Graphic by Lex Wilson
Formula E is shaping up to be quite the spectacle. The settings will be exotic, the inner-city races gladiatorial and brimming with closely fought battles. Glitz and glamour is guaranteed with the likes of DiCaprio, Branson and Prost as backers and Monaco on the calendar.
Perhaps most exciting is the prospect of unbridled engineering innovation, which will arrive in the second season when constructors begin to build their own cars. The grid is packed full of pioneers: two world land speed record holders; two front running IndyCar teams; one global brand with its own spaceships, bank, airline and island; three car manufacturers and an investor in Fisker; a four times F1 world champion. No Meccano mechanics here.
But the series is designed to be a marketing vehicle first and foremost, and like an over enthusiastic used car salesperson, it is in danger of developing a liberal relationship with facts. It is not, as claimed, “the world’s first fully-electric race series” and it is not “zero emissions” (think about the energy and materials expended in the manufacture of the vehicles, the carbon fibre and the batteries; in the logistics; and in the electricity used to charge the cars).
It doesn’t have “one careful lady driver” either (OK, so that hasn’t yet been claimed – but where are the women in this sport?).
These may appear small points but with international media coverage picking up apace, it would pay to be responsible with information from the beginning.
The thing is, Formula E doesn’t need to overstate its case. Much of what it is doing really is new, or at least packaged in a way that feels fresh. The sport has an almost unrivalled opportunity to encourage young people into engineering as well as making consumers think more positively about electric motoring. The fledgling technology is undeveloped enough to be ripe for huge leaps forward, ridding us of the “marginal gains” philosophy of many older, established sports (not just motor racing), heralding the return of attention-arresting ingenuity reminiscent of the halcyon days of racing cars with six wheels or ground-effect fans.
Leave aside the smoke and mirrors, Formula E. Put “innovation” on the label in large letters, and then just do what it says on the tin.
Hollywood film star Leonardo DiCaprio has joined forces with French electric sports car maker, Venturi, to form the tenth and final Formula E first season team. The new team, called Venturi Grand Prix, will be based in Monaco, which will also host a race of the inaugural Formula E season.
“The future of our planet depends on our ability to embrace fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles,” said Leonardo DiCaprio. “Venturi Grand Prix has shown tremendous foresight in their decision to create an environmentally friendly racing team, and I am happy to be a part of this effort.”
The team also plans to become a constructor from the second season, building its own Formula E car using a powertrain based on the one used in its 3,000hp electric streamliner – Venturi VBB-3 – unveiled earlier this year in Utah, US.
The proposed Hong Kong Formula E circuit, which was to host the third race of the inaugural season, was dropped because of safety concerns, state two newspaper reports. The Hong Kong Standard and the South China Morning Post both carry the story, with details that pit lane buffers were insufficient, parts of the track were too narrow and that the track had to be rerouted to keep government offices open. Both reports state that officials hope to address the problems in time to feature in the second season.
The Standard says: The course was originally designed to pass government headquarters and the Legislative Council building along Lung Wo Road. However, this section was replaced by lengthening the lane at Lung Wo Road and making a U-turn at Lung Wui Road. This was rejected by the FIA. Hong Kong Automobile Association president Lawrence Yu Kam-kee said yesterday the proposal was turned down due to insufficient buffers at the pit stop.
The SCMP elaborated: The initial circuit had to be changed after the government ruled that a section of road near the gates to its offices in Admiralty could not be used. The gates had to remain open so Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying could go to work. The alternative route reduced the length of the circuit to 2.4km.
Virgin aims to draw top engineering and driving talent from Formula 1 for its Formula E racing team, according to an Autosport report. The article quotes Virgin Racing team principal Alex Tai, who wants to staff his team with people who have current or recent F1 experience, as well as top performing drivers from GP2.
Alex Tai believes the car will be a challenge to both engineer and drive. “There isn’t going to be the ability to keep the thing flat through the corner. A real skill will be required. We are talking to active F1 drivers right now, and also ex-drivers and those at the top of GP2. We want the best drivers possible. I have been calling people in F1 and looking for that experience.”
Virgin’s entry into Formula E will help the brand and its partners reach more than 1bn consumers, reports Marketing Week. The sport’s ‘green credentials’, technological innovations in how fans interact with the series and modest operating costs will allow brands such as Virgin to cash in without worrying about corporate social responsibility.
Virgin is developing a marketing strategy around the team over the next nine months that will use dual-screen initiatives to tell the “story” behind brands such as Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Mobile. It cites a Formula E race feature, whereby social media fans will be able to vote to give their favourite driver extra speed, as an example of how it will shape upcoming promotions.
“Where else can you access a billion people for single million dollar activations?” said Alex Tai, Virgin Racing team principal. “It’s a much easier proposition for us than what we found in Formula One because there were so many more angles. We’re working towards activating the right ones. Virgin doesn’t want to activate this by itself and is looking to partner with three of four partners to tune our strategy as we go to market.”
The tenth and final racing team to compete in the inaugural Formula E season could be niche electric sports car maker Venturi, postulates motoring website Chequered Flags. Team Rosberg, Bluebird and Vastha Racing are all out of the frame now, the report goes on – something with which Current E concurs.
Founded in France in 1984 but now based in Monaco, Venturi has offices in the US, where it is attempting to capture the world land speed record for an electric car with the Buckeye Bullet 3. The company has some open wheel racing experience too, having competed briefly – albeit unsuccessfully – in F1 in the 1992.
The article includes a video from earlier this year, confirming Venturi’s intention to compete in the electric racing series. The appointment would also match up with information from sports journalist Caroline Reid at Formula Money, who has suggested that the tenth and final team would be one with connections to France, Monaco and the US.
Other news reports have indicated that the team will be funded by a Hollywood star. Who might it be? Leonardo di Caprio seemed a good fit, although he is a brand ambassador for rival car maker Fisker, which might seem a conflict of interests too far.
Who do you think Team 10 and its mysterious celebrity benefactor will be?