Sparking change: Formula E reveals plans to overtake motor sport rivals

Oliver Gill
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Formula E launched next season's car this week (Source: Formula E)

Nothing beats having an original Darth Vader helmet in your office to show you mean business.

Alejandro Agag has a sickeningly impressive CV. Revered in his native Spain for political and business prowess, he was an MEP in his twenties before becoming a key ally of Silvio Berlusconi. Meanwhile, Agag continues to dine out on the profits from selling the Spanish Grand Prix television rights and bringing banking giant Santander to Formula One 11 years ago.

He had a short stint running one of London’s biggest football clubs, babysitting the job for his pals – one of world’s richest people and two F1 moguls. And he is married to the daughter of the former Spanish prime minister.

Connections like those led Spanish newspaper El Pais to dub Agag's sim card the most valuable in the country.

For the last four years, Agag has focused on one aim: growing Formula E into the world’s biggest, best and most popular motor sport series.

In a joint venture with the FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, Formula E sees electric cars race around global city centres in a championship running between December and July.

“In 20 years' time, I don’t see anything bigger than Formula E,” Agag tells City A.M..

Formula One is an entertainment proposition, [like] today, horse racing is an entertainment proposition.

Governments around the world are eyeing an end to the combustion engine in favour of electric cars, something Agag thinks will underpin the growth he is targeting.

“Formula E will be the main motor sport championship because it is the championship that is connected to the industry.”

Drivers and teams have strong ties to F1. Ex-Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi and former Renault racer Nelson Piquet Jr are two of those competing. Super Aguri – an F1 team between 2006 and 2008 – also features alongside an outfit run by grand prix veteran Jarno Trulli. And Richard Branson is involved with a team in partnership with French company DS.

Formula E may not be one for the purists, however – in-race social media polls allow most-favoured drivers a boost to their electric engines mid-race.

Read more: Bratches takes the wheel: F1 boss on revamp plans and British Grand Prix

Alejandro Agag was an MEP in his twenties (Source: Formula E)

Formula One

Leveraging digital and including street circuits in the race calendar were two things F1's new commercial head Sean Bratches told City A.M. last year that he was considering.

“They are copying many things we do,” says Agag, adding with a wry smile: “But it might be a coincidence.”

For some, F1’s engine development of hybrid technology and eco-friendly energy harvesting puts it on a collision course with Formula E.

Liberty Media, the US behemoth that wrestled F1 from the clutches of Bernie Ecclestone a year ago, surely would not be amenable to becoming part of Formula E? “Why not?” says Agag. “I think that we could become one and only.”

A close relationship with Ecclestone, Flavio Briatore and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal saw Agag’s career take a detour in 2007 when he was asked to be the chairman of west London football club QPR.

It is not an experience Agag would like to repeat.

“Football is not rational,” he says. “The behaviours are irrational in terms of money.”

He insists clubs’ billionaire owners part with hundreds of millions of pounds not to fuel their ego. “It is because they want to win.”

There is an exception. “The only remote possibility – because it will never happen – to be back in football is Real Madrid. If they invite me to be the president of Real Madrid, I would take that,” he says.

Read more: Formula E has won the biggest sponsorship deal in its history

ABB recently inked a £100m sponsorship deal with the electric racing series (Source: Formula E)

Bernie and Brexit

Agag unashamedly admits many of his role models are controversial characters.

“Of course, Bernie Ecclestone was a big example for me,” he says. “I always had a big admiration for him. A lot of the time I would look at what he was doing.”

Despite his close association with F1 and affection for its former figurehead, he has no sympathy for the fact Ecclestone was ousted by Liberty’s Chase Carey.

“I think when you are the owner of the business, you have the absolute right to do whatever you want. So, in that sense, he was treated fairly, because he didn’t own the business anymore.”

Agag has lived in Britain 15 years. His four sons go to school here and he has no plans to leave. For him, this is home.

I haven’t seen any people with any more common sense that the Brits. It is a great country.

Brexit, however, he labels “self-inflicted damage”, thinking the fall out could be “catastrophic” for London in particular.

“Like sports are born and dying, financial centres and capitals of the world change. And London could lose… [But] I have a lot of confidence that the British will be able to sort out something that will protect business.”

Read more: Damon Hill: Liberty Media is learning just like Donald Trump

(Source: Formula E)

Berlusconi’s back

Agag is also proud of his association with former Italian prime minister Berlusconi, who is on the political comeback trail in 2018, aged 81.

“It is kind of incredible, the energy Silvio has,” he says.

He has been portrayed many times with his funny side or his scandalous side. But never as an incredibly successful businessman who built an empire who won the election with a reform agenda.

This week saw the unveiling of Formula E’s car for the 2018-19 season. Cynics may scoff at the fact the new car will, for the first time, be able to complete a full race without being recharged.

But the upward curve Formula E is riding is far from flattening out. It recently sealed a $100m sponsorship deal with ABB, the Swiss firm powering the London Underground.

BMW will join the series in time for the new car, with Mercedes and Porsche already committed to the 2019-20 season – and Porsche is ditching its place on the starting line at the Le Mans 24-hours race to concentrate on the electric series.

Whether you believe in Agag’s project or think it is a gimmick, he has one big thing in his favour. With exclusivity from the FIA on electric powered car racing, Formula E and Agag are in pole position.

Read more: Revealed: Audacious plan to hold F1 Grand Prix in London's Olympic Stadium

Q&A: Formula E

How many teams and drivers?

Ten teams with 20 drivers compete. Teams include well-known racing names such as Audi, Renault and Jaguar alongside by IndyCar favourites Andretti and Dragon.

How powerful are the cars?

Race timetables are similar to F1 and other motor racing weekends. Cars have 200kW of power available throughout qualifying and then are limited to 180kW during the E-Prix race itself.

Pit stops

There is one mandatory stop in order to change cars. Drivers get two front and two rear tyres for each race but are allowed to carry an unused new front and rear tyre forward from a previous event.

What is fanboost?

In the five days preceding an E-Prix weekend, fans can vote for their favourite driver over social media or via Formula E’s website. The most popular three drivers receive a 100kJ of energy in their second car during the E-Prix to deploy and gain an edge over their rivals.

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