London, UK |13 Jan, 2017
The Visa Vegas eRace was not only the richest event in eSports racing history, it was also a key milestone in Formula E’s digital strategy. Sim racer Bono Huis beat the 20 Formula E drivers and nine other sim stars to claim victory, but the PCs had barely shut down when the all-electric racing series made its next landmark announcement - that Mexican Formula 1 racer Esteban Gutierrez would be joining the series for select events this season.
These are exciting times, not just for the world’s first electric single-seater racing series, but for the world of electric vehicles in general, so it seemed like a good time to gauge the opinion of the Founder and CEO of Formula E, Alejandro Agag.
What did you think of the Visa Vegas eRace?
Overall Vegas was a fantastic event. We dared to do something that had never been done before. I think the team did an amazing job to put together an event that was very challenging. Obviously, there were some technical glitches, but these were part of the learning curve for this kind of event.
I’m very grateful to all the drivers who came. Particularly grateful to the three drivers [Lucas di Grassi, Mitch Evans and Jerome D’Ambrosio] who couldn’t start and very graciously accepted the technical glitches. I think whoever doesn’t try new things doesn’t move forward and the whole essence of this was to try something that has never been done before. We learned many lessons that will now become the base for the future of our eSports strategy. Vegas was the beginning of a really bright path for Formula E in eGaming.
What are Formula E’s plans for eGaming?
We are trying to focus on two directions. One is using mobile-technology for a more mass-market approach. The results that are coming through from Real Racing 3 and our downloads are an incredible example, with millions of unique users drivng a Formula E car.
The second is authentic and professional sim racing. We have seen this has great potential - probably to a more reduced market - but to do a league in that space is something that can achieve a great following. We are going to explore both avenues after the great experience of Vegas.
Will there be another eRace on the scale of Vegas?
Why not? We are measuring exactly the pros and cons. Maybe it’s better to do many events that are smaller rather than a big event like this. I think the fact that we were trending on Twitter in CES, above CES, during the race says it all. It’s very important to be at these global shows like CES and we may do it again, but for the moment we are going to analyse everything and look at defining the best strategy.
What was the key learning?
Many things, and I think you need to build experience. You need to test all the technical elements involved and that’s what we are currently doing. It was the first time for us, but I think the key lesson is on the technical side to look at different ways we can develop the software and the way we produce the race. Also, it was fascinating to see how the real drivers and the sim drivers can compete. Having Felix Rosenqvist finish second in the race with professional sim drivers is remarkable. Actually, it was very interesting to see that as the age of the Formula E drivers was going down, their skill was going up. I remember Nick Heidfeld coming to me and saying ‘man, this is difficult!’ so you know there is definitely a correlation between age and skill in the video games.
What is your opinion of Esteban Gutierrez joining the championship this season?
I think that’s great news for the championship. We’ve known Esteban for a long time - I was in GP2 when Esteban was there and obviously he’s a great driver. He’s a young driver and has a long career in front of him and is choosing to follow his career after Formula 1 in Formula E. At his age, I see a very bright future for him. I think it’s going to be great for the Mexico race to have a local star for the fans to cheer for.
When will his plans be finalised?
This year Esteban is going to be on a learning curve in Formula E - he’s missed two races of the season already, so it’s not a season for him to try to win the championship, but a season to learn. He’ll race in Mexico and New York - we have a few clashes with other championships that will free up seats and for him to occupy those seats and to learn. And then after that in season four, I think he’ll have a proper race drive and will be one of the guys who is going to fight for the championship.
Looking ahead to season five, when will there be concrete details about the new car and battery?
We are in advanced discussions with the FIA who will make the final decisions on how the car and the chassis will look. I think that’s imminent, and we hope to have a chassis design to present very soon. On the battery technology - all is going well. Again, it’s the FIA that is following up that tender. The battery is being tested, the cells are being tested, and I think we will see the first car run maybe 10 months from now to start preparing for season five before delivering the cars to the teams. Hopefully the design will be able to be shown very soon.
Where are we in terms of the technical road map?
Our last discussion with the FIA showed a 10-year road map with three phases. The first four seasons and then three, and then another three. There will always be a single-spec chassis, there will always be freedom of the powertrain and the battery will probably be spec during the first 10 seasons - but for the third phase that is still open. We are discussing with the FIA some very interesting possibilities about front and rear powertrains and I think the FIA will make the final 10-year road map public very soon, which is very important to give long-term stability on the technical side to the OEMs. There are lots of OEMs coming to the championship, and I think more are going to come and to give them a very clear path for many years is important to them and can help save costs. I think for manufacturers, what really drives up the cost is time. If they are confronted with very short spaces of time to develop a powertrain, the cost goes up exponentially. So the longer lead time we can give them to develop the better, and that is what we are going to try to do with the FIA. Sustainability is a key area for Formula E and it is also about ensuring costs are controlled.
How do you ensure that the technology remains relevant over that period of time?
What we do is put together the platform, but it’s really the teams and manufacturers who are going to make that possible. We just help the FIA or give our opinion on rules, but really it’s the FIA who issues the technical guidelines. It’s the teams who really figure out the systems. Of course they all have different ways to transfer the race technology to the car technology and how they will do that will vary between ‘classic’ manufacturers and the new start-up EV companies. It’s probable that the transfer of technology will be different from one to the other. It’s probably much quicker for the start-up companies like Faraday Future to transfer their road car technology to Formula E.
We are in the middle of a long break between races, how is the calendar looking for season four?
It will be much better in terms of the break, which is too long. We are looking at perhaps starting later next year, and we definitely want to add events during the winter period. So races in January, races in February, races in March. These months, which is also when other championships are not on, is where we really need to fill the calendar. It’s looking better for next season, we have different options for cities that we are working on now and we hope to have something to present to the WMSC in March.
Motorsport Network recently purchased a small stake in Formula E, what does that mean for the championship?
I think that’s great news for the championship. I really welcome the Motorsport Network family with Zak Brown and Mike Zoi, who are great friends and great members of the motorsport community. I think Zak Brown, particularly with his experience in motorsport and his vision, can add a lot to the whole of the Formula E project. To have them as shareholders of ours is obviously a strong addition. We are seeing the line-up of shareholders in Formula E getting stronger and stronger. We will soon be announcing that another very strong shareholder is coming onboard from Asia. This means that Formula E is growing, we keep getting stronger.
What are your thoughts for the rest of the season?
I think it’s very exciting. We’ve had two wins already for [Sebastien] Buemi. He has started really strong. Who knows what is going to happen with the clashes? Maybe Buemi is going to miss some races, so right now he is building a bag of points in case he needs them to hold onto that first position. I think the season is going to be fascinating. I’m not really worried about the clashes - I think it’s good to have new drivers coming in and that can give a bit more intrigue to the championship. I think the season ahead of us is going to be as exciting, if not more exciting than season one and two.