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Formula E: Paving the way for sustainable motoring

Formula E has proven to be more popular than any of us hoped when we lined up for our first ever race in Beijing in 2014.

Nothing pushes technology like war and motorsport. This is an adage often used in the racing world and for the most part it holds true.

Since the first motor race at the end of the 19th century, the discipline that we now know as motorsport has played a pivotal role in developing road car technology.

The windscreen wiper, LED headlights, Tiptronic gearboxes, hybrid engines, to name but a few examples, were all developed amid the cut and thrust of competition on the race track.

And now Formula E has picked up the baton and is paving the way for a future of sustainable motoring.

Sustainability is a hot button issue today. A speech at the United Nations transformed 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg into a global icon. Last month, students took to the streets of New York to demand action against climate change.

An increasing number of people are making changes to their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint. This includes making environmentally-conscious food choices, such as reducing or entirely giving up the consumption of meat. Naturally, it also includes the cars they drive.

Fed up of living in cities blanketed under a near-perpetual layer of haze and smog, a growing number of car buyers are waking up to the benefits of electric vehicles (EV).

As a result, Formula E, which first hit the track in 2014 and to this day remains the only all-electric single-seater series currently racing in the world, is the most road-relevant motorsport today.

Yes, we are a sport. Yes, we are also entertainment. But at the same time, our role as the testing ground to develop EV technology cannot be emphasised enough.

Governments around the world are setting ambitious targets for EV adoption. And Formula E has a significant role to play in helping realise these bold ambitions.

The wider adoption of EVs has primarily been held back by two factors: range and performance. If the average car buyer has to be convinced to make the switch away from fossil-fuel powered cars, then EVs have to be able to pick up where combustion engines left off, offering the similar performance and range.

Basically, the transition from fossil fuel-powered car to EVs needs to be seamless. We mustn’t forget that fossil-fuel technology dates back almost to the dawn of the motor vehicle and has been subject to about a century of development.  Which is why, what Formula E is doing to help EV technology catch up with the far more established combustion engine is remarkable.

Here are some examples. When we started out, our cars weren’t capable of completing a full race on a single charge. Drivers would typically come into the pits at the halfway through the race and swap cars, strapping into another freshly charged racer with enough energy to get them to the end.

The swaps added an exciting strategic element to the race but also exposed one of the major drawbacks with EV technology – the range anxiety I mentioned above.

But in just four years, we have more than doubled the energy density of the batteries and charging rates have dramatically increased. Our cars now run non-stop from start to finish for an entire race that lasts 45 minutes and an extra lap. What’s more, they’re running this longer distance at a faster speed.

This rapid rate of development has only been possible because of the competitive environment provided by Formula E. At the same time it has driven a shift in the way the public views electric cars. As a matter of fact Formula E has proven to be more popular than any of us hoped when we lined up for our first ever race in Beijing in 2014.

Throughout the 13-race season in 2018-19 (Season 5), Formula E had nearly 411 million cumulative viewers on television. The series saw an increase in its social media presence, and specifically within younger demographics. Social media following across all mediums has increased 212% over the last year. Infact, Formula E has stated the level of engagement has increased 449%.

The growing popularity combined with a growing awareness and desire among the public to make the shift to EVs had drawn in the big car companies, so much so that Formula E today has more manufacturers than any other motorsport series in the world.

This growing manufacturer presence highlights how strategically important EVs are for car companies. Additionally, it is as clear a sign as any of the role Formula E has to play in helping those car companies meet their EV goals.

Ultimately, it’s a good thing. It means greater competition for us at Mahindra Racing. But Formula E’s growing popularity will only speed up electrification and drive the global automotive sector into a bright, bold and sustainable future.

(The article is written by Dilbagh Gill, CEO & Team Principal, Mahindra Racing)
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