2014: the year of electric avenues

Admit it: this time last year, you thought Formula E had about as much chance of seeing the light of day as a group selfie taken by three Western heads of state at Mandela’s memorial. We all make mistakes.

The embryonic all-electric racing series has had rather an exhilarating 12 months, culminating in 10 teams and 10 venues signing up and a real racing car putting tyres to tarmac. We’re not talking backwater towns (well, mostly) or anonymous start-ups either. Oh no. Formula E has rounded up some of the most high-profile racing personalities and famous destinations with which to celebrate its birth, and some of the most impressive automotive marques with which to work. This is no grassroots event: the series has gone for the big time, first time.

Plenty more has been going on being the scenes too, including a distribution deal with DHL, a technology partnership with Qualcomm, broadcast rights agreed with Fox and TV Asahi and an investment into the sport worth millions of dollars by a group that includes NFL club owners.

It’s all here on Current E in case you missed anything. 

Everything will get even faster this year. The Spark Renault racing car will be shown off to the public for the first time next week in Las Vegas (no, the “official launch” at the Frankfurt motor show didn’t really count because the car was missing a few important bits…such as the entire powertrain).

Then there will be a series of driver announcements. Teams are expected to begin taking delivery of cars to test with in May, and to carry out testing in June and July. In August everything gets packed up in boxes ready for shipping (yes, shipping – to reduce the sport’s carbon footprint) to Beijing in time for the first race in September.

Clarifications of the sporting regulations will likely arrive in the Spring, including details on how the now-infamous Fanboost and the pit stop sprints will work.

Current E will be evolving too, with work on the website due to take place over the next few months. This will help enhance the user experience, help you navigate around the voluminous archives and, well, help make the site look a whole lot better. There’ll be lots more of what you’ve come to expect from us too: indepth features, interviews with drivers and team principals, analysis and gossip. We’d love to hear from you too – please do share your Formula E stories and opinions with us.

With just nine months before the first race, Formula E will be accelerating hard towards a successful launch. To borrow the immortal words of Eddy Grant, 2014 is truly the year “we gona rock down to electric avenue”.

We can’t wait. (And yes, we may take a selfie or two while we’re there.) 


Prodrive targets Formula E

British motorsport and engineering firm Prodrive would like to race in Formula E, according to leading motorsport journal Autosport. New company boss John Gaw confirmed that the new sport is on his radar. The outfit builds and races cars in other series for well-known brands such as Aston Martin and Ford, and could become a technical partner to one of the first season Formula E racing teams.

“I would like to see us running cars in the new Formula E Championship, which I believe has a tremendous future,” Gaw said.

Prodrive founder David Richards has been a key supporter of the Formula E series for all-electric vehicles, which is due to kick off next September. The Formula E entry is full, but a number of teams have yet to announce technical partners for their programmes.


Cost caps, calendar and profit on day one

As well as operating budget caps, Formula E has plans in place to avoid bigger teams effectively buying their way to the podium – and is aiming to expand the race calendar to 18 fixtures. That’s according to Formula E boss Alejandro Agag, revealed in an interview with motorsports website Richland F1.

Agag confirmed that manufacturers will be compelled to sell their cars to other teams to keep the championship competitive and to combat untrammelled spending when designing and building race cars, which has proved almost impossible to police in other motor racing series. The series will be open to manufacturers from the second season, starting in September 2015.

On budgets, Formula E promoter Alejandro Agag said: “There are two different budgets. One is the operating budget for the teams, capped at €3million. So you have a limited number of crew. You can only do certain things, you can buy the spare parts at a certain price, you get the tyres from the tyre supplier at a low cost, etc. Then the manufacturing costs, we cannot control. So if somebody decides to spend 100million designing a fantastic car, that we cannot control. But we’ve set a rule so that that team will have to sell the car to another two teams at least at a maximum capped price of 350,000. That avoids an arms race of expenditure and if someone does it, at least you will have three teams with the same car so the championship will be competitive.”

On expanding the race calendar, he continued: “I think the maximum number of races probably down the line will be around 18, between 18 and 20 but I think 18 is a good number.”

And on the business start-up golden target of producing profit in year one, he confirmed: “The way we are going, it looks like we will be making a profit from year one, the way we are going in terms of the sponsorship response.


Loss of di Grassi will not affect development

Yesterday’s revelation that Lucas di Grassi is relinquishing his role as principal test driver will not affect development of the Formula E racing car.

A spokesperson for FEH, the Formula E promoter, could not comment on the di Grassi story specifically, but did confirm the FIA ruling at the crux of the matter: the development driver will not be permitted to race in the first series, as it would be deemed an unfair advantage – and di Grassi wants to race.

We understand that talks are underway with other drivers who have similar skillsets but who will not participate in the races. Enter The Stig: Ben Collins revealed recently that he has signed up to the development programme. While it has not yet confirmed the claim, that FEH has not refuted it either suggests that Collins will indeed undertake some testing in the car.

Regarding the development programme itself, Current E sources have confirmed that shakedown of the Spark-Renault racing car is well underway, with the test car reportedly having already covered more than 250km. The car has to date been run with a battery around a quarter of the size of that planned for the final iteration, but like the final version, it has been supplied by Williams.

While our sources also confirm that the loss of the debonair Brazilian driver will not hinder the breakneck pace of development (there is a May 2014 deadline to have cars ready for the teams and he has not been the only driver to put the car through its paces during shakedown), it will be a disappointment for FEH, which is losing something of a figurehead in the articulate professional as at home in front of a TV camera as he is behind the wheel.

There’s no word yet on whether the test ruling will affect Takuma Sato, who had planned to undertake some testing this winter. He hasn’t yet stepped into the car – and he may now choose not to, especially if he is interested in a race place. We’ll know more in the New Year.

Lucas di Grassi steps down as test driver

Lucas di Grassi has resigned his position as Formula E development driver, reports German motorsport website Motorsport Total. The article asserts that the Brazilian has stepped down in order to be allowed to race in the inaugural season and postulates that di Grassi may have his sights set on the Audi Sport ABT Formula E team, given his existing connections with Audi through Le Mans racing.

Di Grassi’s departure has not been confirmed by Formula E promoter and organiser FEH.

“The FIA ​​has decided that the one who tests the final car may not race in the first year, because that would be unfair,” explains the former Formula 1 driver. He went on to explain what he has already had an impact on: “The selection of routes, the race format and of course, the vehicles themselves.”

One thing that he did not manage to achieve: “I wanted a steering wheel which has at its centre a large, freely configurable touch screen,” he laughs. “But it’s still too expensive.”


NBA owners buy into Formula E

Venture capitalists have injected $21million into Formula E, according to an Associated Press report picked up by broadcasters ESPN, ABC and NBC. The money is the first investment by Causeway Media Partners, a firm that includes the managing partner of NBA team the Boston Celtics, Wyc Grousbeck, and part owner of NFL team the San Francisco 49ers, Mark Wan. Grousbeck will join the board at FEH, the Formula E promoter.

“The US is one of the main markets for Formula E,” said FEH boss Alejandro Agag. “To have a partner that knows deeply the US sports market places us in a unique position to develop our championship in the Americas.”

“We know the power of competition and entertainment, and will bring our knowledge to the development of the market for electric vehicles,” Grousbeck said. “The spectacle of the drivers running is going to be cool,” Grousbeck said.

“The ultimate goal is to become a preferred channel for promoting and increasing electric vehicle sales to consumers,” Causeway Media Partners said in a release. “If this goal is achieved, the holding company that owns the sport should become highly profitable.”