This October sees Formula E power up for its third season. For those in the motorsport know, this is often seen as the ‘tricky third album’ when team, media and public interest begins to fade and the risk of following in the same slipstream of those troubled series before you (A1GP and Superleague Formula spring to mind) heightens.
To date, Formula E is demonstrating the opposite and the series – which sees electric single-seater cars racing in city-centre venues all over the world – continues to increase its battery life. When I started in early 2013 as the championship’s press officer, the landscape was very different with no cars, calendar, teams, drivers, broadcasters, social media channels or sponsors to its name. Now the series boasts recognised manufacturers such as Audi, Jaguar and Renault, along with household brands such a Tag Heuer, DHL, Visa and the latest Panasonic, with no doubt many more waiting in the wings.
So what’s the attraction? The initial ‘newness’ of the series undoubtedly was a lure for some with Michelin, Renault and Tag Heuer signing well before a wheel had turned, no doubt keen to jump on the championship’s early momentum and perhaps take advantage of more favourable pre-established rates.
Primarily though it’s Formula E’s alignment of brand values; particularly around innovation and sustainability. Freighting firm DHL, for example, already sponsors a variety of top sporting events from rugby to Formula One, but Formula E perhaps offers the best platform to tell its story about how it can deliver sustainability in logistics through technology innovation – a perfect fit with a brand new green racing series. Manufacturers, meanwhile, see it as a test-bed for their electric technology and a stepping stone from track to road.
But it’s not just the appeal on the track, through Formula E brands also have access to its new, younger, non-motorsport fan base offering brands the ‘PR Holy Grail’…lifestyle media. Visa, for instance, took full advantage of the off track opportunities during the London events as title sponsor with a wealth of fan engagement. This has even spread to eGaming where next January fans will get the chance to take on Formula E drivers in Las Vegas using simulators for a share of a $1million prize pot.
It short, Formula E appears to tick all the boxes and, most interestingly of all, is that it ticks one that Formula One doesn’t; sustainability. Whilst F1’s introduction of 1.6-litre turbo hybrid engines in 2014 is, at least, a step in the right direction, the sport still lacks relevance with your average mileage-concerned motorist. Formula E, and notably the World Endurance Championship, are leading the way and more akin to the future plans of manufacturers, even attracting the support of Greenpeace at the inaugural London event and are understood to be backing a new PR stunt involving Formula E in Greenland.
Compared to F1, the series also offers unrivalled access – be it for branding opportunities, content gathering or corporate hospitality. Fans want to be involved and engaged (most of you will be aware of Formula E’s FanBoost voting system for example) and interact with the series, their favourite teams and drivers. Brands want to be at the forefront of delivering this content and Formula E, so far, makes this possible be it via 360 degree cameras, copyright free race clips via Grabyo or live streaming of races through Facebook. F1’s new owners Liberty – who also own Formula E let us not forget – are no doubt keen to loosen the F1 content tap but it is already playing catch-up.
10 teams and 20 drivers raced on Hong Kong’s Central Harbourfront for the start of season three – a race littered with high-profile brands including title sponsor HKT – Hong Kong’s premier telecommunications service provider (who will help pick up the reported HK$300 million needed to stage the event).
Indeed, Formula E’s third season looks set to be another successful one, and one that may well define whether it goes down in history as a one-hit wonder or the start of a greatest hits album.