THIRD SEASON TO COMMENCE: Formula E will start its third season in Hong Kong this Sunday, and will look to further cement its place as a racing series different to F1. Image: MotorPress
Hong Kong - Formula E's chief played down comparisons with Formula 1 and said the all-electric racing series had pointed the way to the future of motoring as it gears up for its third season.
An influx of major manufacturers and a schedule that includes Hong Kong, Paris and New York underline the momentum of the electric car trend, chief executive Alejandro Agag told AFP.
The relevance of the series
He said starting the 10-month, 12-race season in chronically polluted Hong Kong highlighted the benefits of electric motoring - cleaner engines and better air.
Agag said ahead of the opening race in Hong Kong: "I think the objective of Formula E is to change the perception of electric cars and encourage people to buy electric cars.
"And one of the solutions to tackling a city's pollution is to have electric cars. If cities have electric cars only, the pollution would be a lot lower and the quality of life would be a lot higher."
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F1 has proved a potent tool in promoting Hong Kong's Asian rival Singapore, but Agag said it was unfair to compare Formula E with its much larger precursor.
While high-octane F1 has built up its following over decades, Formula E, the world's first electric racing series, only started in 2014 and has different objectives, he said.
Agag said: "We try never to compare F1 and Formula E, we're totally different concepts. But racing electric cars promotes a different technology. And I think the association with Hong Kong, the values of sustainability and a clean city, go together well with Formula E.
"So if you want to promote those values it's going to have a major impact."
'Electric, driverless, connected'
Manufacturers Renault, Jaguar, Audi and BMW are already involved in Formula E, while Mercedes has taken an option to enter a team from 2018.
Agag said he was also in talks this week with Brazilian driver Felipe Massa about joining a Formula E team when he retires from F1 this season.
He added: "The momentum is fantastic, not only for Formula E but for the electric car concept in general. Now there is a belief that the future is going to be electric and that electric cars are going to be the main way of moving around in 20, 30, 40 years.
"Electric, driverless, connected, clearly that's the future."
Hong Kong's debut race will take place on a small, 1.8 kilometres street circuit in the city centre, with only 10 turns and a main straight of 555 metres.
Not competing with F1
It is the template for Formula E, whose compact tracks can be squeezed into built-up areas, allowing it to go to cities including Buenos Aires, Monaco, Berlin and Montreal this season.
Agag said: "We don't think we compete at all with F1. Also because F1 couldn't race here. This is ideal for Formula E: the track is shorter and we can fit on the streets and we make a lot less noise... we are ideal for small tracks in the heart of cities."
The technology is still evolving: even in a race that only lasts 50 minutes, drivers have to swap cars halfway as their batteries won't go the distance.
But Agag said advances made in Formula E were now migrating to road cars, with Renault recently unveiling a prototype electric car with similar technology.
Agag concluded: "Major manufacturers are coming into Formula E because they see this is a platform to develop technology that then they can use on road cars."