An fully electric F1? Not so fast says Formula E

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Hybrid or full electric power units for Formula 1? I find the entire narrative of this week’s discussion on full-electric power for F1 an interesting collision of open-ended possibilities showing F1’s flexibility to bravado and tree-marking commentary.

Ross Brawn was featured in a Q&A over at F1’s new “Fan Voice”, which is a sort of blog, forum and fan repository for trolls and data harvesting for F1’s marketing team from what I can tell. In that Q&A, Brawn said:

“If in five years’ time or 10 years’ time or whenever there is a need, desire, wish to have a different type of power unit in Formula 1, we’ll do it,” Brawn said.

Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag says that move wouldn’t be possible because of his championship’s agreement with the FIA.

“Ross said that Formula 1 could go electric in 10 years – and basically, they can’t,” Agag said.

“Formula E has an exclusive license with the FIA for 25 seasons, and we’ve only done four.

“So the earliest Formula 1 could go electric is 2039, if we don’t renew our agreement with the FIA then, but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t renew for longer.

“We have exclusivity until at least 2039 – so no electric F1 until then at least.

“If they want to talk to me then of course that’s a different question – I’m always open to talk to people.

“But without talking to me there is no way they can do anything fully electric.”

Let’s be honest, what does this sound like to you? Does it sound like a guy who has a massive racing series in rude health and one confident in his arrangement with the FIA over exclusivity or does it sound like bravado-fueled hint of opportunism? Sort of a, “well, if F1 wants to go full electric, then I become the head of the series and I’m open to join forces and run the whole thing” kind of vibe?

It gets better, though. Autosport know the numbers, they know very well where FE’s viewership is in relation to F1 and yet they ask these questions.

Autosport asked if Agag felt this comment meant that Brawn felt threatened by FE and Agag said: “I don’t think they should be.

“I don’t know if they do, they may do, but that’s probably mistaken. I think we are very different and we are totally compatible.

“There is no competition whatsoever, they are [two] completely compatible series. I have great admiration for Ross Brawn, but in this case he just got the maths wrong.”

Brawn also suggested that FE was a bit junior in its appeal and number of fans and Autosport asked Agag if he felt those comments were disrespectful.

“We are very big admirers of Formula 1,” he said. “We are big fans and we never change that line.

“[But] it’s interesting that these comments come now because Formula E has been growing so fast.

“I think that makes quite a lot of sense – after seeing how Formula E is growing I can understand that some people in Formula 1 are thinking to go full electric.

“Even Bernie [Ecclestone] himself said a few months ago that Formula 1 should go full electric.

“But what [I understand from] those comments is that basically there may be the possibility of Formula 1 going full electric, but clearly that’s not possible without talking to us because we have exclusivity with the FIA.

“They could do it outside of the FIA, but then they couldn’t call it Formula 1, because Formula 1 is a name that belongs to the FIA, so the whole thing is pretty sealed.”

From my point of view, the most robust thing about Formula E’s program is their social media marketing spend which results in tidal waves of tweets and posts which, for me at least, don’t look organic. The total viewers versus total social media footprint numbers are difficult for me to make sense of but what do I know?

I’m sure FE has a deal with the FIA but if the day comes that F1 and its hundreds of millions of viewers want to go full electric, I would suggest that FE will find it very difficult to stop and regardless of contract, sometimes people are paid to go away. The question is, would the technology be developed enough in five years to see a fully electric F1 series? What about 10 years?

Like all sustainable products, they will struggle until they can replicate the performance, ease and cost of what they are replacing. They eventually get there through development. The curly lightbulb eventually made way for the LED lightbulb which was a massive improvement. Will F1 find an all-electric power unit that can achieve today’s track records? Will they figure out a way to change batteries like a pair of AA’s during a pit stop in order to 70 laps?

In the long run, maybe FE is a rapid prototyping and R&D series for F1 to test proof of concept and eventually move it to F1? Who knows? What I do know is that the development of technology is to advance, not compromise and go backwards in performance so we’ll see if Ross is right and if he is, who is going to tell Agag to get lost? Oh, wait…I have an idea. Maybe what they could do is have a F1 racing series in divisions. Stay with me on this.

Formula 1 E and Formula 1 ICE. One division with electric and one division with internal combustion engines (ICE). Heck, you could even add one division, Formula 1 H, that is normally aspirated V8 or V10’s in a historic series format (like GP masters etc). The series rolls into town with three divisions racing across three different technology levels making for an entire week of fun and racing. Just spit-balling here but would this not satiate F1’s desperate desire to appeal to the “younger” potential EV audience while still giving the long-time fans something to watch that is akin to actual racing?

Hat Tip: Autosport

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An interesting take on the Autosport article NC. To me it looks just like Agag defending his territory, nothing more than that. Agag has worked his butt off to get Formula E up and running, and to keep it growing. To have Ross Brawn, on behalf of Liberty Media, suggest they might move in on his turf, well it’s no surprise that he’d push back on that. I’m sure Liberty Media would get just as defensive if the Indy series started looking at running races at circuits in Europe, or if Ferrari and Mercedes start talk of a break away… Read more »

Nige
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I just don’t get it. I keep hearing arguments about this mythical group of “young” fans that secretly love racing but won’t watch unless it is all electric….. I’m sorry but that’s bollocks. I would love to meet one of these “fans”, I really would, because I don’t think that type of loser exists.

Gary
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Gary

Every article I read on this click-bait-summer-break bit of controversy brings to mind the lovely English word: Tosh.