For the past few years Formula One has dabbled with the idea of introducing electric power. It started when the FIA announced in December 2010 that from 2013 cars would run on electric power in the pitlane. Then Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed that Bernie Ecclestone had vetoed the plan. The FIA finally conceded defeat in August last year when the introduction of electric power in the pitlane was delayed for around three years. However, elsewhere in motorsport electric energy has been welcomed with more open arms. F1 teams and drivers have taken note.
Next year sees the launch of Formula E, a single-seater open-wheel electric championship and an article by Sylt in the Mail on Sunday reveals that the organisers are in negotiations with several F1 teams about joining it. Pitpass can exclusively reveal that the organisers expect that ex-F1 drivers will also sign up.
Formula E is run by Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag who owns the championship-winning Barwa Addax GP2 team. He revealed to Sylt that he is "currently in touch with two F1 teams. For sure some will join." He adds "we want IndyCar, even NASCAR."
The attraction for the teams is that the cars generate no carbon emissions and are considerably cheaper than their counterparts in F1. It costs an average of £115m every year to run an F1 team whereas outfits in Formula E will only need to spend around £3m. The top speed of the cars is around 150 mph which is considerably slower than F1 but not so much that the two series could not be compared.
"This is not perceived as a step back. It is perceived as a step aside to something different which is OK to finish your career. It is something perfectly honourable and it is not a junior series. It is a different series so this is how we position it," says Agag adding "these drivers will include ex-Formula One drivers."
There are three key reasons for the low cost of running a team in Formula E. In most racing series the bulk of expenditure is concentrated in the staff and cars but spending on both of these areas is restricted in Formula E.
Whilst leading F1 teams employ around 600 people and bring around 40 to every Grand Prix, Agag says "we will only allow eight people per team to the races excluding the drivers and the excluding the management of the powertrain. The teams will only have two race engineers, one data manager, four mechanics and one team principal. We control the team numbers by not giving more paddock passes."
Limiting spending on the cars is equally straightforward. "In year one we will buy all the cars from a manufacturer and will lease them to the teams at zero cost in exchange for a share of their sponsorship revenue," says Agag.
The final restriction is on research and development as Agag says that "the chassis and the aerodynamic is basically standard. Where you can compete is in batteries and in electric engine."
McLaren is building the electric motors which will be much quieter than the combustion engines used in F1. Agag says that this isn't a hurdle but in fact it creates new opportunities for spectators. "When the drivers speak to their teams we will put them on speakers so you can actually hear them during the race."
It all sounds very different to F1 and although it may appeal to teams and drivers, only time will tell whether this is what fans are looking for.