OnQ Blog

This man wants to turn auto racing into a video game-like experience for fans

Nov 20, 2014

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

In just two days, Nov. 22, round two of the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship will take place in Putrajaya (poo-trah-jīya), Malaysia. Getting the first race completed in Beijing last month not only marked the beginning of a new race series, it also marked the successful completion of an idea hatched only two years ago by the FIA and Alejandro Agag.

Alejandro Agag sat down with OnQ recently to answer a few questions:

OnQ: Formula E’s historic first race came off without a hitch. What did your team take away from the first event that you’ll employ in the upcoming race in Malaysia?

Agag: There are many things we will improve and tweak. But the best thing we’ll take away from the first race is that it happened. That is what we needed. We needed a race under our belt—it was all theory until the first race. Now it is reality. That’s the base, and now we’ll improve on little things—the details—and make it better.

I want to make it more like a video game, much more interactive for the fans. I want the FanBoost to be more present—some drivers didn’t use it. I also want to change the way we broadcast the change of cars in the pits. We are also upgrading our mobile app. And we have to create the game that goes in it.* It’s those little things that will improve the viewing experience for fans watching on TV and mobile devices.

The rest was quite good—the car reliability was good, which sets the stage for improvements in technology. And we’re really excited because we know that many manufacturers—big, small, and specialized—are interested in joining the championship. And that’s what we want—different technologies competing and raising the bar.

OnQ: Can you tell us who those manufacturers are?

Agag: We’ll announce them hopefully later this year.

OnQ: Next year, the championship is open to other car manufacturers and battery makers. There’s been some debate about the strict guidelines that Formula E imposes on participants. Do all these rules help or hinder innovation?

Agag: We think it’s very important to have restrictive guidelines on everything that is not related to electric power. The electric powertrain design is open. The rest of the car needs restrictions, because this is not a championship to improve aerodynamics or to improve brakes… it’s a championship with a goal to improve electric powertrains and batteries. That’s where we want innovation to happen.

OnQ: How do you envision wireless technologies taking on a larger role in next year’s championship?

Agag: Wireless technology has a very important future in our championship, and for electric cars in general. Qualcomm Halo™ for instance, makes it much easier and more practical to charge the cars. The key will be when cities implement the system, and car manufacturers start using it as a standard, and there are cars with it built in. I think Formula E can play a role in that, I think some teams are considering the use of wireless charging in their cars. It will take a few years, but I think…racing will include wireless charging.

OnQ: What EV technologies are you amazed by? Which did you never think were possible?

Agag: For me, I’m not amazed by the current technologies. I’m amazed by the future ones. I’m always looking at, or trying to get my hands on the newest breakthroughs and technologies—particularly in batteries—going forward. It’s always about batteries—we need to multiply the capacity of the batteries, reduce the time of charge, reduce their heat build-up…but everything is improving and moving in the right direction. And many people are doing research on how to solve these challenges. The breakthrough will come sooner or later—that is what will amaze me. Formula E will be the test bed. We test it here, we troubleshoot it here. And then we take it to commercial EVs.

OnQ: Before joining the world of high-tech racing, you were a mover and shaker in the world of soccer in Europe. What are your thoughts on the role of technology in sports outside of auto racing?

Agag: I think that technology plays a role—it’s going to be bigger and bigger in every sport, not only motorsport. Motorsport is all about technology. In motorsport it is essential—from the cars, to what the driver wears, to the way fans watch and experience races.

But also, if you look at tennis [Agag uses his hand to illustrate the flight path of a tennis ball] where TV viewers can “see” if the serve was in or out…that’s where technology has a positive role. European football/soccer is starting to implement the same technologies. All of those things are very good.

Some sports will benefit directly from technology—such as motorsports—whereas others will benefit more in terms of improving the fan experience, and making the game more fair, such as football. Remember Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal?

OnQ: What Formula E technologies do you think will transfer to our cars first?

Agag: I think it will be energy regeneration/recovery systems used in the brakes [that] will transfer first, followed by breakthroughs in battery technologies. We are doing some amazing things with regeneration in Formula E right now.

OnQ: What Formula E technologies do you think will transfer to Formula 1?

Agag: It depends on where Formula 1 goes in terms of technology. If anything, battery technology. But again, we have to see.

OnQ: For those who have never been to a motorsports event, what do you want them to come away from a Formula E event with? What would you like the take-away to be?

Agag: I want them to come away with a different experience. I don’t want them to say, “We watched a car race.” I want them to watch something between a video game and a car race. I want them to see something completely new and different. And we still don’t have that product. My focus now is to transform what we have into that—into a completely new sports experience, which is filled with interactivity, digital technologies, the video game experience…all that.

OnQ: Thanks Alejandro!

The FIA’s and Agag’s vision of Formula E is on track. In just two years, he’s managed to build a formidable Formula E organization: securing a global sponsor, seven official partners, and four companies steeped in Formula 1 experience. This coalition has worked together to build spec race cars, recruit 10 race teams and 20 drivers, and signed up at least nine cities to commit their streets to the racing series. As described by Agag in our interview, the championship is gaining traction, and more than 40 other cities are being considered for additional rounds of the series.

Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. is the official Founding Technology Partner of the FIA Formula E Championship and will advise Formula E in their quest to incorporate new and more sustainable technologies into the racing series. For the 2014/2015 season, this includes implementing Qualcomm Halo technology to wirelessly charge the championship’s safety and medical cars. From the 2015/2016 forward, the wireless charging system will be made available to the race teams and their cars. 

If you want to see Agag’s vision in motion, the Malaysian ePrix is just two days away. If you cannot make it, you can watch it on TV.

After the first round in Beijing, the teams and drivers should now be a bit more familiar with the race format and their cars. Expect the action to heat up, rivalries to grow, and the best of what EVs have to offer—to shine. 

Learn more about Qualcomm’s involvement with Formula E here.


*The Formula E app is available on the App Store on iTunes.

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Anthony Eng

Senior Marketing Mgr., Qualcomm Technologies