The thrills of Formula E are driving innovation and collaboration into a clean, green future
The first race held in Saudi Arabia was much more than just a brilliant motorsport spectacle, it also showed forward-looking vision
The opening race of this season’s Formula E championship was held in Saudi Arabia for the first time last week. This represents a major milestone for the country and the sport. As Antonio Felix da Costa raised his winner’s trophy at the Ad Diriyah track in Riyadh, it was my honour to accept an invitation from the Kingdom’s General Sports Authority to witness how Formula E is powering ahead.
I got to see for myself the progress the Kingdom is making in delivering its ambitious vision for the future. The country's Vision 2030 places sport and culture as central pillars its diversification and development strategy. But hosting the opening race of the season provided more than just a brilliant motorsport spectacle, it also perfectly illustrated the country’s forward-looking ideas, with several female drivers – including my daughter Amna – testing cars on the challenging circuit.
Watching my daughter get to grips with the electric-powered racing cars was a real thrill. She has come on in leaps and bounds in her motorsports career, and this opportunity builds on her achievements as a leading female Emirati racing driver. I was tremendously proud.
Amna and her sister Hamda both started racing at an early age. As a racing driver myself – and the first Emirati to compete in Le Mans 24 Hours – I think there’s something in our DNA. But it has been important to me that they find their own feet in the sport as they develop and grow.
Luckily, they seem as passionate as I am. As a father, it is a huge pleasure to share our experiences as a family. The flipside is that I also share their nerves – not only in the run-up to a race but during it. Racing can be an unforgiving sport and I live it with them when they’re on the track.
Sharing that experience in Saudi Arabia with Formula E was just another example of how the sport brings people together. I also had the pleasure of spending time with the Envision Virgin Racing team, with whom my daughter was driving.
One of the added benefits of events like this is the opportunity to cement relationships and build new networks. In conversation with an Envision board member, it became clear that a shared passion for motorsport, innovation and renewables presents many opportunities for investment and collaboration. Many more meetings and connections were made over the weekend. This is good news for future partnerships, both in sport and business.
For a nation that has established a clear strategy for industrial diversification and development, this focus on innovation and opportunities to network means that Formula E is a fitting partner on many levels.
In today’s world, we can quickly forget just how much things change in short periods of time. It was almost a decade ago that Masdar unveiled its electric autonomous vehicles. And it is only in the last few years that electric-powered vehicles have entered the mainstream, with Dubai opening the UAE’s first electric vehicle charging station in 2015.
But ever since Formula E entered our consciousness, we have seen how innovation in the sport has mirrored the rapid adoption of this clean technology for road vehicles. Forging innovation through research, development and collaboration is at the heart of the sport. Just this year we have seen the new Gen2 racing cars unveiled for the season. They are set to transform Formula E by introducing faster and safer machines and, importantly, offering enough battery life to power a car for the duration of the race.
It is perhaps in battery technology where we have seen the greatest leaps. Not only is this welcome in a sport that will now see continuous races without the need to change cars halfway through, it also offers a tantalising glimpse into the future of mainstream vehicles. Formula E is becoming a very visible demonstration of how rapidly these technologies are evolving and becoming established in everyday life.
So, how is motor racing able to generate such leaps of innovation so quickly? It is here that we can take away the biggest lessons: advances in car performance simply wouldn’t have been possible without partnership, collaboration and focus.
At Mubadala – our very name means “exchange” in Arabic – partnerships with the world’s leading companies and investors are central to our philosophy, and we have seen first-hand how important this approach is to realising a vision.
In Formula E, with a standardised chassis and battery design, each team’s engineers do everything they can to enhance the power unit. This laser-sharp focus, combined with relatively compact teams, levels the playing field and provides manufacturers with an opportunity to concentrate on research and development in a targeted way. It is a testament to partnerships throughout this field of sport that such innovation has been possible.
This season, new manufacturers are joining the fold, with BMW the most noteworthy. And with a win in the inaugural race of the season, that should get competitors thinking.
The 2018-19 season also saw ABB, the global technology leader in electrification, robotics and motion become the series' title partner. ABB is behind major achievements in electric transportation such as Solar Impulse, the first solar-powered flight around the world, and the launch of rapid electric car charging infrastructure. In fact, ABB has been a partner of Masdar since 2015, when the Masdar Institute collaborated to launch a photovoltaic testing facility, generating power from solar cells.
The ability to bring together some of the world’s best engineers with major manufacturers and industrial champions such as ABB is one of the reasons I am so excited about Formula E.
Other factors that are making Formula E such a tremendous spectacle are its marketing and its interaction with fans. Race enthusiasts can vote through social media to give drivers a “fanboost”, providing additional power for a limited period. The driver with the most votes gains the most additional power, allowing fans to have a direct impact on the action.
Innovations such as this are just another example of the sport’s pioneering approach. For Saudi Arabia – a country that champions many of these qualities – I was thrilled to see this successful foray into the sport. And, with the acceleration of technology through collaboration and partnership enabled by Formula E, I’m equally excited to see how the sport develops.
Khaled Al Qubaisi is the chief executive of Mubadala Aerospace, Renewables & ICT and an Emirati racing driver. His daughter Amna is a Formula Four competitor and was the first Arab woman to take part in a Formula E test this month
Updated: December 23, 2018 08:06 AM