In the wake of Fernando Alonso’s announcement to leave Formula One (F1) at the end of this Season, there has been much speculation as to his next destination, with Formula E (FE) at the forefront. One might suggest FE would be a less likely destination for Alonso, but clearly Alejandro Agag’s (CEO of Formula E) recent comments are a tempting open invitation.
This got me thinking about just how far FE has come since its inception. Approaching its 5th Season (December 2018, Saudi Arabia) and growing rapidly, would Alonso ever accept a “Bosman style” transfer to FE?
OK… So let’s accept all the water that has flown under the bridge in respect of Alonso; a supremely talented, World Champion, complicated character and frustrated individual over the last few years in an underperforming McLaren. If Alonso is available, most Teams in whichever series would be interested in him. The debate whether or not Red Bull offered him a deal is a sideshow that just adds to the entertainment factor and keeps F1 in the press!
Let’s look at the trajectory of FE. I was privileged to be involved from the inaugural Series 1, as I set up the aptly named FETA (Formula E Teams’ Association). The past 4 years I have remained involved whilst working with Virtually Live. Accordingly I can definitively state that I have seen the Series evolve from an innovative start-up to a professional (Liberty Global and Discovery investment was a turning point), well-organised (the C-suite hires have all added value and built strong teams), commercial enterprise with a “USP”.
That USP is obviously electric, sustainability and innovation to me. The Series stands for something, and from a B2B perspective that ticks many boxes. That USP has attracted reputable blue chip companies (Tag Heuer, Julius Baer, VISA), brands not previously associated with motorsport (look no further than title sponsor ABB) and even poached brands from F1, such as Allianz and Boss. It has more manufacturers than any other Series, and still has Porsche and Mercedes to join in Series 6.
‘MOTO GP and WRC are openly envious of the demographic FE is engaging and how fast it’s growing.’
FE has nailed fan engagement. There’s the ever-expanding eVillages at races, the usual autograph sessions for drivers, and it has been doing eRaces for as long as I can remember, which the drivers are mandated to attend. FE did the “Road to Vegas” with all drivers in January 2017, with sim racers competing under the auspice of an FE Team for a $1m prize fund, at CES in Las Vegas. Motorsport purists may have hated and still hate the popularity contest which organically results from the Fanboost concept – the mechanism to give drivers extra power usage during the race via fans voting on social media – but it was innovative and forces the drivers to be personalities. Maybe FE is not that well suited to Fernando, after his comments on disliking the nature of the open paddock in WEC! It also engages a younger demographic, an age group not generally associated with motorsport (hence the plethora of eSports programmes now existing playing catch-up: WEC, F1, WRC, Moto GP etc.!).
You only need to look at the recently released social media stats showing the increase in the number of 13-17 year olds engaging with content distributed on FE’s official digital channels - a whopping 347% rise! FE also stated a rise of 54% among 18-24-year-olds viewing the same content. And on FE’s official Facebook page, 13-17 and 18-24 age groups account for 49% of its content engagement. Yes you can argue FE has started from a low level and fanbase incomparable to other motorsport series, but the point is they are creating content, and engaging fans - the young ones who will grow with it - growing at a rate of knots. A few years ago I hosted a Blackbook Sports Forum at which Moto GP and WRC joined Alejandro Agag on the panel, and they were openly envious of the demographic that FE was engaging.
‘Sceptical drivers have come to FE – often having been cast on the scrapheap by F1 – and been pleasantly surprised’
I haven’t even mentioned the drivers or the races. Drivers have come to FE – often with scepticism, and often having been cast on the scrapheap by F1 – and been pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere is relaxed and FE have never allowed the drivers to act like prima donnas. They have all had to invest themselves (not financially) in the series, and commit to it being a success. Otherwise they wouldn’t have a drive! On the track there has been endless overtaking, often making it difficult to predict a winner. A different driver has won each of the Championships since it started (Nelson Piquet Jnr, Sébastien Buemi, Lucas Di Grassi and Jean Eric Vergne). Numerous accidents, which FE is never scared to share on social media. There was the notable Buemi “bust-up” when he walked down the pitlane after the Montreal 2017 race shouting at fellow drivers he had a grievance with, all of which was captured by Formula E TV and shared to the joy of everyone – other than Buemi and his Renault eDams bosses!
Fernando, what’s there not to like about FE. Vamos!