By Alan Baldwin
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Formula One boss Chase Carey has yet to be convinced by Formula E’s sporting credentials and has no qualms about the increasing focus of major car manufacturers toward the all-electric series.
German marques Porsche and Mercedes announced this week departures from other championships to enter Formula E in 2019, its sixth season.
“The events of this week didn’t change my view on Formula E one iota,” Carey told Reuters in an interview at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Friday.
“For the mainstream auto industry, there’s clearly a direction towards electrical engines. Nothing that happened recently changed it.
“I think Formula E at this point is in many ways a combination of a street party for fans and sponsors and auto companies.
“For sponsors it is pursuing a corporate identification with a cause they like, for automotive companies R+D (research and development) and a technology they think will be a bigger part of their future. I’m not sure those things connect yet to make it a sport.”
Porsche said on Friday it was quitting the top tier of Le Mans sportscar racing and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) after this season.
Mercedes, whose Formula One team has dominated the championship for the past three years and plans to do so for some time yet, is leaving the German Touring Car (DTM) championship at the end of next year.
Citroen, Renault, Jaguar, BMW, Audi and India’s Mahindra are already involved in Formula E.
Carey said Formula One, a world championship that has been going since 1950 and represents the pinnacle of motorsport with glamour teams like Ferrari and McLaren, appealed to fans in a different way.
“We have state-of-the-art technology but we’re first and foremost a great sport, with great heroes doing incredible things that are awe-inspiring and with fans around the world that are passionately loving the sport,” said the American.
Carey took over at the helm of Formula One in January, following the takeover by U.S.-based Liberty Media, with former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone moved aside into an undefined ’emeritus’ role.
Since then the moustachoied businessman has focused on a more fan-friendly approach, developing previously untapped digital strategies and building marketing and social media platforms.
A recent free F1 Live event in central London, before the British Grand Prix, drew a large and enthusiastic crowd with drivers taking their cars onto the city streets for demonstration runs.
That has been more Formula E territory, with the electric series staging races in cities such as Paris, Berlin and New York with the final races of the season in Montreal this Saturday and Sunday.
Many of the Formula E drivers have raced previously in Formula One, with limited success, but the arrival of Porsche and Mercedes could see more high-profile drivers competing in the future.
The cars are currently unable to complete a race on one charge, with drivers having to pit and switch cars, and with none of the engine noise associated with grand prix cars.
Television viewing figures and crowd attendances are a fraction of those watching Formula One, while it is significantly cheaper to run a team, with budgets as low as $15 million compared to $300 million a year in F1 and WEC.
“We’re delivering an incredibly exciting product that captures people’s imagination and passion with great stars,” said Carey. “They (Formula E) have a social agenda that is obviously important, the environment, and I respect that.
“There’s an appeal to identifying with the environmental issue but I think they’re very different propositions.”
Formula E is also part-owned by Liberty Global, another company in the business empire of U.S. cable television magnate John Malone.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)