On the subject of power

Current E Formula E magazine March 2016 Alejandro Agag cover story

What drives Alejandro Agag, the politician turned electric racing pioneer? The Formula E boss grants Current E an exclusive audience to talk technology, corporate restructuring and the absence of Tesla.

It all started with dinner.

“It was the winter of 2011,” says Alejandro Agag, the charismatic Spaniard who heads up the all-electric Formula E racing series. He has the sort of pinpoint-sharp memory for names, faces and places which enables him to remember exactly who you are several years after meeting you once. Recalling what he had for dinner five years ago, on a night that would lead to the biggest adventure of his life, is not an issue.

“I had dinner with Jean Todt in Paris,” Agag goes on. Todt is the head of the FIA and has been a vocal and visible champion of the new sport. “We were with Antonio Tajani, vice president of the European commission. It was just a friend’s dinner. I remember the restaurant. I had pasta. Antonio was really focusing on electrification of the motor industry, going on about the reduction of CO2 emissions, the introduction of electric and hybrid. I thought that creating an electric championship would be a really cool idea. But that was that. It was just a spark. It was just a moment.”

It turned into more than a moment for Todt. “Jean Todt continued the idea and then the FIA opened up a tender to organise it,” Agag recounts. “I have experience of TV rights. I have experience of sponsorship and marketing. I have experience of racing with a team. I thought I had most of the experience you need to run a project like that, so I went to the FIA and said I can do this. We had a few months of conversation and I had to present very strong guarantees.”

Even five years ago, the idea of an all-electric championship seemed ludicrous. This was before F1’s hybrid era had thrust high-tech electric systems into the single-seater limelight. It was before the Tesla Model S, BMW i3 and BMW i8 had entered production. It was before the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari hybrid supercars. In short, it was a time when electric cars looked barely viable as glorified shopping trolleys, never mind as racing cars.

What’s more, creating a new racing series with single-seater cars would automatically put the category in direct competition with the FIA’s existing series, including GP2 and, at the pinnacle, F1. These were sports with global audiences and business models honed over decades. Entering this marketplace seemed senseless.

But, behind the scenes, the global car industry was gearing up for perhaps the most radical makeover of road-going technology since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

“The motor industry is going in three directions: electric, connected and driverless,” Agag states emphatically. “Formula E is electric. Fine. We have to be more connected. We have human telemetry and Fanboost and other things, but we want more.”

Fanboost is a voting feature that awards three drivers a brief increase over and above the regulated power output during the race. It’s something that has proved particularly controversial among fans of existing motor racing as well as the drivers themselves, but one which has forced teams to embrace social media and fan interaction wholescale. It’s been a clever way to help raise the profile of the sport early.

Autonomous cars are on Formula E’s radar too. “And then – driverless,” Agag continues. “We recently announced Roborace. It puts us where the future is going, where the industry is investing billions. We are the first ones to do something. Other people could have announced a driverless championship but they didn’t. I don’t know why. Probably they didn’t think of it or they didn’t dare. But we did. Those kinds of things make sure Formula E is going in the right direction for the future.”

*

The journey to the ninth floor Hammersmith headquarters of the global electric motorsport started three decades ago, with a little boy and a famous tunnel.

“My parents lived for some years in Monaco,” Agag says. “They lived near the entrance of the tunnel for the Monaco track so I was there for the F1. That was really my first contact with motorsports, when I was about 12.”

Born in 1970, Agag is now 46 but, when he speaks, you get a strong sense of that little boy standing at the side of the road in wonderment as racing cars roar by. A sort of ping-pong emphasis throughout his sentences betrays public speaking habits built up through years in politics, although he tends to deliver his words like bursts of the throttle. Streams of accelerating consonants clatter into one another, followed by heavy braking after key ideas or at full stops (handily allowing you to make notes or decipher his strong Spanish accent).

Physically, he’s a bigger chap than he seems on TV, just short of six feet tall and solid. Grey now streaks his wild dark curls, perhaps the product of raising four sons rather than running an international racing series, but his eyes are clear and dance with energy.

The power and glamour of racing may have made an early impression on Agag but not enough to influence his career choices. Running a country held more appeal.

“I got into politics very young, when I was 18,” he says. “I started at the bottom of the ladder. At 25, I was appointed personal assistant to the Prime Minister and, at 28, I was appointed Member of the European Parliament.”

Agag’s interest was, to put it simply, money: “I studied business management in university. I was really focused on economic policies when I was in politics; I was in the financial and monetary affairs committees.”

Despite being a rising star on the political scene, when his direct access to Spain’s Prime Minister got a little more personal, it was time for a career change. “The only reason I stopped politics was that I got married to my wife, who was then the daughter of the Prime Minister,” Agag explains. He was married in September 2002, just three years after being appointed as an MEP. “To avoid any conflicts of interest, I decided to change career. I was very happy in politics. If that hadn’t happened, I’d still be in politics today.”

A career politician with a career cut short: it doesn’t sound like a fairy-tale beginning to the Formula E story. The reality is very different. That experience of how local, national and European governments work, plus an impressive book of contacts, has proved invaluable when negotiating the not insignificant hurdles presented by recruiting city and country leaders to the cause.

“The biggest challenge for me was to get people to believe in this,” Agag admits. “I had to do a lot of convincing. Credibility is important in every career but, in the motorsport world, it’s very important. I had to use all the credibility I had – which was some, but I wasn’t Bernie Ecclestone. I had to use that to convince people that it was going to happen. For me, the biggest challenge was to use all my persuasion abilities to get this off the ground.”

Current E Formula E magazine March 2016 Alejandro Agag cover story timeline

Agag’s position as a former high-flying politician had given him access to a social circle that would bring him back to the sport he had fallen in love with as a child. “I had relationships with Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, more social than anything else,” he explains. “Now, without politics, I needed to make a living. At the time the [F1] TV rights in Spain were unsold. I had some good contacts and Flavio had Fernando Alonso under contract. There was a good opportunity for F1 to grow in Spain so we took action. We were lucky because Fernando was very successful very quickly. We had a good run in those years. That was really my first successful encounter with motorsport.”

The TV rights deal came in 2003, the year after he was married. Before long, Agag was hooked, setting up a business which specialised in bringing sponsors to the sport. The next step was to actually go racing. Naturally.

“I decided I wanted to race, but I was too old and too – like my son says – ‘round around the edges’ to be a driver,” Agag says, smiling at the description. He has a disarming knack of injecting an almost British self-deprecation into his – at times – stereotypically Spanish intensity, the result of living in London for many years. He does it regularly, and makes a habit of deflecting praise for Formula E’s success in the direction of sponsors, partners and Todt. Whether that springs from a genuine sense of gratitude or from practice in politics, it’s an astute method of strengthening relationships. Using public platforms to claim all the glory and torpedo partners for problems rarely works out well, particularly in the closely interconnected world of motor racing.

(He’s not without a sense of humour either. For evidence, simply take a look at his favourite mug.)

Without climbing into the cockpit, and with contacts and cash behind him, the logical move was team ownership. “The only way to race was to have a team, so I bought a GP2 team from Adrian Campos,” says Agag. That relationship would prove fruitful later on in Formula E, when Campos helped secure drivers willing to express public interest in the new sport and when the Campos team was brought in to run Team China Racing (which became known as NextEV TCR and which delivered Nelson Piquet the first Formula E drivers’ title).

“GP2 was really good,” Agag enthuses. “We were able to very quickly attract big sponsors. We were able to hire very good engineers and mechanics and drivers. We wanted to win. We did pretty well and we put a number of drivers into F1. It was a successful experience.”

“When Agag took over the team, it ranked last in the standings, lacked sponsors and top drivers,” notes a profile by The Telegraph newspaper. “Agag completely transformed the team: changing its name to Addax, signing Quatari sponsor Barwa, hiring new engineers and drivers. As a result, the team won the 2008 GP2 series. Since that year, the team has always ranked in the top three, winning the title again in 2011. So far, six drivers from the team have made it to F1: Vitaly Petrov, Lucas di Grassi, Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean, Charles Pic and Guido Van der Garde.”

Two important realisations arise from Agag’s stint at as a GP2 team boss. The first is that he understands how the racing world works. He knows exactly what it takes to make a team run, how to work with other teams, and he’s seen the good and bad points of series organisation.

“I had experience on the marketing side and on the television rights side but I didn’t have any experience of the racing and the costs of running a team,” he says. “That experience has been very useful now in dealing with the teams in Formula E. When they tell me something, I used to say the same stuff in GP2.”

The second insight gleaned from Agag’s tales of his GP2 days is that he is no radical environmentalist. Although Formula E does have the overarching goal of spurring on the uptake of electric vehicles, Agag doesn’t wander around with placards, unwashed dreadlocks and handcuffs at the ready for a spot of protesting. That doesn’t reduce the impact on decarbonising the transport network that he hopes Formula E will have, but he acknowledges the reality of what Formula E can be itself, in the face of occasional stinging criticism about the sport’s green credentials.

“This championship is promoting technology that is clean and that is helping to fight pollution and climate change,” Agag says. Fingers have been pointed at the carbon fibre chassis, the lithium ion batteries, the fact that each driver requires two cars to complete the race and the travelling circus that flies across the globe to make the races work. None of these can be said to be environmentally friendly.

Agag responds: “It’s essential for Formula E to have the whole supply chain as sustainable as we can make it. We do that together with our partners. For example, with DHL we’re working to reduce the carbon footprint of the championship. But if you want to make an omelette, you need to break some eggs. The biggest result of a championship like Formula E is so much bigger than the carbon footprint that we may have, and that makes the whole project consistent from a sustainability point of view. If we achieve having one or two hundred thousand – or millions – of electric cars on the road, it will offset the footprint of the championship. We have to keep these facts in perspective.”

Current E Formula E magazine March 2016 contents with Alejandro Agag

Formula E set out to be a technological testbed and marketing platform for electric vehicles. An ambitious development “roadmap” was set out and quickly changed and changed again, leaving the sport in danger of looking like a confused sat nav intent on heading into the nearest river.

“The important thing with the roadmap is to keep it flexible,” Agag states, somewhat unsurprisingly given that the Formula E evolutionary plan has been more fluid than a leaky Malaysian monsoon sky. “Roadmaps are not set in stone because everything is very new. When you’ve been doing something for 50 or 60 years, you know a lot more where you can go in the next five years. When you’ve been doing it for one year, it’s much more difficult to do a roadmap that you can stick to strictly. It’s also very important to have a roadmap that allows for cost control.”

When the sport began, all teams were issued with four identical chassis. These were built by Italian firm Dallara, with brakes from Alcon and Koni suspension. The motor was borrowed from the McLaren P1 supercar, the five-speed transmission was built by Hewland to McLaren specs and the battery was designed and built by Williams Advanced Engineering (and shares its DNA with the sinuous Jaguar C-X75 hybrid prototype and the Williams F1 KERS system). Renault oversaw the electronics integration and the whole kit and caboodle was pulled together by another start up, a French company called Spark Racing Technology. (Spark was essentially the brains from racing team ART Grand Prix; its chief, Frederic Vasseur, has now been nabbed by the Renault F1 works team as technical director.)

If the car sounds a little like a Frankenstein creation, it was. Williams was brought into the design fold only after the car had been drawn up, meaning that the company was essentially given a box and told to fill it with battery cells to meet specific energy and power values supplied by the FIA. The car would be rear-wheel-drive, removing any possibility of capturing energy from all four wheels under braking. No battery swap mechanisms would be considered, on safety grounds: the battery had to form a fixed, crashproof component of the chassis, and meet strict UN criteria for air freight.

All of this resulted in each of a team’s two drivers needing two cars to make it to the end of the race, which was to be roughly an hour in length. All sorts of sporting ideas were thrown about early on, including allowing the drivers to change cars twice to make the full 60 minutes (the batteries were thought to last only about 20 minutes under racing conditions) and having to sprint between cars during the changeover.

Critics pointed out that having cars unable to complete a relatively short racing distance would underline “range anxiety” and would be more likely to prevent people buying electric cars. It was a fair point but one that was countered with Formula E’s technological roadmap, which promised helter skelter powertrain evolution that would introduce competition with battery technologies (seen as the holy grail of unlocking viable long-range electric powertrains) as early as season three.

Even while some were saying that the change from a spec series to one with constructors, introduced in season two, was not soon enough and not radical enough (season two constructors were are able to change the motor, inverter, transmission and rear suspension – but the drivetrain is still effectively limited by the regulated battery output), some within the sport were struggling to keep pace. The Aguri team decided early not to pursue manufacturer status in season two, Dragon Racing purchased a powertrain from Venturi to avoid development costs, Andretti was forced to stick with the first season system after failing to solve teething issues with new tech in time and Trulli – well, Trulli gave it a brave but ultimately doomed shot.

“Trulli invested a lot of money to create a powertrain,” Agag admits. The team led by former F1 racer Jarno Trulli turned up at collective preseason testing in the summer of 2015 having not run their new powertrain on track at all. Gremlins plagued the test days. Come race day in Beijing, the team’s powertrain parts were conveniently held up at customs, which meant the team couldn’t race. At the second round, in Putrajaya, the powertrain was apparently running but failed FIA scrutineering. And then the team left the championship altogether before the third race of the season.

“It’s difficult to create one of these powertrains because it’s not only the electric motor, it’s the control systems, the software, the inverter,” says Agag. “It’s not easy. I am really grateful to Jarno. He came really early into the championship and he’s been great for the championship. Sometimes this happens. Racing has its beautiful moments and not so beautiful moments.”

*

The technological goalposts moved and moved again but seem to now be settling into something more concrete, which will be vital to attracting big manufacturing companies, whose planning periods are measured in years, not months.

“We’ll have the same battery for the first four seasons,” Agag clarifies. It seems likely that Williams will upgrade the batteries for seasons three and four, but increases in peak power will be throttled until season five. “We’ll open up the batteries in season five and go to one car.”

The chassis will remain a spec unit, with a new model introduced in season five and designed to last a further two or three years. The intention is to keep development budgets focused on advancing electric powertrain technologies, rather than aerodynamics and suspension which are well catered for in other series.

Formula E has caught the crest of the wave as major manufacturers all launch significant electric road vehicle programmes and is attracting big names. Renault, Citroen, BMW, Mahindra, Audi, VW – all are heavyweight manufacturing entities and all are already involved. NextEV is an automotive start-up and is running a works team. And Jaguar Land Rover will be entering the series with a works team in series three.

“Technology will improve, improve, improve,” says Agag. “We’ll double the distance one car can go by season five. I expect 10 OEMs to be in the championship by season four.”

“10 OEMs” in S4 means every team on the grid. “There are no new entrants,” Agag says. “We can only have more when we go from two cars to one, which looks like it will be in season five, but we will never have more than 12 teams.”

The giant electrical elephant in the room is Tesla. With its Model S, the car maker has challenged convention in how a car can be manufactured and sold and has arguably done more for altering the public perception of what an electric car can be than Formula E has managed thus far. As the market leader in supremely fast, all-electric road cars, why is Telsa not racing?

“I met with Elon Musk over two and a half years ago in his factory near San Francisco,” Agag says, not dodging the question. “I invited him to come into the championship and he…politely refused. He said he wanted to keep his teams focused on his road cars and he didn’t want to be seen to go racing. Then we had some conference calls to discuss it. For the moment Tesla is a no. I know that within the company they would probably like to come racing. Engineers love those kind of challenges. But it has to come from the top and we respect that. Other OEMs are more used to racing. Tesla is a company that is a non-traditional OEM so probably racing is not so familiar for them as it would be for companies such as Renault or Audi.”

Tesla’s Musk may also be put off by having to make use of a common chassis and having to rely on battery technology from another company. What’s more, as a relatively new company and a small outfit compared to giants such as Renault, VW and Citroen, Tesla could be forgiven for weighing up the resources required (in money and manpower) and coming out with a less than favourable calculation.

Despite the cost caps to try and retain parity among teams, Renault has reportedly spent its way into eight digits in a bid to dominate the sport’s second season. What’s more, most of the manufacturer’s competitive advantage seems to lie in the extensive use of carbon fibre and a manual gear lever, hardly developments that would be of benefit to Telsa’s road car products.

Agag can see the issue but doesn’t think any one manufacturer will run away with subsequent seasons. “Renault has done a great job: that carbon fibre bellhousing is really performing,” he ventures. “On the other hand, Renault is under obligation to sell their powertrain to another two teams. If you look at Andretti, which is using the Spark powertrain – next year they could use the 2016-17 Renault powertrain and Renault would be obliged to sell it to them.”

What’s more, the price for which powertrains may be sold to other teams is capped too, a clause intended to make manufacturers more cautious about spending big bucks. “I don’t see a risk in Formula E of a team running away with technology,” says Agag. “But I do want a technology competition.”

*

The sport has achieved some incredible feats in a short space of time. Racing in the centre of London was a landmark achievement, as has been attracting a cohort of drivers to form a grid that is widely considered to be the most collectively competitive of any series in the world.

“Good drivers like to race with good drivers,” Agag says simply. Before the sport got going, many jeered. Several from the F1 community publicly disparaged the quietness of the cars. That didn’t prevent Formula E teams signing recognised talent, including many who had been chewed up and spat out by the notoriously unforgiving world of F1.

“We have incredible names in the series – Buemi, di Grassi, Piquet, Prost, Senna, Heidfeld,” Agag says. They are drivers with credentials, not just names: Piquet was deemed good enough to partner Alonso in F1 (before becoming embroiled in perhaps the sport’s worst scandal), Buemi is the reigning WEC champion and di Grassi is a works Audi driver and WEC racer.

Agag also thinks that Formula E will become a destination of choice for younger drivers, for whom the route to F1 can often be as dependent on sponsorship as it is on talent.

“The problem for young drivers now is that you need a lot of money to get into F1, unless you have a special situation, which is what happens with the Red Bull drivers,” Agag explains. “Finance has become a very big part of going into Formula 1. With Formula E, it’s different. If you show talent in the junior series, particularly GP2 and others, you could come to Formula E. This will happen more and more and I think it will become an alternative in the future.”

The technical nature of the cars, meanwhile, means that jumping into a Formula E car is becoming less straightforward. This is, in turn, creating a new wave of respect among racing drivers who are realising that being competitive in the electric sport requires pace and intelligence. It’s a challenge many can’t resist. The sport’s “reverse calendar”, which runs over the winter period when most other motorsports have shut down, also offers drivers a chance to boost their pay packet in their traditional off season.

The globe-trotting calendar of the series is also a big attraction to drivers. Ten cities per season were signed up for the first two years, spanning Asia, South and North America and Europe. Almost all are true street circuits, requiring major roads to be shut down in order to host the races: not an easy thing to accomplish when venues include Miami, Moscow, Beijing and Buenos Aires.

Agag has his sights set on more high profile locations, with hundreds of cities reported to have expressed interest in bringing in Formula E. “Geographically, we’ve announced Hong Kong, we want to go to Australia and the Middle East and my dream is to race in New York,” he says. “I like Brooklyn particularly, with the skyline. We have some options but we haven’t sorted that one out yet. I think 20 races in a season is too many: 15 or 16 is much more reasonable. We may look at doing more double headers, which makes a lot of sense when thinking about the streets and traffic. With 15 venues but more double headers, we could do more races, which would be an interesting option.”

Racing in London meant shutting down a large part of Battersea Park, which caused significant debate in the local community. “It really needs to be a compromise,” Agag says. “There is some disruption when we go somewhere but there is also gain. We do take into account very carefully what people say. What has been called ‘the noisy minority’ – and I think that is what it is, a very noisy minority – has to be taken into account. We have to listen to them and attempt to address some of the problems that they have, even if we don’t agree. We have to keep in mind that democracy is the rule of the majority.”

*

Despite having made his early career managing macro financial policy, the sheer volume of investment required to get Formula E started took the Spaniard by surprise. Seed funding was said to have been around €100million, put up in large part by Enrique Banuelos, another Spanish businessman. With the commissioning of the first season racing cars and first-of-their-kind powertrains, creating an organisation from scratch and putting on the first few races, that money soon disappeared. By March 2015, the whole enterprise was reportedly on the brink of collapse.

“I honestly didn’t expect it to be so hard – I didn’t expect it to need so much money,” says Agag, in an admission that will be familiar to any entrepreneur. “I knew it would need a lot of money but I didn’t expect it would need that amount. As they say: we didn’t know it was impossible so we did it.”

Where the money will come from has been the source of speculation, with many throughout the motor racing world dismissing the sport’s business model as fantasy. It’s a business model which saw the sport refuse to ask for sky-high hosting fees from race venues, which has driven extensive content sharing on social media and which has pursued free-to-air TV deals rather than seeing the dollar bill signs of subscription channels. To those steeped in more conventional sports, any single part of this strategy is like jumping off a bridge: combined, it’s like doing so with a V8 strapped to your ankles.

“Obviously, we are very young and we don’t have the revenues that other championships have,” Agag says. “For us, sponsorship is working really well. We have this unique position between the environment and racing that is really attractive to sponsors. TV rights are not big yet.”

Pushing content through digital platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter might seem like commercial suicide but it has proved a canny decision. The sport has been able to reach a huge audience very quickly for very little cost, which has helped bring sponsors on board.

Although holding the race at a fixed local time, rather than changing start times to suit European television schedules, may have affected the revenue available from TV deals in Europe, it has helped secure sponsors in each country the series visits. What’s more, the digital channels can be blocked in countries where TV channels have an exclusive deal, which is a little bit like having your cake and eating it.

Balanced against the reality of relatively low income in the first few years of the business is the cost cap structure that Formula E drew up from the outset. It’s business for dummies: reducing overheads as far as possible will maximise profits. The teams are the major stakeholders and provide the entertainment that the series is built on: ensuring they are financially healthy is a priority for Agag.

“The teams have much lower budgets [than other motorsports] so there is probably not a need for us to split revenue with them; as long as we keep costs low, the teams can make a profit,” Agag says. In F1, for example, it’s thought that about half of the sport’s reputed £1billion annual income is used to award payments to teams at the end of each racing season, apportioned according to the finishing position of the team. That can form part of the team’s operating budget for the following year but is far outweighed by the enormous expenditure of the major manufacturer works outfits. “We have to be really inventive to control costs. That is the main priority. We can learn from other series; we try to avoid the mistakes of others. Our model is entirely different from F1 but it is solid and positioned well for the future.”

Whether Formula E continues to grow in its own right or whether it might be acquired for integration into another category, the prospects are looking better and better for the series.

Believing in the opportunity for growth, new shareholders have bought into the sport with serious money. In December 2013, Causeway Media Partners, a group led by NBA team owner Wyc Grousbeck, bought in with a figure thought to be somewhere north of $20million. In May 2014, $50million was put in by technology business Qualcomm and private equity fund Amura Capital. The last of the big announcements came in March 2015, when two businesses linked to media tycoon John Malone – Discovery Communications and Liberty Global – jointly become the largest shareholder. Banuelos and Agag are thought to retain the largest stakes.

Together, these cash injections propped up the business and guaranteed an immediate future. But the money did not come without strings.

“We were a start-up: with the entry of very corporate shareholders, we went through a transformation over the summer into a more corporate structure,” Agag admits. Some of the people who moved (or were moved) on had occupied very visible positions, including the head of PR, head of marketing, an ex-Ferrari communications chief, the track operations manager and, at the very top, one of the tiny group of original board members. “There were some changes in the team but the core remains the same and the spirit of the company remains the same.”

Rationalisation and greater accountability for how the cash gets spent was sorely needed. Agag was even reported to have been looking to sell his shares in the business around the time that the sport had suddenly looked like a sand castle in front of the incoming tide.

There were suggestions that Formula E’s Hong Kong-based parent company could have been floated on the stock market as early as last year. “When we get to profit, the float is definitely an option,” Agag told The Independent in June 2015. “It’s a good way to give liquidity to the investors who have come in early. Investors usually want to have a way back to liquidity. This way is the most obvious one and probably the one which can realise the most value for shareholders.”

Asked about his intentions, the boss denies that financial motivations drive him and hints that he would be prepared to step down should the sport or shareholders require it. “I don’t see myself working when I’m 85,” he says. “I have respect for one particular person who is doing that. To me, success is to leave a long-term championship that survives me. I’m not so much motivated by financial success. I am much more motivated by the legacy we can leave.”

*

Part way into its second season, Formula E still has a lot of growing to do. Agag doesn’t disagree. “There are so many things I want to improve,” he says. “We have created something that I think is fantastic but there are still a lot of things to perfect  if we want to take Formula E to where we want to take it. The racing is pretty good. There’s nothing much to improve there. I would like to make it much more digital and closer to fans. I want FormulaE to be halfway between a video game and a real race.”

Real time gaming, where fans can compete with computer-generated versions of the Formula E drivers using live data on race day, has long been a very public goal of the electric racing chief. It’s a big ask, but one that pales into insignificance next to what’s already been achieved.

“We are positioning Formula E at the forefront of innovation in technology,” Agag sums up. It’s a statement which could be a casual soundbite were it not for the large shadows of Renault, Citroen and Jaguar. These companies all believe that Formula E is already spurring on their engineering development as well as offering a platform from which to market their low carbon products.

More than that, Jaguar’s last dabble in top flight motorsport was F1, more than a decade ago. That the company has chosen Formula E, to mark its return to competition perhaps says more than Agag possibly can about where the motor industry thinks the future of motor racing lies.

The grey London skies clear and from Agag’s office window we can see out across London, the city he conquered in Formula E’s first season. Assuming that the sport can continue to grow throughout its first five years – a difficult period for any start-up business and especially one with a continuously evolving set of technical and sporting parameters – Formula E should find itself at the epicentre of a new automotive landscape before the end of the decade. By then, Formula E’s audience of “digital natives” will have control of society’s pursestrings – and they will have grown up with Formula E. That will mount a credible challenge to WEC, F1 and Indycar for sponsorship dollars and will turn the pioneer, politician, visionary and gambler into the king of everywhere the light touches.

Agag puts it another way: “It’s been full of bigger challenges than we thought but I didn’t expect so many people wanting to join this adventure. To achieve something good for people, not just for motorsport but for society: that’s what success would look like to me.”

This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of the Current E magazine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *