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Formula E: the seven secrets of its success

Roger Griffiths, team principal of BMW i Andretti Motorsport and former chairman of the Formula E Teams Association, invests 110% of his energy into the championship – and he is definitely not alone. Discover why he is part of an ever-growing fanbase.




ABB FIA Formula E’s Season Five is in full swing. The motor racing championship for electrically powered vehicles thrills fans around the world. For the BMW i Andretti Motorsport Team, the new season couldn’t have gotten off to a more promising start. Since the German car manufacturer has fully taken over the former Andretti Formula E Team, its cars have made it all the way from the back of the field to the front of the pack. The first positive signs came last October in Valencia, where all eleven teams gathered for the first time to test their brand new vehicles on the track. BMW i Andretti Motorsport proved that their cars not only look sharp in their striking blue and white livery; they also delivered the fastest laps in the first two days.

Fierce competition

This positive first impression was confirmed two months later with BMW i Andretti Motorsport driver Antonio Felix da Costa’s pole position and victory in the inaugural race of the season, leading some to speculate that the newly-formed team would dominate the field. But as it turns out, Season Five has proven to be fiercely competitive and unpredictable, with eight different drivers in ten races clinching the top spot, and most teams experiencing their share of thrilling victory and crushing setbacks throughout the season. Still, Felix da Costa has been a strong competitor all year, reaching the podium again with a second and third place finish in Mexico City and Sanya, respectively. With only three races to go in the season, Felix da Costa is now one of five drivers still in contention for the championship title. And Felix da Costa’s rookie teammate Alexander Sims has also proven his mettle, consistently placing in the middle of the pack and earning some valuable points towards the team championship. At this point, who will be crowned Season Five champion is anyone’s guess. 

Back to the essence of racing

It is precisely this level of competition and drama that has contributed to ABB FIA Formula E’s unprecedented rise in popularity since its start five years ago: in less than an hour’s time, it offers an intense and totally unpredictable show, with highly skilled drivers, wheel-to-wheel action and cutting-edge technology. But there is much more to it, such as the higher purpose of the series, which is nothing less than combating climate change. It’s these ingredients that have turned many old-school racing veterans into ABB FIA Formula E advocates. Roger Griffiths is one of them. We asked him to sum up what makes this new series so attractive.

1) A hotbed of innovation

Roger Griffiths: “First of all, Formula E is not afraid to innovate. Simply compare it to how classic racing is managed in Northern America where the fan base is older, the cars are conventional and everything is established. Formula E, in comparison, was developed with the intention of trying to do something different. As the championship evolved, I have seen a huge increase in the level of professionalism in the pit lane, the engineering and everybody involved. It has developed from a semi-professional motorsport to one of the top-tier global platforms – and all of this in just five short years!”

2) A revolutionary car

“Formula E began on a clean sheet of paper. The founders pushed convention aside and didn’t write a rule book that dictates the shape of a car. Instead, what we try to do here every day is to think outside of the box. For Season Five, we have created a car that is visually dramatic.

In fact, the Gen2 car is one of the most exciting racing cars that I have ever seen. What initially struck me most is that the sound is different. It is deeper, slightly more angry, and it fits the design. We’ve changed the car, we’ve changed the sound and now they actually come together and work.”

3) City circuits

“I recall conversations around IndyCar, where we wanted to do city centre racing, but the residents were completely against it because of the noise pollution. The big advantage of an electric motor compared to a conventional race engine is that it produces much less noise. If you consider bringing young children to the racetrack, you do not have to worry about damaging their hearing. And less noise means that we can organise races in city centres, which all have different, challenging characteristics.”

4) 45 minutes of action

“Isn’t it amazing that you get to see all the action in 45 minutes instead of two hours like in Formula One? Another aspect that I believe you will appreciate is the fact that Formula E is organised as an exciting one-day event – with the free practices, the qualifying, the super pole and the race happening on the same day.”

5) Highly competitive drivers

“Formula E racing is very competitive, with very experienced drivers such as Lucas di Grassi, Sébastien Buemi, Jean-Eric Vergne or Felipe Massa. But of course, our own team’s lineup is also very strong. On the one hand, we collaborate with a friend whom we’ve known for several seasons now: Antonio Felix da Costa.

He has participated in the championship since day one and has already stood on the podium. And there is Antonio’s new teammate: Alexander Sims. In fact, the two of them have known each other for a couple of seasons now as Alexander worked as a test driver for our team. During this period, he flew a little bit under the radar. However, when he got into the new car he went fast immediately.”

6) A holistic approach

“The different teams do not only analyse their behaviour on the racetrack. Simply developing electric racing cars is not enough. Therefore, we shift our attention to the big picture: How is the car ‘born’? Where do its components come from? How do we power it? Where does the electricity come from? How can we transport a car in the most environmentally-friendly manner? We constantly try to improve, find solutions and promote a holistic mind-set. On a side note, in the current season, even plastic bottles are banned from all garages.”

7) Racing for a higher purpose

“The world is changing and we can either choose to be a dinosaur and become extinct or we evolve and become a new species. What Formula E tries to promote in this context is the understanding that electrification is the future and that electric vehicles are not only a viable means of transportation – they can be exciting, fun, sexy and fast!”

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Video production: Daniel Dearing & Scott McNamara