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Formula E: Boss says 'they're loud enough'

2014-03-23 12:37

FORMULA E CAR DEBUT: Driver Lucas di Grassi demonstrates the Spark-Renault SRT_01E in Las Vegas, Nevada, in early January 2014. Image: AFP


SINGAPORE, Malaysia - The man behind the new Formula E racing series, Alejandro Agag, insists that motorsport fans will love the battery cars' "futuristic" sound. One can only say 'hummmm?'.

This, after the howling V8 Formula 1 engines of earlier years were replaced in 2014 by quieter V6 hybrid 'power units', has already drawn intense criticism but little praise from fans and especially the organisers of the season-opening Australian F1 GP.

Agag, Formula E's CEO, has refused to compare the battery-powered engines' sound to F1 - he says they remind him of the Podracers seen in the 1999 'Star Wars' film 'The Phantom Menace'.


Even as Formula E prepares for its 2014 debut the new hybrid F1 engines have been criticised by fans, organisers and top-boss Bernie Ecclestone as being simply too quiet for motor-racing.

Agag, however, told AFP that people would be pleasantly surprised by the sound of the Formula E cars - and that video would be released online to prove it. He said in a phone interview: "We think the sound of Formula E is going to be a big surprise for everybody. The sounds that comes out is completely futuristic - new, different.

"Next week we will put video online of the car with the sound and I think this will be quite a shock, the sound that these Formula E cars are making... it's actually quite loud.

"It sounds more like a jet, a fighter jet. Or like the Podracers in 'Star Wars'. That's the kind of feel we want to give to the fans, much more futuristic. It doesn't sound at all like a combustion engine."

Motorsport enthusiasts are traditionally fans of roaring engines and the row over the new "vacuum cleaner" motors in F1 has gone right to the top level.

Organisers of the March 16 2014 season-opening Australian GP said the engines may be a breach of contract, while Ecclestone pledged to try to make them sound "more like racing cars".


Such perceptions loom as a potential problem for Formula E, a showcase for the potential of electric cars which has high-level backing and now needs to build its fan base.

Last October, four-times F1 champion Sebastian Vettel was critical of Formula E, saying "it's not the future" partly because of its expected lack of noise. He said at the 2013 Indian F1 GP: "I think people come here to feel Formula 1 and there is not much to feel when a car goes by and you don't even hear anything but the wind."

But Agag said Formula E could be a "game-changer" for motorsports and the car industry when it flags off in Beijing in September, the first of 10 stops around the world.

"The event, we think, is going to be an eye-opener," he said. "We want it to be a game-changer for the electric-car sector because, really, the wider public doesn't have the opportunity to see these cars in action."

He admitted the launch was "a bit early" in some respects with battery-car technology still in its infancy. Cars will race at up to 230km/h, slower than F1, and drivers will initially have to switch vehicles twice in each race because of the difficulty of changing batteries.

"Remember mobile phones when they were, like, a kilo? We are there," Agag said. "We took the decision to jump, basically. We feel like pioneers, in a sense. We took the decision to go before technology was ready - we could have waited 10 years for the perfect solution but then probably somebody else would have already done it."


The long-term, bilion-rand, initiative is backed by motorsports' governing body, the International Automoble Federation, and F1's Williams, McLaren and Renault collaborated on the first Formula E car. Drivers, among them Bruno Senna and Jaime Alguersuari, will race competing in identical vehicles with the field thrown open to manufacturers in following

Racing will get under way around Beijing's "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium and then move on to other high-profile sites - London, Los Angeles, Miami, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Monaco. Underlining rising concerns about pollution worldwide, this week (March 2014) Paris ordered half of all cars off its roadbecause the French capital was shrouded in a murky, pollution-based, haze.

And it is no coincidence that the clean-energy racing series will start in notoriously smoggy China, which also in March 2014declared "war" on the filthy air choking its cities.


Agag emphasised: "It's a game of changing perceptions (about electric engines). The broader goal is to finish with combustion (engines) everywhere.

"That's a goal that will take maybe a few years, or many years, but we have to start somewhere."

What do you think - does racing battery cars have a future or will it shrivel because of its lack of howling, high-tech, precision-engineered machines? Have your say: email your thoughts to Wheels24 or use the Readers' Comments facility below.

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