Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag says he is eager to have more Chinese involvement in the all-electric motor racing series, and that China has the potential to heavily influence the global EV industry.
Agag was in Beijing to help promote the upcoming fifth season of the Formula E championship, and speaking exclusively to Xinhua on Tuesday, the Spaniard explained that China's commitment to promoting E-vehicles meant it was an easy decision to grant Beijing the rights to host the first ever ePrix in 2014.
"We wanted to really send a message and come to China, where we think the battle is going to be fought for electric cars," said Agag. "Formula E is going to be connected to the car industry, and if China goes electric, the whole world will follow, so we really wanted to do this first race in Beijing, with the amazing backdrop of the Bird's Nest. It will stay in history forever that the first ever ePrix was in Beijing."
The Spaniard also touched on that race's spectacular crash between Nico Prost and Nick Heidfeld, who were dicing for the lead at the time. "We had a pretty dramatic accident at the end. Luckily nothing bad happened, but those images went around the world, so it was really good publicity for Formula E."
The 2018-19 Formula E season will be the first to feature more than one event in China, with a new race around the streets of Sanya, in the southern island province of Hainan, joining an existing ePrix in Hong Kong. Agag said favorable government policies towards EVs made Sanya an obvious choice to host such an event.
"We wanted to come back to the Chinese mainland, and Sanya became a really interesting option, as it is an island that is going electric, and the government is really pushing for the electrification of mobility there, and they were very keen on hosting the race. Our intention is to go have even more races here, but I think Sanya is a great way back into the Chinese mainland."
Though China is an established fixture on the Formula E calendar, and three Formula E teams have at least partial ownership from Chinese organizations, the only Chinese driver to have driven in an ePrix is Ma Qinghua, who competed sporadically and without sustained success over the past three seasons. And with Ma not set to race in Formula E in 2018-19, Agag is keen to find a new Chinese driver to compete in the series and capture the public's imagination.
"We would love to have another Chinese driver, one or two. We have two Chinese teams, and I know that they are working on bringing Chinese drivers into the championship again, but we are always looking to have a bigger presence in China. We have really strong backing here, and I think this is just the beginning for Formula E in China."
In addition to Chinese involvement in the championship, major automakers BMW, Nissan, Mercedes and Porsche are set to join the Formula E ranks over the next two seasons. However, despite an apparent surfeit of manufacturer involvement, Agag is keen to broaden the series' reach still further.
"I would love to have a Korean and an American manufacturer, and we are talking to some. I would also love to have Ferrari in Formula E, but I think it's too early. They are not yet making electric cars, and moreover Ferrari is the symbol of the internal combustion engine. I would love to have an iconic brand like Ferrari, but I don't think it's happening in the short term."
Formula E will look somewhat different next season, with the introduction of a brand new car and a raft of regulation changes designed to improve the show. Agag is confident the new-look series will retain the excitement of the previous iteration.
"The new car is incredibly aggressive-looking and exciting, and can do the whole race in one go. Beforehand, drivers had to change cars halfway through, which lent the race a strategic element. Now we're going to have an attack mode, where all the drivers are going to have eight minutes of more power than the standard race mode. So this will be like Mario Kart, and you can activate it whenever you want, but when you have used yours up, others might still have their attack mode. So I think the racing is going to be incredibly exciting with this new format. I think it's revolutionary, it's never been done before, and that's what we like to do, so I think it's going to be really good."
The 2018-19 Formula E season consists of 13 rounds and kicks off in the Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh on December 15, 2018. Round 5 in Hong Kong takes place on March 10, 2019, followed by the inaugural Sanya ePrix two weeks later.
During the 2017-2018 season, Formula E has been very successful in various ways, including bagging the title sponsor, ABB Group, a Top 500 Company based in Zurich. Talking to Xinhua, Jane Yu, Vice President of ABB China, said, "The ABB FIA Formula E Championship is a natural fit between two pioneers at the forefront of the latest electrification and digital technologies. It perfectly supports ABB's commitment to running the world without consuming the earth. Formula E is one of the most exciting developments in sustainable transport and sport today, providing a unique opportunity to engage with customers around the world while building a sustainable future."
She emphasized, "this partnership will build on ABB's position as the global leader in defining the future of e-mobility. ABB has unrivalled expertise in electrification and leadership in electric-vehicle charging solutions, with the largest installed base of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles worldwide. Formula E serves as a competitive platform to develop and test e-mobility relevant electrification and digitalization technologies, helping refine the design and functionality of electric vehicles and infrastructure as well as the associated digital platforms."