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AP Interview: Rosberg expects F1 merger with electric series

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Highlighting fresh concerns about global warming, Nico Rosberg foresees an eventual merger between the fuel-guzzling Formula One championship and the more environmentally friendly, electric motorsport series.

The German driver retired from F1 after winning his only title in 2016, and he has since invested in the four-year-old Formula E championship, which he said is now worth 750 million euros ($870 million).

While F1 remains more attractive to sponsors and fans, the upstart series is showing increasing commercial appeal. Heineken, which already sponsors F1, was announced on Monday as the official beer and cider backer of the electric street racing championship under a five-year deal.

That unified approach to marketing across both series points to a future where they join forces.

“Maybe we will never even get to that point (where Formula E is bigger than F1) and we will just see a merger between Formula One and Formula E before that,” Rosberg said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “When the moment comes that Formula One needs to go electric, which will happen, maybe you will just see a merger then.”

They already share ownership. U.S.-based Liberty Media was already the biggest shareholder in Formula E when it bought F1 in 2017.

“The step for Formula One to go electric will be a big and difficult one,” Rosberg said. “If that ever happens.”

It might become inevitable, with a fast-warming planet to be protected, and sports conscious of its role. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a gloomy report last week which said the difference between life and death for multitudes of people around the world could be whether world leaders find a way to reduce future warming caused by humans by less than a single degree Fahrenheit.

“It’s a real problem out there in the world and we need to do what we can as fast as possible to help all together,” Rosberg said.

“If the whole world is selling and driving electric cars,” he added, “it doesn’t make sense for Formula One to be combustion engines, so that moment will come. The advantage is that Formula One and Formula E have the same owner – John Malone.”

Although the cars are quieter compared to the ear-splitting, fuel-guzzling engines in F1, the new Gen 2 models which run faster and longer have been introduced.

Nissan and BMW will be debuting on the grid when the fifth Formula E championship begins in Saudi Arabia in December. There has also been a high-profile signing for the series: Former F1 driver Felipe Massa racing for Venturi, the Monaco-based team co-owned by actor Leonardo Di Caprio.

Rosberg is already looking forward to the following season when Mercedes-Benz and Porsche appear on the grid.

“That will be a spectacle everyone will want to watch,” Rosberg said. “They need to showcase their electric technology in Formula E. None of them can afford to lose.”

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”