For a “startup,” Formula E is not doing badly at all.
Friday and Saturday will see the second and third rounds of Season 9 at the Diriyah E-Prix night-time double-header, and James Barclay, team principal of Jaguar TCS Racing, believes few other sports can match the pace, metaphorical and literal, the sport has set since its inception.
“I think the first thing to say is Formula E is only 8 years old,” he said. “That’s the amazing thing. It’s still a startup by definition, which is exciting to think about. We’ve come a long way in eight years. It’s one of the fastest forms of motorsport in terms of growth in the world, which is incredibly exciting to see. We have an incredible lineup of teams and manufacturers, which in single-seater racing is unrivaled.”
The first race of the season in Mexico City saw the launch of Formula E’s Gen3 car — the all-electric series’ fastest and most efficient vehicle yet.
“I think the first race has been something we’ve been anticipating for a while, so it’s nice to have done it,” Barclays said.
“It’s fine when you’re developing and testing, but there’s nothing like competition to really start to see where things are at. We’ve had mixed fortunes but also a lot of positives to take out of it. Other than one other manufacturer, Porsche, we had more cars in the top 10,” he added, attributing the achievement to Jaguar’s efficiency.
This season, the Jaguar line-up is made up of Mitch Evans from New Zealand and Sam Bird of Britain. The team performed solidly in Mexico City and are now sixth in the standing with four points.
Barclay says that whether it’s getting to grips with new tires or other emerging factors, teams will need some time to adjust in the coming weeks.
“I think what we’ll see in the first four or five races this year is potentially a real swing of performance and form,” he said. “There are some very competitive teams and drivers, which are out of position, us included. Those teams who got it right last week, do they know the reasons why they got it right? And will they get it right this week?
“We need to let that play out over the first four or five races.”
Teams, including Barclay’s own Jaguar, are keeping their cards close to their chests in the early rounds of the season.
“Because it’s a brand-new car, people are still getting used to overtaking with it,” he said. “You didn’t want to take too many risks in the first race of the season because you want to get a full race under your belt; you want to get the mileage. So, you saw people being a little bit cautious and maybe not having the big moves that we’ve seen in Formula E in the past. That will come.”
Friday night will see the first of the two Diriyah races taking place under the floodlights, and the Jaguar boss is happy to be back in Riyadh.
“It’s fantastic to be back here,” Barclay said. “What we love about this race is, firstly, the location in the historic part of Diriyah. It’s a really challenging circuit. It’s a formidable track. The drivers enjoy it, which is always a positive sign.
“Sector one and sector two are incredibly technical and fast. You have to be very accurate. A small mistake has a big penalty. It’s like threading the eye of the needle, basically. There’s no room for error. And it’s been a roller coaster down that first section.
“Add to that the fact that this is the night race, our only night race to Canada. And I think that adds something really special to it.”
Barclay says the relevance of Formula E continues to rise as the world shifts toward electrical mobility.
“Regulation is driving that,” he said. “If you look at the majority of car manufacturers, they make clear statements, so for us, we made a statement that from 2025, Jaguar would become an all-electric model luxury car company.”
Daimler and Volkswagen have also made similar announcements.
“In summary, most manufacturers here made a clear statement toward becoming all-electric car companies at different points in time. In our case, this will happen very soon, but all within the next 10 years, which is incredibly exciting,” Barclay said.
Barclay calls Formula One “the pinnacle” of internal combustion engine racing and says Formula E plays a similar role in electric racing.
“What starts to happen in the future, beyond 2030, when in many markets, you can’t sell ICE engines, no one knows,” he said. “But the reality is, I think Formula E is incredibly well placed if you look at the main automotive market, and the shift toward electric mobility, or the uptake of electric cars. So we see Formula E being a positive space going forward in terms of what’s at the core of a championship.”
Beyond the environmental aspects, Formula E currently has a structure that other motorsports cannot match.
“We don’t have any driver that brings budget to racing Formula E. Everyone has a full professional employed by the team,” Barclay said. “I can’t think of any other category where that happens. It doesn’t happen in Formula One. It doesn’t happen in IndyCar. It doesn’t happen in NASCAR. Basically, I think it’s the most perfect professional driver lineup in the world and one that has so much strength in depth.”
Add to that an expanding calendar that last year saw a new race in Jakarta and this year has added Sao Paolo, Cape Town and Hyderabad, and the popularity of Formula E could be about to rise even further.
“I come back to that point: We’re a startup sport,” said Barclay. “I think what is incredible is if you look at the short space of time, we just came back from Mexico City where we had just under 60,000 people. The stadium was absolutely full, sold out, all tickets in the grandstand, in hospitality sold. In Jakarta, we had 60,000 people last year.
“So genuinely, wherever we are, we’re sold out.”