In recent years Formula One has had little competition in the world of racing. Sure, in the United States, it is eclipsed by NASCAR but the stock car series gets very limited exposure outside its home country. IndyCar is considered to be a world championship but, like NASCAR, it has low visibility outside the US. MotoGP, whilst popular, does not command anything like the 500m television viewers which F1 gets annually.
Over the past decade F1 has even seen off challenges from the football-themed Superleague Formula and A1 Grand Prix which had the USP of each team coming from a different country. Now it is being challenged by the electric championship Formula E which isn't doing it by halves. Indeed, Formula E intends to fuel its campaign with one of F1's most iconic assets: the Monaco Grand Prix.
Formula E is due to hold its first championship next year and each of its 20 cars will be powered by a 250-300bhp electric motor built by none other than McLaren. Earlier this week Michelin was announced as the official tyre supplier of the series and this news followed the announcement about the provisional Formula E calendar which was made earlier this month by the FIA.
Next year Formula E will race on the streets of Rome, Los Angeles, Miami, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Putrajaya in Malaysia. Joining this exotic list is London which is expected to host a Formula E race around the grounds of the Olympic Park in Stratford. However, it doesn't stop there.
Formula E's chief executive Alejandro Agag has revealed to Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt that he is planning to add two more rounds to the 2014 schedule ahead of having to submit a final calendar to the FIA in September. It has a lot to choose from as a total of 23 cities have indicated that they would like to host a Formula E race. Some are more advanced and celebrated than others and one ticks both boxes and then some.
In an interview with Sylt in London-focussed business magazine Square Mile Agag says "we think a race in Monaco is going to happen. We are having very positive conversations with them." It would be one heck of a coup.
The Monaco Grand Prix is more closely associated with F1 than any other race and it was on the calendar when the championship launched in 1950. F1 is the only major racing series which visits the tiny Mediterranean principality due to the weeks of disruption caused by preparing its streets for the Grand Prix. Formula E would not avoid this but it has an advantage which F1 cannot compete with. This benefit is that Monaco's ruling monarch Prince Albert is not only a racing fan but he also happens to be a keen environmentalist. He isn't the only one.
"The US is crazy for Formula E," says Agag adding that "we will do three races in the US." LA and Miami have already been announced so New York would be the next logical addition. He says that "South America is also crazy for us. Asia: crazy for it. Europe? Slow. Germany, pushing. German cities are sending us emails to the website and so are the Nordic countries because they are more sensitive to the environment and promoting use of electric cars in cities."
Agag also revealed that Formula E will pioneer several initiatives which will make it more interactive for fans than any other racing series. Each car will have access to three power boosts per race as well as a fourth which will be awarded to the driver who gets the highest number of telephone votes from fans by the half way point. "We call it Fanboost," says Agag.
He adds that the Formula E video game will offer an experience which is not offered by its rivals in racing or any other sport. The difference is that players will be able to compete in the race online whilst it is taking place. "It has never really been done and we are talking to software companies in California about it because it is very challenging. The Olympics don't let you race against Usain Bolt and couldn't do it," says Agag.
"We have to be very innovative and we are not afraid of putting new concepts in. We don't compare ourselves with anything else and we don't see us as competition to anything else. We want to position Formula E differently and separately," says Agag. This even extends to the TV coverage.
Pitpass can reveal that as well as having meetings with traditional broadcasters, such as Fox Sports in the US, Agag is also considering broadcasting Formula E online for free worldwide.
"We are thinking of maybe going a completely different way for TV which is free streaming so everybody looks at it," he says. "This will depend very much on the reaction we get from sponsors. We have already had requests from TV stations for the rights and free to air has a wider audience than the internet. This is because although the internet is very popular with young people, if you tell a 60 year-old to access streaming video he will never make it. We could do both though with our philosophy, internet is a better fit because the whole thing is digital and young."
Formula E is currently in talks with several F1 teams about signing up. There are ten slots and so far only two have been announced. One is the oriental squad China Racing and the other is run by former UK Minister of State for Science and Innovation Lord Drayson. Pitpass has already revealed that ex-F1 drivers are likely to be behind the wheel and they have a good incentive as Agag told Sylt that the prize fund will be £330,000 ($500,000) per race giving a total of £3.3m ($5m) per year.
Even though year one is more than 12 months away Agag already has his eye on year two. Next year's season will begin in May and run until November but he adds that "in 2015 we will start in March and run to November." By then F1 will know whether it has a fight on its hands.