DUBAI: In the end, it proved all right on the night.
Almost 40,000 raucous fans turned up to welcome Formula E’s Gen3 era in Mexico City two weeks ago, and this weekend Riyadh will host the Diriyah E-Prix double-header.
“Mexico was fantastic,” Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle said. “I guess I have to start by saying there’s no denying that there was a pretty high degree of anxiety as we came into the race, for a host of reasons. First of all, it’s the first race to the season, so inevitably it’s a mix of excited emotions and anxious emotions.
“We’re talking top tier sport drivers, team principals, the manufacturers that want to win — so good that sense of anticipation, but this year that was ramped up, because it’s a brand new car, Gen3, which is a big leap forward.
“And we really push the limits in terms of the car,” he added. “We reduced the weight by 60 kg, we increased the power by 100 kilowatts, a lot of changes under the hood, so to speak, as well as new tires and a new battery. So there were some pretty well cataloged challenges that the teams faced in the testing period.”
After four successful years of Gen2, Formula E seems to have been given a reboot.
“From a purely commercial perspective, we launched our new brand identity,” Reigle said. “We had three new teams coming in, you had Maserati joining, in partnership with Monaco Sports Group, you had McLaren coming in, and then Cupra, coming back with the ABT team. New teams, new brands, just everything was new, and it was really successful.”
On Friday and Saturday the action moves to Saudi Arabia with rounds 2 and 3 of Formula E Season 9 taking place under the lights in Diriyah, increasingly a favorite destination for the drivers.
“I was at dinner last night — we did a charity fundraiser, gala dinner, and I was at the table with Andre Lotterer (of Avalanche Andretti),” said Reigle. “I wasn’t trying to tee him up. We had a group of guests and I asked ‘Andre, so what’s your favorite circuit in Formula E and motorsport?’ This guy has won Le Mans three times and raced in a lot of places. Without skipping a beat, he said Diriyah. It’s fast, high-speed corners, it’s really challenging to drive. The setting is amazing and it’s a night race, and sport, especially the electric cars and motorsport, just looks cool at night.
“The drivers love it.”
Reigle’s first race as CEO was Diriyah in 2019, and he has overseen the sport’s growth in the ensuing three years, which, of course, included the COVID-19 pandemic.
The future, he says, “is electric.”
Reigle added: “If you think about sports that didn’t exist 20, 30 years ago, and are big today, there’s very, very few. There’s really only one that has broken into the top, top tier, and it’s probably UFC. It was started in the 90s, kind of bubbled around, and then it got bigger and bigger.
“And Formula E has that opportunity,” he added. “We’ve got the top drivers, we’ve got a lot of the top manufacturers and teams — all the conditions are there. We’ve got these great venues. The question is do we have the fan base?”
The turnout in Mexico — “a big moment” — as well as the Gen3 car and changes in racing format, would suggest that increasingly, Formula E does.
Then there is the stellar lineup of drivers.
“People want to watch the best compete against the best,” Reigle said. “The good news for Formula E is that we already have a very high caliber of stars. Because of the way we grew up, we don’t have pay drivers, we don’t have guys whose dad owns the team. It’s all top tier professionals — guys who have won Le Mans, who have been in Formula One, who have won in DTM and who built their careers in Formula E.”
Reigle highlighted the career path of Dutch driver Nyck De Vries — Formula E champion in 2021 and now signed to Formula One’s Scuderia AlphaTauri — as an example of the high standards in electric racing. Other examples are Mitch Evans and Jake Dennis, the winner in Mexico City.
“Last year we did Indonesia for the first time and we had 60,000 people,” said Reigle. “MotoGP, that’s their only really international sporting event, now we’re adding to that. So you’ve got these big opportunities in emerging markets.
“This year we’re adding Hyderabad, Cape Town — we’re heading to Sao Paulo and Portland. Those are big markets that we’re going to open up, which is really exciting.
“If in three years, we’re not adding a few more cities, I’ll be disappointed.”