field, but FanBoost has nothing to do with that other then allow somebody to win that doesn’t deserve to win. As I write this its dawning more and more what FanBoost is… It’s welfare and the entitlement generation. Giving something to somebody that didn’t do the work to earn it.

    • Fanboost is not going to make the most popular driver win the race. It gives a tiny boost for 2.5 secs to the three drivers with most votes, that’s all.
      What it does do is push drivers and teams to engage with their fans, to exploit the social media platform and to work hard at it. Surely that’s a good thing?
      If it was going to dramatically alter the outcome of a race I’d be disappointed, but it’s not. This new venture is all about entertainment on so many more levels than just racing. If fanboost means that we, as fans, see teams and drivers going the extra mile to give us what we want, on and off track, that should be a positive thing.
      If it doesn’t work out, then that’s fine, perhaps it gets dropped, but credit where credit’s due for trying to bring the fans closer to the sport.

  2. Fanboost is not going to make the most popular driver win the race. It gives a tiny boost for 2.5 secs to the three drivers with most votes, that’s all.

    You know you’re defending the indefensible when your best line of argument is ‘don’t worry, it won’t really work’.

    The view I often hear from people about Formula E is that they’re interested by the technology and excited to see what the new championship will turn out like, but Fanboost feels like an insult to their intelligence and has put them off it. I sympathise with that view entirely – I was really looking forward to Formula E, but cheap and nasty gimmicks like this do not belong in motor sport (nor do the ones in F1, by the way).

    Cody is quite right – it turns the event into a popularity contest, regardless of how much power the drivers get through it. Incidentally, Formula E have increased the power which will be provided through Fanboost, so contrary to Marc’s point the intention is clearly for it to play a significant role.

    The other question I have about Formula E (unfortunately I couldn’t go to the launch to ask it), is where does the energy ultimately come from? Having electric cars is great, and I’m all for using environmentally-friendly technologies in motor racing, but the first race of the season is in Beijing and when they plug the cars in to recharge won’t all the energy be coming from China’s somewhat less than eco friendly power grid?

    • As you and I have already discussed this at some length Keith, I suspect we’ll have to just agree to disagree on some of FE’s ideas. I’m certainly not suggesting that it “won’t really work”, I have no idea, but I’m intrigued to find out.
      As for recharging the cars, the proposed plan is actually to recharge them using generators running on a waste product of bio-diesel production, not emission free, but pretty close.

      • I’m certainly not suggesting that it “won’t really work”, I have no idea, but I’m intrigued to find out.

        Either it will, which is undesirable as I’ve already said, or it won’t, which renders it pointless. It’s like double points in F1 – whether or not it actually affects the outcome it’s still grossly unfair and a rotten precedent.

        the proposed plan is actually to recharge them using generators running on a waste product of bio-diesel production, not emission free, but pretty close.

        That certainly sounds better than the alternative and is something they should definitely promote.

        I don’t think you and I actually differ that much in our opinions. I like the idea of FE, I think it’s innovative and I want to see it succeed. But I think they’ve compromised it with Fanboost. They should at least have given people the option to vote for ‘no one’, so they could judge whether people actually want gimmicks like this.

      • Clearly not everyone will like this idea, but that’s the case with most new ideas.
        I wouldn’t say it’s anything like F1’s double points however. The point of FanBoost is to engage fans, to bring them closer to the action, make them feel part of it. It’s only one small part of a series of features they’ve come up with to try and make the show more interactive.
        Having seen FE’s approach so far, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see fan surveys and a data driven approach to making further improvements in the future. However, no sport can simply to run by fans as there are too many differing opinions and agendas. At some point the organisers need to make decisions on behalf of them.
        It would make no sense right now to give people the very public option to denounce the idea as being negative, we’ve all got to give it a chance and whilst F1 fans may or may not like it, ‘FE fans’ just might, you never know?

    • Albert permalink

      Electric powertrain engineer here (biased yet somewhat factual 🙂 Given that the efficiency in a fossil fuel electricity plant is about twice that of a road car ICE makes it better to drive electric in china than fossil anywhere in the world.

  3. I don’t see why you have to keep splitting people into ‘F1 fans’ and ‘FE fans’. Yes, I’m a fan of F1. I’m also a fan of IndyCar, and WEC, and GP2, and Formula Renault 3.5, and Formula Three… long story short, I’m a fan of motor sport, and that’s why this debate matters to me.

    I wouldn’t say it’s anything like F1′s double points however. The point of FanBoost is to engage fans, to bring them closer to the action, make them feel part of it. It’s only one small part of a series of features they’ve come up with to try and make the show more interactive.

    Double points was also done in the name of entertaining the fans, by increasing the chance the championship would not be decided until the final round. F1 got it wrong by failing to appreciate that most fans don’t want an artificially influenced championship, and I believe FE have got it wrong by failing to appreciate most fans don’t want artificially influenced races.

    we’ve all got to give it a chance

    I’ve heard the very same said about double points and I don’t agree in this case either. I don’t need to see a driver being arbitrarily awarded extra points at the final round to know it’s a gimmick. And I don’t need to watch a race where fans vote for which drivers get extra power boosts to know I’d rather watch one where a racer’s competitiveness isn’t influenced by how popular they are. In both cases it’s a question of principle.

    I’m also troubled by the safety aspect. Motor racing is a dangerous activity. Competitors put themselves at risk to push the limits of their performance in pursuit of victory and the integrity of the competition they are involved in should be respected. Given that, surely we can agree that a situation where a driver could be robbed of a hard-earned victory by a more popular rival wielding a Mario Kart power boost is just plain wrong?

    And even if I’ve failed to convince you, I thank you for the discussion as the best way to understand your own opinion about these things is to debate it with someone else!

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