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When Lucas di Grassi won the first-ever Formula E race – the 2014 Beijing E-Prix – this Brazilian driver of Italian descent showed not only his skill on the track, but also his vision as an early devotee of electric cars.  

Born in Sao Paulo in 1984, di Grassi was the first driver to join Formula E, playing a role in founding the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in 2012 alongside the series’ founder and CEO Alejandro Agag. He helped to develop the specification of the original car that was used in the inaugural season and also took part in a spectacular street demo in Las Vegas.

When Agag asked him to join, the championship was just a concept on a presentation. It hadn’t even been decided whether the race would be a formula series or a touring event, or what the power of the cars would be. But di Grassi believed in Agag and the rest is history.

Formula E’s leading driver and UN ambassador
Six years after the first race, di Grassi is the sport’s most successful driver. Having driven for the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team throughout his time in the championship, he has headed into the final six races of the 2019/2020 season in August, all in Berlin, having completed 63 races, with 10 wins and 31 podiums. Most notably, he won the 2016/17 championship title in Montreal.

Autonomous vehicles will reduce the cost of transport, improve the service, make it safer and help to improve the quality of life for people.

Lucas di Grassi

Before August’s races began, he stood fifth in the championship, achieving second place in the Saudia Diriyah E-Prix in November 2019.

For di Grassi, Formula E is about far more than what happens on the track. “A lot of what I learn – the discipline of being a racing driver, the risk management, coping with pressure, team management from a young age – helps me in the rest of my life. I left Brazil when I was 18 to come and follow my dream. I drove an F1 car by myself for the first time at 19,” he says. 

“People have to understand that everything is connected in life somehow. If you become a better person the chances that you succeed in different areas are greater.”

Off the track, his chief interests are sustainability and self-driving vehicles. He’s a UN ambassador for clean air, as well as CEO of Roborace, the world’s first championship for self-driving cars. Just as Formula E has tested the technology for electric vehicles, di Grassi believes that Roborace is doing the same for autonomous vehicles.

“We’re creating an electric autonomous racing series, in which autonomous technologies – sensors, computing power, algorithms, everything – can be implemented into motorsport in a very entertaining way,” he says.

Pushing for a better world
He foresees that autonomous electric vehicles will both reduce CO2 emissions and improve the quality of life in developing countries. “In developing countries like Brazil or India, the first autonomous vehicles you see will be buses because they take a well-defined route, with pre-determined stops,” he explains. “This will reduce the cost of transport, improve the service, make it safer and help to improve the quality of life for people.”

Following a recent trip to India, though, he thinks that developing countries’ chaotic roads mean self-driving cars won’t follow buses for quite some time. With tuk-tuks, rickshaws and cars criss-crossing the roads, it will be more challenging for the technology to cope than in on orderly roads.

“I always liked technology, so this transition to electric gave me a lot of different opportunities – Formula E, Roborace, I have an electric bike company, I am creating a zero carbon summit to discuss ideas and technologies in Brazil. It’s good to push for a better future.”