Photographing the transition. FIA Formula E Conference in Bocconi University

by Lia Maranto

Electric Motor News

(Versione italiana qui)

Milan, Italy. 4th May 2017. Predicting the future is perilous. Despite that sort of poetic warning, An integrated perspective on the future of mobility* by McKinsey lists the factors which persuade to gamble with a 10-15 years period prediction. First and foremost, the change in mobility, in terms of a progressive expansion of the electrification, car sharing and autonomy trend.

The Traveller, meaning any kind of individual using a vehicle in everyday normal movements, is the beating heart of the thrust towards only partially foreseeable models of urban structures, industry, collective behaviour and geopolitical framework.

The transition to a huge global revolution seems to come from the most deeply-rooted twentieth-century social and economic balance.

Formula E is a young series

Not unlike McKinsey’s, presenting mobility as a key-driver of a social and economic measurable transition**, was the assumption of the Formula E Conference held in Milan on 3rd may and organised by BSM (Bocconi Students Motorclub) and Green Light for Business. In Bocconi University’s Manfredini Classroom, Manuel Ortiz-Tallo (Head of Events, FIA Formula E), Marcelo Padin, (Director of the on-line magazine Electric Motor News), Gaia Crusizio (Group Brand Strategy and Activation Manager, ENEL), Simone Rambaldi (Technical Expert, Electric Motor News), Matteo di Castelnuovo (Director of the Master in Green Management – MaGER) and Gabriele Grea (President of Redmint and CERTeT Researcher) took the floor.

The conference was focused on Formula E and aimed at defining this emerging motorsport’s dimensions (created by FIA – Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile only in 2012, the first Championship took place in 2014), its logic and the levers it can activate.  A young series, a unique spectacle in the sporting scene, Formula E is by its very nature oriented to sustainability, as Matteo di Castelnuovo pointed out during his welcome speech:

“We need all weapons at our disposal to promote sustainability, including the motorsports”.

As a pioneer, in Italy, of Formula E sportscasting, Marcelo Padin attended all the 25 three Seasons’ races. But his passion for the world of eco-friendly vehicles is older and dates back to the end of the 80s, when Quattroruote, the well-known Italian magazine, organised in Bologna the Gran Premio Quattro E. After that event, Padin founded Auto Elettrica, his first specialist magazine (1992):

“At the beginning, I thought I would write just about electric vehicles. I could not imagine that, behind the product, lye such an articulated world: batteries, charging systems, swap systems… In 2011 I started hearing about FIA Formula E as a new category involving the best of worldwide racing drivers. I followed the news closely, until the FIA Formula E Championship became official. Then I decided to go to Donington Park at the pre-test, where I understood that was my world. I asked FIA to give me the press credentials and prepared my baggage to Beijing, to the rendez-vous with History”.

A Championship which makes future closer

From its very beginning up to the present days, FIA Formula E Championship had received thousands of remarks from sceptical observers. But the audience has rewarded it with an increasing appreciation. We are in the third Season, the 26th race is coming up (the Monaco ePrix, next 13th May) and even the most critical ones must acknowledge what is evident: the increase in the amount of fans as well as in the sponsors’ prestige and involvement.

The FIA Formula E Championship is a unique event: it takes place within densely populated cities, state capitals agreeing to host the circuit, its infrastructure and its fans. A challenging choice, in many respects, which however has the advantage of giving a worldwide visibility to the Championship.

As Manuel Ortiz-Tallo said, each race’s organisation requires a complex project management. But all efforts are rewarded by the awareness that each race gives the opportunity to test vehicles’ performances and to enrich the quality and quantity of data available to the R&D, with undeniable and rapid positive impacts on the automotive, components and batteries industry, as well as on the electric power systems using renewable energy. The electric power supply and distribution is what Enel, as a sponsor, is focused on, aiming at increasing the percentage of green electric power supply. Even if current energy needs for each race can’t be met by 100% green infrastructure, the Championship is a great opportunity to test and measure CO2-friendly solutions that can be used in efficient smart cities’ models.

An incomparable Championship

There’s no point in making a comparison with Formula 1, Manuel Ortiz-Tallo stated pointing out some typical actions to be managed: the agreements with Public Authorities for the use of urban roads and areas, the rapid assembly and dismantling of supporting structures, the circuit itself, with its specific length measured on the batteries runtime. From a different point of view, Simone Rambaldi reaffirmed the same uniqueness: an electric car is nothing but a battery with four wheels and has peculiar architecture and performance metrics that can’t be compared to those of F1 cars. But the fact remains that numerous Formula E technicians and drivers come from the world of thermal traction racing. As well as many of the competing teams: DS Automobiles, Renault, Jaguar, to name but a few. Rumour has it that, in the near future, also Ferrari or Alfa Romeo or Maserati could compete (see Electric Motor News’ interview to Marco Parroni, Julius Baer Head Global Sponsor, during the Mexico City ePrix). The entry would have a huge impact on FIA Formula E Championship’s extended audience in terms of perception.

Furthermore, Formula E needs more budget, compared to F1, because of the complex organisational system. And, said straight out Ortiz-Tallo, it is still too early to design a profitable economic model for this category. Even the sponsors are aware of that. However, it is evident to all that, alongside and by way of the electric Championship, race after race, a huge gain in data leads to speed up the development of green mobility and of most of its related industrial sectors.

And, not least, the competition’s exciting and fast-paced spectacle provides visibility to the alternative mobility and shows e-cars and technical innovations as not that far from being part of the automotive industry targeted to individual Travellers. An industry that pinpoints a fast growing market, since “from 2010 to 2015 there has been a relevant growth in the amount of circulating vehicles on a global basis, corresponding to over 100 times”.*** By this way, future is a closest world, a piece of a measurable transition towards a more perceivable change.

* An integrated perspective on the future of mobility, Eric Hannon, Colin McKerracher, Itamar Orlandi, Surya Ramkumar, McKinsey Quarterly, October 2016.

** Three game changers for energy, Nikhil Patel, Thomas Seitz, Kassia Yanosek, McKinsey Quarterly, April 2017.

*** L’e-mobility. Mercati e policies per un’evoluzione silenziosa, Oliviero Baccelli, Raffaele Baldi, Gabriele Grea, Egea, 2016, p. XIII.

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