RIYADH: Formula E’s Season 8 is nearing its finish line, with only two race weekends remaining. As the 11 teams descend on London for rounds 13 and 14 on Saturday and Sunday, there is a case to be made for the current campaign being the most exciting since the all-electric, single-seater series launched in 2014.
For Alberto Longo, co-founder and chief championship officer of Formula E, the season has been a triumph after the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic over the last two years.
He told Arab News: “I think it has been fantastic the way that we have received fans back into Formula E. That I would say is the highlight, I think motorsport without fans is not motorsport. It was encouraging to see people in Diriyah, people in Mexico, a lot of people came to watch our races, which is fantastic.”
Longo believes the new sporting formats introduced to Formula E have resulted in dramatic title races for the drivers and the teams.
“I think we have another very competitive season in which we have four or five drivers that could actually win the championship.
“The sporting format, and especially the qualifying format, has demonstrated that we chose the right option. We had so many options on which way to go, I think we did take the right decision there.
“It is very entertaining from the minute they go out of the garages,” he said.
With two race events of the season remaining — London, on July 30 and 31, and Seoul, from Aug. 13 to 14 — Stoffel Vandoorne of Mercedes-EQ leads the drivers’ championship with 155 points, followed by Edoardo Mortara of ROKiT Venturi on 144. Mitch Evans of Jaguar Racing is third on 139 points, and Jean-Eric Vergne of DS Techeetah fourth with 128.
Mercedes-EQ lead the team standings on 238 points with ROKiT Venturi and DS Techeetah both on 228.
Despite both titles hanging in the balance, attention is already turning to what promises to be a landmark Season 9, which will kick off in Mexico City after four years (2018, 2019, 2021, and 2022) of Saudi Arabia hosting the opener with the Diriyah E-Prix.
Longo noted that putting the race calendar together was similar to puzzle solving.
“The decision behind (opening in Mexico) was basically because we are introducing for the first time ever the Gen3 car. The Gen3 preparations didn’t allow us to start in December. We needed to shuffle the whole calendar and squeeze it and put it into seven months.
“Basically, we are racing in the biggest cities in the world. There are only certain weekends that we can use those cities,” he added.
Pre-season testing will take place between Dec. 11 and 14, and Mexico City’s opening race will be on Jan. 14. Saudi Arabia’s double-header of night races will remain a fixture of the season, taking place on Jan. 27 and 28.
Longo said: “For sure Saudi wanted to have the weekend that they were racing at. And that for me was my priority. I always call our friends from Saudi first and they wanted that date.
“I basically keep on shaping the calendar based on the two or three races that are always fixed in it. And one of them obviously is Saudi. The other one is Monaco; it has to be on a specific day.
“I think going to Mexico in the first round is good because we will start with a lot of people watching the race, with a crowd of 50,000 people there. And then we go to the fantastic venue of Diriyah with two night races. I think it’s a very, very strong start to the season,” he added.
After the introduction of the Jakarta E-Prix in Indonesia this year, Season 9 will see yet another new venue in Asia: The Indian city of Hyderabad.
“We’re a global championship, so we intend to be on every single continent. And we have done that almost from year one in the championship, and that’s something that we’re very proud of. Asia is a key market for us, as you can imagine,” Longo said.
However, the introduction of China, which has been on the cards for some time, will have to wait.
“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we still are not very confident that we can actually do the race there. There are still a lot of travel restrictions to China. Unfortunately, there are no major events happening there at the moment,” he added.
The Gen3 car was unveiled before the Monaco E-Prix at the end of April and Longo is excited at what it will bring to the championship.
He said: “You can expect a nimbler car, a more racing car, obviously quicker. The technology has allowed us to make a lighter car. Mixed together, all that has created a beast, I just love that car. It’s going to be much quicker, and it’s going to allow way more overtaking.
“It’s a car that is capable of producing or generating 40 percent of the total energy that it uses during the race. It’s a unique piece of technology.”
Formula E’s popularity continues to rise year on year, and Longo pointed out that this was just the beginning.
“Let me give just one figure: 13 million live viewers in Indonesia. There are not many sports events in the world that can do that. Only one single country, we managed 13 million people watching Formula E. That’s outstanding. For me as the co-founder of the championship, I feel so proud.
“There is a lot more to do, don’t get me wrong. I think we are just like 5 percent there. We still have to grow 95 percent, and there is a lot of work to do. But you obviously have to feel very proud of what has been done,” Longo added.
An indication of Formula E’s yearly progress since 2014 can be seen in the new cities introduced to the calendar as well as the addition of manufacturers, now including the likes of Maserati and McLaren.
Above all, for Longo, are those who sit behind the wheel.
He said: “Drivers are key for us; I think the level of drivers that we have in Formula E is better than any other motorsport championship. I see other championships with megastars, and we would love to have those stars as well. But I feel the quality of the 22 drivers of Formula E, I don’t see anywhere else.
“You can feel it in the races, that almost anybody can win. We have created a championship in which we give value to the driver. I think we are humanizing motorsport, because before that, whoever had the best car was the one winning. In Formula E, it doesn’t happen that way. It’s the driver who makes the difference,” he added.