Friday, September 27, 2013

Electric cars: Future of motorsport or green gimmick?

The future of motorsport was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show. Well, that's what some people claim.
The Renault Spark SRT-01E FIA Formula E race car was presented at Frankfurt
An ambitious all-electric racing series starts next year, and the car to be used made its first public appearance.
It looks like it should be on a Formula 1 grid, but this racer wants to take motorsport in a wholly different direction.
The new Formula E championship hopes to prove that racing can move beyond the gas-guzzling roar of an F1 engine.
There will be 10 teams and 20 drivers racing on roads - not racetracks - in 10 cities, with a preliminary line-up that includes Los Angeles, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, London, Buenos Aires and Beijing.
Alejandro Agag, chief executive of Formula E Holdings, the company running the series, accepts that it won't be easy winning over the hearts and minds of race fans bred on high-octane motor sport.
And, yet, he is convinced that Formula E is in step with society's direction of travel. Look around the Frankfurt show and giant auditoriums are packed with carmakers promoting their eco-friendly technology.
"Why should this move towards environmentally friendly cars not translate to motorsport?" he says.
Nor would you want to bet against the series' success, given who is involved.
The race car is designed and built by Spark Racing Technology and Renault. The chassis comes from Dallara, which for decades has provided some of the highest-spec racing bodies in motorsport.
Much of the technical wizardry inside the car is from two big names in F1 - McLaren and Williams. And the tyres have been specially developed by Michelin.
Sponsors - or partners - already signed up include US technology group Qualcomm, the transport giant DHL, and Tag Heuer, best known for its luxury watches.
As with other sports, sponsorship is critical. "Many companies are looking for a sponsorship platform that ticks the CSR (corporate social responsibility) box. That makes Formula E very attractive," Mr Agag says.Injecting excitement
Formula E can trace its roots to the European Commission, which had been pushing the motorsport industry to think about more sustainable forms of racing.
F1 is the pinnacle of motor racing, but there is plenty of space for other championships”Jean Todt FIA president
The hope in Brussels was that it would give electric cars - once seen as a boring, even comical choice - and injection of excitement.
So, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), motorsport's governing body, explored ideas for racing powered by more eco-friendly means.
Eventually, Formula E Holdings, backed by a group of international investors, was formed and awarded commercial rights by the FIA to hold a championship.
So is Formula E really any hing more than a marketing exercise? "Yes, in a way, in that the aim is to have more electric cars on the roads," says Mr Agag. "But one way of achieving that is to hold a great race.
"Electric cars have barriers in terms of perception. But we can be a technological platform, a technology test-bed," he says.
There was an era when F1 was a test-bed for technology that eventually filtered down into road cars. F1's tighter rules and regulations mean that's not so true these days.
But Mr Agag believes that the adage "racing improves the breed" can ring true in Formula E.