After 12 races in nine of the world’s greatest cities, the checkered flag has come down on the third season of Formula E.
The 2016/17 championship concluded on the streets of Montreal in dramatic fashion last weekend as Lucas di Grassi came from behind to clinch the world title, 12 months after losing out by the narrowest of margins to arch rival Sebastien Buemi.
“I feel amazing, it couldn’t be better — it’s a dream come true,” a visibly emotional di Grassi said after Sunday’s ePrix. “I’m so happy for the team (ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport) our partners and myself. We really deserve it.”
Champion at last
Victory was sweet for di Grassi after coming so close to winning the championship in London’s Battersea Park last year, and finishing third the previous season.
The 32-year-old from Sao Paulo has been a driving force in Formula E — he was the first driver to sign up to the series, won the inaugural race in Beijing back in September 2014 and has finished on the podium a record 20 times.
This season, di Grassi has added more chapters to the script with an heroic win in Mexico where he won having spent the early part of the race running in last. Then there was Berlin, where he competed with a broken fibula.
Di Grassi has been one of Formula E’s biggest cheerleaders from the beginning watching it rise from obscurity to what is now the brink of motorsport’s mainstream.
“Formula E have evolved at an astounding speed since season one,” di Grassi told CNN.
“To see what it has accomplished in three years is just really unbelievable. We now have the most amount of car manufacturers of any racing series in the world and it’s only going to grow for seasons four, five and six … I only see a bright future,” he added.
‘Take off’ for Formula E
These are exciting times for the world’s only electric world championship with sponsor money flowing into the coffers and auto manufacturers queuing up to join the series.
Jaguar lined up on the grid for the first time this season, BMW is gearing up to race in 2018 and fellow German auto-giants Mercedes and Porsche recently committed to Formula E from 2019. Even Ferrari is mulling getting involved, according to boss Sergio Marchionne.
This is all music to the ears of Alejandro Agag, co-founder and CEO of Formula E.
“I think it’s been the take-off season for Formula E with all the attention and all the new entries,” Agag said.
“I think last weekend meant we really ended on a high with Lucas coming from behind and winning the drivers’ championship and Renault (eDams) keeping a very well deserved teams’ championship.”
Four-time F1 world champion Alain Prost, who has now masterminded three consecutive constructors’ titles for the Renault eDams team, agrees with Agag.
“In the first season we could not expect to have so many contributors involved in our championship and so much success,” Prost told CNN.
“Everybody knows Formula E now. We had a concept and it has been a big success. It’s been a big surprise for me,” the Frenchman added.
Fostering electric growth
Away from the track, Formula E is helping provide a rallying point for cities wanting to change perceptions about electric cars and promote a cleaner transport agenda — as CNN’s Supercharged show presenter Nicki Shields discovered in Montreal.
“(Formula E) had huge support from the mayor (Denis Coderre) there,” Shields said. “He wants to use his city as an example of embracing green technology … and that’s what other cities are doing around the world.”
Many major automakers are also shifting their focus away from traditional combustion engines. Swedish manufacturer Volvo went a step further last month announcing that all the cars it makes from 2019 onwards will be electric or hybrid.
Ahead of the New York ePrix, Shields discovered how the local government led by mayor Bill de Blasio is transforming its fleet of municipal vehicles from gas to hybrid or fully electric — including the city’s famous police patrol cars.
“The ability to have low emission vehicles whether its police cars or others allows people to see it and get more comfortable with what we know needs to be a larger shift to these vehicles in the future,” Mark Chambers, the mayor’s director of sustainability told CNN’s Supercharged show.
“We have a goal of reaching 2,000 electric vehicles or low emission vehicles by 2025 we are half way there. We have 1,000 right now and you can see them all over the city.”
“Formula E will show that electric cars are reliable and are going to have less of an impact on our environment — 30% of greenhouse gas comes from cars and trucks.”
All of the work with cleaner car fleets will contribute to New York’s wider aims under the Paris Climate Agreement of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 — which de Blasio remains committed to, despite President Trump’s announcement of his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.
“(Trump’s decision) was not a huge surprise,” Chambers said. “We knew and had been preparing for the notion that New York City was gonna have to step up.
“The day after Trump withdrew de Blasio signed a deal and we got right to work. We are taking it all extremely seriously.”
‘Momentum is building’
With a successful season three now complete, Formula E can look forward to its fourth year with confidence.
Fourteen ePrix are scheduled, starting with a double header in Hong Kong in December.
Along with the now traditional venues, like Buenos Aires and Paris, there will be new electric adventures on the streets of Chilean capital Santiago in February 2018, followed by Sao Paulo the following month and in May, Rome will host its first Formula E race.
“The momentum Formula E has had has been unbelievable,” Shields said.
“I’ve been involved since the beginning in season one back at our first race in Beijing in 2014 and the more cities we go to, the more excited fans get.”