Photo courtesy FIA Formula E

Exclusive: Q&A with FIA Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag

2 Comments

Ahead of the inaugural FIA Formula E championship season, MotorSportsTalk had the opportunity to speak with Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings. Agag, a veteran European Parliament politician who has expanded into motorsports in both Formula One (with teams and for Spanish TV rights) and GP2 (Team Principal of the Addax GP2 team), will oversee the all-electric formula car championship. The season begins in September, but testing will occur all year in preparation.

MotorSportsTalk: With the all-electric format of the championship, it’s ahead of most traditional forms of motorsport. Do you see FE as a trend-setter to shape the direction of global motorsport, or would your preference be to be unique as the only all-electric form of motorsport?

Alejandro Agag: I think we will be on our own for a bit. This is very unique in terms of technology. I think other series will move towards more sustainable practices this year, with limit of fuel consumption, and that’s a path being adopted by the WEC also for some time now.

To go full electric, we won’t see that for quite a number of years. Also take into account we have an exclusive license from the FIA to be the only all electric global motorsport competition for formula cars.

MST: What’s going to be the initial measure of success from year one? Fan interest? Media interest? TV ratings? All of the above?

AA: It’s going to be a little bit different. As you know we have a unique feature in this championship, fans will be able to vote for their favorite driver to give them an additional amount of energy, which we call the fan boost.

We think the measure of success of the championship will lay more in the digital space, in the number of people interacting with the championship, the number of young people interacting with the championship; that plus the traditional way of measuring like TV ratings, or those standards.

We are focusing on the digital side, and we have ways to measure that interaction with the championship. That will be the success and way to measure the success.

MST: You have F1, GP2 series experience personally. What have you learned in those championships that you feel you can take to transition into FE, either from a commercial standpoint, a marketing standpoint or a competition standpoint? 

AA: There’s been a lot of lessons learned in my past racing experience that is extremely important for us as a group. We have other partners and people with past experience.

A few lessons I would highlight. We need to have a championship that makes sense financially. It has to be a win-win for everyone. The number one priority is that the teams make money, and costs need to be kept low. We have created a number of rules to make that possible.

The second one is very important: to offer to sponsors a halfway point between motorsport and sustainability. We have seen in the last years in racing that sponsors are more concerned with sustainability issues, and our sport leans halfway between motorsport and sustainability. A lot of people are also keen on that. Sitting in-between is very important.

From the sport point of view, we know we need to put together the best show possible. You need to know a lot of drivers, many who have been in the driver market for a long time. We know the drivers … we how much they bring to the show and for the teams to get the best drivers we get into cars. 

MST: That shifts rather nicely into the concept of the Formula E “Drivers’ Club.” Would you like it to be open to all forms of motorsport or primarily single-seater formula drivers, as the bulk of the field is now?

AA: We think the bulk are meant to be from single-seaters. Some have transitioned to sports cars, so there are some who have been in both. But having the single-seater experience is very, very important for the championship of Formula E.

The cars will be tricky to drive; the circuits will be unknown, so drivers will not have raced there before, and we’ll have to learn the tracks very quickly because there is not a lot of free practice in the morning. Immediately they will need to be on it. Having the single-seater background will allow them to take the challenge on.

MST: The noise of the car is unlike anything really, we’ve ever heard in motorsport. What’s your take on the sound, and what would you say to the sound “detractors?”

AA: We think the sound is one of the main features; one of the main advantages and positive additions of our championship. I was talking with our engineers; we’re testing now with the rear battery, the race battery, and the sound is even more jet-like than before. Fighter jet, almost.

That combined with the fact it’s around 80 decibels makes it possible to race in city centres without major sound disruption. I think it’s a great feature. People will get excited by the sound, but not be disturbed by it. That’s the advantage.

MST: Of the decision to change cars at the pit stop, why go that route? Would it eventually be feasible to swap batteries, or did it make more sense to change cars instead?

AA: What makes more sense would be to change batteries. But the decision to go to changing cars was put down to the safety requirements the FIA has imposed. The batteries are in a special crash box, and it takes quite a long time to change it. Therefore it’s not possible to do it a normal race time frame. So that’s why we’ve gone to a swap of cars.

The other thing is we are doing very short races, so (a battery switch) it would not be a good option for the show. We are very aware that this highlights one of the limitations of electric cars, but we also think that this is not a one-year project. It is a long-term project, and the goal is to show the development of batteries.

So the first year they do 25 minutes. The second, maybe 30. The fourth, maybe 35-40. Year five, you only need one car to complete the race. So that will be what we can show; it’s a very strong message of how electric cars and batteries are improving.

MST: Along the same lines, to have some F1 transfer of technology with McLaren ECUs, Renault engines, etc., plus Michelin tires, how key was that?

AA: That’s really a huge advantage for is. When we went around the world looking for technology for these cars, we ended up at the starting point which is Formula One. This championship, technology-wise, is a child of Formula One.

There’s motors from McLaren, batteries from Williams, battery safety management and integration from Renault F1, so that’s all the technology to work with. It’s very pioneering. I’ve been with Williams to see how they are with the batteries; they’ve done some incredible R&D work. Stepping into the new areas of technology is very exciting.

MST: Of the teams, the two that will probably stand out the most as a cross-referencing of culture is getting Leonardo DiCaprio and Sir Richard Branson as team stakeholders. How do you see them being ambassadors for the series and what can they do to increase interest?

AA: It’s important to get the right mix. We think having Leonardo DiCaprio and Sir Richard Branson is a great addition because they can really help us raise awareness and make the championship more popular.

Of course we have a strong electric background team with Drayson, traditional teams like Andretti, Audi Abt, or like DAMS, we have achieved a great mix of characters and teams to make the show very good.

Having DiCaprio and Branson raises the profile of the championship. They can help make the electric car more popular.

MST: From a purely racing perspective, the other teams (Andretti, Dragon, Drayson and others) have some standing and respect in the U.S. market. How important was it to ensure you had “name” teams in the championship to provide the series a legitimate foundation of operations?

AA: It was very important because what we need to deliver is a true grid. This cannot be taken for a show or parade of electric cars. This is a true race, and that’s the cornerstone of the whole project. True race needed with teams on top of it.

Having Andretti, Dragon, DAMS and others brings that legitimacy to make motorsport fans say, “Let’s give this championship a chance because these true racing names are involved.”

Andretti was a major turning point for the championship when they signed up back in July. We really felt when people like that started calling us from the motorsport world, it gave great credibility for the championship.

MST: Clearly with two races on either coast, the U.S. is an important market for FE. Given there are so many other forms of motorsport here, how do you plan to have the U.S. attention be captured?

AA: Our two main markets we always say are the U.S. and China. And particularly with the U.S., motorsport is very strong there. It has “home” motorsports of NASCAR and IndyCar; F1 has had ups-and-downs in U.S.

We have a special chance; but we need to be different. We cannot be another race, another one-of-the-same. We need to feature a different kind of show. We need to focus on the digital interaction with the fans. We have two teams, two races in the U.S.; we also have Leonardo DiCaprio, an American name and working with a Monaco-based team.

We have the necessary elements. But we really need to push on presenting ourselves as a different kind of motorsport.  Also having TV with FOX Sports is very important; it will help us raise the profile of the championship.

MST: All this being said, this is a long-term process, so where do you see the series five years from now? Is there an opportunity to win over disenfranchised fans of other racing series?

AA: Five years from now, this championship needs to be the platform for electric technology and relevance. We need to have different global partners on board; at the moment we have Renault, Mahindra, Audi, but I think others will join us.

We could see American car manufacturers, Japanese car manufacturers, more European car companies, because they’re all betting on electric.

We need to be the place where all these technologies are tested, and we want to be relevant. We want to be a place where technologies are exported to road cars, and make the expansion of electric cars grow to where it’s the first choice for people to want to buy one. That’s what we’d like to become.

Wolff doubts Ferrari’s Sochi struggles will continue

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff thinks that Ferrari’s lack of pace in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix was specific to the Sochi Autodrom circuit and not a sign of things to come in 2016.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes after a strong showing in pre-season, only to struggle to keep up with the German marque in the first four races of the season.

The deficit was particularly worrying for Ferrari in Russia last weekend when Kimi Raikkonen finished as Ferrari’s lead driver but over 30 seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Talking to reporters after the race, Wolff refused to read too much into Ferrari’s pace, believing the deficit to be largely down to the nature of the track in Sochi.

“The track is very different with a very smooth surface, and we saw that the pace of many teams was different to the races before,” Wolff said.

“Williams was very strong, Red Bull weren’t, and Ferrari weren’t as good as expected. This is a circuit where you have to get it right in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce – and engine power plays a role.

“I would say that the dent in the Ferrari performance is Sochi-specific. But that is only my guess.”

Mercedes’ advantage was perhaps even bigger than the 30-second gap between Rosberg and Raikkonen suggested, considering that the race winner was hindered by an issue on his power unit in the second half of the race.

Ferrari’s main problem so far this season has been with the reliability of its cars, as both Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel have hit trouble in the opening four races.

A James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it is glorious (VIDEO)

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motosports Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Only fitting that on Cinco de Mayo – 5/5 – we do a post about the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in James Hinchcliffe.

And given Hinchcliffe’s proclivity for humour (the Canadian spelling is intentional here), we thought it appropriate to show off this gem of an advert produced by Honda Canada.

Apparently such a thing as a James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it’s featured within the ad.

Hinchcliffe rocks up in a new 2016 Honda Civic Coupe. Problem is, the superfan played by Hinchcliffe’s countryman and Canadian actor Justin G Landry has the right tattoo, but no longer the right car to match his racing hero.

You can see the full video below, as well as a couple tweets to go along with it:

RGR Sport by Morand keen to build on debut WEC victory in Spa

Car # 43 / RGR SPORT BY MORAND / MEX / Ligier JS P2 - Nissan / Ricardo Gonzalez (MEX) / Filipe Albuquerque (PRT) / Bruno Senna (BRA) - WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone - Silverstone Circuit - Towcester, Northamptonshire - UK
© FIA WEC
Leave a comment

After claiming an impressive victory in its debut FIA World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone three weeks ago, the RGR Sport by Morand team heads to this weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with high hopes of a repeat result.

RGR Sport by Morand became the first Mexican team to enter the WEC earlier this year when it entered the LMP2 class, signing ex-Formula 1 driver Bruno Senna and former Audi racer Filipe Albuquerque to race alongside team owner Ricardo Gonzalez.

The iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps plays host to its annual six-hour race this Saturday, and with the addition of the no. 38 G-Drive entry, the LMP2 class is now up to 12 cars, the biggest on the grid.

However, Gonzalez is unconcerned, instead relishing the challenge of racing at such a famous circuit as he bids to make it two wins from two races.

“Spa has always been one of my favorite tracks so to go there with our own team is going to be great,” Gonzalez said.

“We’re coming in off a win and as the championship leaders so it’s important to carry the momentum forward.

“The team has done a lot of work back at the shop to give us an even better car for Spa, so there’s no reason why we can’t go out and fight for another win.”

Senna hopes to follow in the footsteps of his uncle this weekend by claiming a first win at Spa. Ayrton Senna won the Belgian Grand Prix five times in F1, including four-in-a-row for McLaren between 1988 and 1991.

“After great success during the team’s first race at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, I’m looking even more forward to racing with Ricardo and Filipe and the RGR Sport by Morand team,” Senna said.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our approach for this weekend in Spa, but efforts have not been spared since Silverstone and lots of analysis and developments are ongoing to make sure we keep improving and get more competitive as the championship progresses.

“Spa is one of my favorite tracks and I’ve qualified on pole and front-row there many times, but I’m still yet to win it. Will push very hard for it!”

The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps takes place on Saturday May 7.

How Kvyat performs now will determine whether his F1 career lives on

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s going to be hard for Daniil Kvyat to find a bright side in the wake of his demotion to Scuderia Toro Rosso – because let’s face it, that’s what it is.

And his antics in Sochi have thus provided the opportunity for Max Verstappen to replace him at Red Bull Racing.

But, even though he’s only 22 years old and now thrust into a second major transition in his two-plus year Formula 1 career, Kvyat has been given something most Red Bull junior drivers haven’t: a second chance.

Toro Rosso, nee Minardi, has been on the grid 10 years now since debuting in 2006.

In pop culture terms, Toro Rosso is basically the F1 equivalent of Erlich Bachman’s incubator if you watch the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”

At Toro Rosso, one of two things happen: you either move up to Red Bull, or you don’t, and you almost never return to F1 again.

And that’s where Kvyat has a rare chance as the first driver to get a race seat reprieve since Vitantonio Liuzzi, and, if his head can be right, a shot at motivation.

Let’s take a look first at Toro Rosso’s driver lineups to date, and their post-Toro Rosso careers:

  • Scott Speed (2006-mid-2007); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; now, 2015 Red Bull GRC champion
  • Vitantonio Liuzzi (2006-2007); 41 further F1 starts after Toro Rosso from 2009-2011 with Force India, HRT
  • Sebastian Vettel (Mid-2007-2008); promoted to Red Bull; 4-time World Champion… things worked out fine
  • Sebastien Bourdais (2008-mid-2009); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; back in IndyCar since 2011
  • Jaime Alguersuari (Mid-2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; some FIA Formula E, now retired
  • Sebastien Buemi (2009-2011); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion with Toyota; also regular race winner in Formula E
  • Daniel Ricciardo (2012-2013); promoted to Red Bull; 3-time Grand Prix winner
  • Jean-Eric Vergne (2012-2014); no further F1 starts after Toro Rosso; Ferrari test driver and Formula E driver
  • Daniil Kvyat (2014, mid-2016-present); promoted to Red Bull, now, sent back to Toro Rosso
  • Max Verstappen (2015-mid-2016); promoted to Red Bull
  • Carlos Sainz Jr. (2015-present); future TBD beyond Toro Rosso career

So there you have it: 11 drivers in Toro Rosso’s history, none lasting longer than three years, four promoted to Red Bull, and only one – Liuzzi, in 2009 – ever returning to the grid after their post-Toro Rosso career ended.

Note, I’m not including Christian Klien here – the Austrian graduated into F1 with Jaguar in 2004 before Red Bull launched in 2005 – he never drove for Toro Rosso. Liuzzi, additionally, drove a handful of Grands Prix for Red Bull in 2005 but was never in with a shout at returning once Red Bull kept Klien alongside David Coulthard for 2006.

And that’s before you get to the countless others who Red Bull had in their “incubator” at one point or another, but never had a sniff of F1.

That includes the likes of Antonio Felix da Costa, Robert Wickens, Brendon Hartley, Neel Jani, Filipe Albuquerque, Alex Lynn, Daniel Juncadella among others (a more exhaustive list is found here).

Toro Rosso differs from its predecessor in obvious reasons. Many of the 37 drivers in Minardi’s history used the venerable Italian team as a springboard to move higher up the grid – you got your start at Minardi, you went forward from there, and you remained grateful to Faenza for giving you that first chance.

Toro Rosso? It’s a case of go big, or go home. Red Bull makes no apologies for how cutthroat its way of finding talent is, but it is interesting to note that with such short lifespans, it doesn’t give its own talent enough time to find itself before tossing them out for whomever the next flavor of the month driver may be.

That’s evident when you look around the world and see the number of ex-Red Bull folk who’ve gone on to greater things and championships in other disciplines, notably in sports car racing.

Say in a hypothetical situation that Romain Grosjean was under the Red Bull umbrella for his formative years, when he struggled in a part-time fill-in role in 2009, then drew ire from Mark Webber in 2012 with Webber’s infamous “first-lap nutcase” branding of the Franco Swiss driver. What would have happened to Grosjean’s career had he been tossed aside after a year or at most, two?

This is the precipice at which Kvyat now stands. Lewis Hamilton made the comment after Sochi that he has 17 races left, and 17 races to give Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg hell.

The same is true for Kvyat, who while offered a rare shot to continue having been the first Toro Rosso graduate to fail at Red Bull, likely only has one season left to save his F1 career… which again, seems really weird to type considering he’s only 22 years old.

But if he thrives in the now-lesser expectations bestowed on him at Toro Rosso, there could be landing places for him in 2017. It’s up to him now to seize this second chance.