Musings Sport

What can Formula 1 and Formula E learn from each other?

Formula 1 and Formula E are two top motorsports vying for the attention of petrolheads and casual viewers alike. Despite their rivalry, what can they learn from each other?

Ever since its dawn in 1950, Formula One is the pinnacle motor racing series with petrolheads and casual observers alike.

Equally, I reckon since the 1990s and especially during Michael Schumacher’s well-deserved dominance between 2000 and 2004, it developed the stigma of "oh it’s just cars going around in circles".

Partly thanks to the sophisticated aerodynamics that make overtaking tricky, partly the expensive and complex hybrid engines, partly the budget inequality between the big three teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and the other less funded teams such as Racing Point and Haas.

Formula E on the other hand is a new kid on-the-block. Aiming to bring motor racing, the potential of electrical automotive technology and a concern for the environment together.

It’s now a serious rival to F1 with many major car manufacturers ranging from Audi, BMW, Citroen via their DS Automobiles brand, Nissan and Jaguar taking part on street circuits in five continents including Saudi Arabia, Mexico City, New York and London.

Recently, Formula E’s chairman and CEO Alejandro Agag talked to the press before F1’s Austrian Grand Prix claiming that much of F1’s issues stem from the teams’ self-interest and little regard for the sport as a whole.

Watching Formula E in comparison to F1 is like watching a demo of a 16K connected holographic TV. So ahead of its time with cutting edge onscreen graphics, heavy emphasis on fan interaction both at the circuit and on social media.

Especially with fanboost where people can vote for their favourite driver and whoever gets the most votes can use the extra burst of electrical power lasting a few seconds to gain an advantage or overtake.

The close racing is another plus. The finish to the Mexico City ePrix in February was the most incredible finish I ever seen to a motor race and I’ve been following motorsport for more than 20 years.

Compare this to F1 and aside from branding changes, it looks like not much has changed in the last 10+ years. It’s the motor racing equivalent of an ageing uncle reluctant to accept the original iPod is no longer hip and trendy.

However in fairness, since Liberty Media took the reins in January 2018, the sport has been catching up with greater social media engagement, wider fan participation, richer multimedia content in terms of video and the Beyond The Grid podcast (a personal favourite of mine).

Plus, a major regulation overhaul is due for 2021 with the aim of shrinking the budget inequality via a budget cap of $175 million. Ferrari and Mercedes currently spend around $410 million and $400 million respectively contrasting with Racing Point who have a $120 million budget.

This also extends to introducing equality for F1 revenue and prize money distribution. Currently it’s heavily tilted towards the big three.

The cost of Formula E cars by comparison is near 1 million Euros. However it should be clearly stated Formula E is a single-make series unlike F1, since the teams use the same power unit produced by McLaren.

So perhaps not a fair like-for-like comparison in simplistic terms.

Another advantage Formula E has over F1 is recognising the remaining relevance of free-to-air coverage. In many territories F1 is now exclusively behind paywalls of subscription channels and in the UK it could become another one from 2020 if Channel 4 doesn’t renew their contract.

Formula E is shown on the BBC in the UK and worldwide via YouTube live. I believe free-to-air is still important to entice new followers and inspire those pondering a career in motorsport.

The jury is still out whether or not all of these changes will make a difference.

I would agree with Agag to an extent that the teams shouldn’t have an overarching say on the sport’s direction. Democracy within any business is a great thing providing it is balanced with strong leadership and a clear vision.

I love both of them personally as a lifelong motorsport fan but I can see challenges in both. F1 with its historical issues as well as deciding what it should be in the future; Formula E with it’s long-term sustainability concerns after shedding $140 million in losses over four years.

Who takes the chequered flag in the race to be the dominant motorsport? The race isn’t over yet.

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