Agag: Formula E off to “incredible start” heading into U.S. swing

2 Comments

With the first four races in the books to the inaugural season of the FIA Formula E Championship, the electric open-wheel championship now heads for a pivotal two-race swing in the U.S.

The Miami ePrix on March 14 and the Long Beach ePrix on April 4 gives the series a chance to showcase the electric technology in North America, and also to build on the success of the first four races.

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag hailed the start of the season to date as he looks ahead to this next month of racing, which will kick off a seven-race stretch through to the end of the season in June in London.

“We came in with a huge challenge; technically, we didn’t know if they’d work,” Agag told MotorSportsTalk. “But the cars have been hugely reliable.

“What’s been really great is the racing. In the FE races, you’ve seen very close racing, and very tight fights between the drivers. In four races and with four different winners, you normally don’t see that. Everyone is in with a chance to win a race!

“The last 10 minutes of Buenos Aires were incredible. It shows how good the racing is, and I think it keeps improving every time.”

Seeing the cars launch from the grid at the Beijing series opener back in September proved one of Agag’s biggest highlights to date, and the culmination of two years worth of prep work for Formula E to launch.

“My favorite moment was the 10 seconds after the start of the race in Beijing,” Agag said. “That’s when everything came together. It was two years of work, and suddenly the 20 cars went down the straight. It was very important for me – it was getting to the summit of a very high mountain we’ve scaled.”

The next mountain, as you were, is heading into the U.S. market – one Agag called a year ago in a prior interview with MotorSportsTalk, along with China, the two most important markets the series hits.

The Miami ePrix on March 14 falls smack dab in-between two marquee sports car races, in the middle of NASCAR’s busy month of March, and before the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg. It also falls on the same weekend as Formula 1’s season opener in Melbourne.

Penetrating the American market takes promotion, education and great racing – all of which are goals outlined over the next two FE races.

“The big challenge is to set up all these races in such a short time in a city center,” Agag explained. “It takes a huge amount of work and organization. With Andretti (Sports Marketing) in Miami, they know how to rise to a big challenge to deliver those races.

“The two U.S. races are very different. Miami, of course, is a great location and halfway between South America and U.S. We have great expectations.

“Long Beach will be different, where we are doing it for free. We want to have a big focus on education for kids, and promote to as many kids as possible. We really want to make Long Beach very open, particularly for generations.

“It’s two different ways of doing FE, but both are equally important for us.”

Beyond the race preparation, it’s also been a busy few weeks of news for the championship.

Eight manufacturers have committed to the series for the second season, where powertrain development can begin to occur on the Spark-Renault chassis.

Agag said he was pleased, and surprised, by the high volume already committed – and this is before the potential of OEMs joining the series further down the road.

“We always wanted to promote technology competition in the championship, but we didn’t think there would be that many, that soon,” Agag said. “We thought it could be two, three or five… but not eight. The level of interest into the championship has been very surprising and very positive.

“For the first race we had to overcome a lot of technical issues and tiny issues. But from here we want strict cost control. We don’t want an arms race to bankrupt teams in two to three years. It takes a lot of common sense, and working together with technical side.

“Right now they can work on the powertrain. It will be the same battery. Just the motor will be open, but it is very good news to have so many so early.”

Berlin’s circuit design was revealed, Moscow was added to the schedule and London was confirmed as a doubleheader finale for the season.

Agag said Berlin didn’t have the same constrictions as a city center and thus was bigger to make a different-type layout.

As for London, he said the series remains open to future doubleheaders, but doesn’t want to add too many too fast. The London doubleheader this year, he said, is to serve as a grand finale in one of the world’s biggest cities, and one where the cars have already held demonstration runs.

“The passion from the British people is great. We want to give them more opportunity in the U.K. to see the race,” Agag said.

As the series heads to Miami though, the focus remains on the on-track competition, and the sheer number of potential winners.

“I think this is like motor racing like in old times – the ‘50s – where it is so much more unpredictable. That’s a really fantastic thing for motorsport,” Agag said.

“Every driver should have a chance to win, and we hope it continues. Beyond the four we’ve had, Nick Heidfeld could win at one any moment. It could be Bruno Senna, Karun Chandhok, Dragon guys, all the rest, everyone is all really there.

“Every race is a new surprise.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.