Sportsmail goes behind the scenes as Formula E heads to Berlin to see the future of motorsport
Alberto Longo is desperate to show somebody his photographs.
The deputy chief of Formula E is sitting behind the ‘Team and Crew’ tent at Berlin‘s mothballed Tempelhof airport, showing Sportsmail pictures of himself on the red carpet in Cannes the night before.
‘The Cannes festival was amazing,’ he beams.
‘What an experience. Look at this. It was so impressive. I’ve never seen so many journalists in my life. It was like five thousand guys there, five thousand guys there, I mean it was unbelievable.
‘There’s Leonardo di Caprio, Orlando Bloom. It was super cool.’
Formula E’s new documentary ‘And We Go Green’, produced by Leonardo di Caprio, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival
Di Caprio, one of Formula E’s shareholders, was the man behind Longo’s midweek trip to the French Riviera.
The legendary actor has produced a new documentary about the sport, named ‘And We Go Green’, which was given its world premiere at the spiritual home of the film industry last month.
The documentary, like Formula One’s Netflix drama ‘Drive to Survive’, will cover the 2017-18 season, following how the sport negotiates elite racing with its environmental core.
It’s mere creation is symbolic of Formula E’s phenomenal rise to prominence
The film will showcase the 2017-18 season of Formula E, documenting how it balances its green ethos with competitive racing
Sportsmail went behind the scenes at the BMW i Berlin ePrix, the tenth race in the calendar, to see the sport in action
Formula E rolled into the German capital for the tenth E-Prix of the season with the bullishness of a gambler who knows he’s got the bookies’ number on Friday.
And it’s no surprise.
Their growth, in the space of five series, has been linear. Last season, more than 450,000 spectators – double that of the previous year – turned up to street circuits across some of the world’s biggest cities including Rome, New York and Paris. In Berlin, tickets sold out for the race in two days.
Next year, FE will become the first motorsport series to host all four of Germany’s big manufacturers – BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Formula One heavyweights Mercedes. There are suggestions that Fernando Alonso might consider joining the driver ranks next year too.
‘If someone told me five years ago that we would have nine mega brands involved in the Championship after only five seasons, I would have thought the guy was crazy,’ adds Longo.
‘But the truth is that, the world has turned to electric, today, and electric mobility is what they’re all looking for and all investing for. We are the platform to showcase their new technology.’
The tenth round of Formula E’s fifth season was held in the Germany’s capital city, Berlin, at the defunct Tempelhof airport
Thousands of fans flocked to the old airport to catch a glimpse of the increasingly popular all-electric car racing series
An old Troop Carrier was left on the concrete surface of the airfield at Tempelhof, around which the circuit meandered
Arriving at Tempelhof, fans are overwhelmed by innovation.
Formula E is an all-electric motorsport series that puts the environment, and cleaning up the image of the car industry, front and centre.
Efficiency encompasses everything. All cars are freighted together to reduce air miles. Drivers are restricted to two sets of all-weather tyres for the entire weekend. The series aims to be carbon neutral.
It’s a sport that sees itself with a moral responsibility, and everyone has to buy into it.
‘We are ambassadors for green technology when travel to all these major cities,’ Stoffel Vandoorne, HWA Racelab driver, tells Sportsmail.
Stoffel Vandoorne, an F1 driver and current racer for HWA Racelab, believes drivers are ambassadors for green technology
Vandoorne (R) stays ahead of his rivals as he fights his corner during the Berlin ePrix for HWA Racelab during the Berlin ePrix
Green technology is at the heart of Formula E and that was clearly shown by the Green Tech Festival hosted behind the circuit
The enormous, gaping hangars were transformed into a showroom of future technology including futuristic flying taxis
The Green Tech Festival was founded by former F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg (L) who was in Berlin for the race
‘Then there’s massive interest in this championship from sustainability companies, manufacturers, because the world is simply going in this direction.’
Major manufacturers are desperate to be associated with greener technology and it’s easy to see why. At Templehof, beneath the vast, mile-long hangar that drapes over the airfield, Nico Rosberg’s Green Tech Festival provided the backdrop to the race. It showcased a glimpse of the future, displaying everything from flying electric taxis to eco-clothing.
‘The company is moving to heavy electrification, so the two go hand-in-hand’, says Audi Abt Schaeffler team principal Allan McNish. The German manufacturer won on home soil last year with a one-two finish, a huge public relations boost following the German emissions scandal, where major manufacturers were found to have misled inspectors over car emissions. It crushed public trust in the automotive industry.
‘With the festival being here, it brings a different group of people in, and it’s not just cars and car racing, it’s bringing a whole load of other things into it and the story becomes a lot bigger.
‘As a result, we’re able to say, ‘this is the direction we’re going, this how we think the future’s going to be’, and in that I think it’s a positive story for us.’
Allan McNish, the team principal of Audi Abt Schaeffler, acknowledged the importance of green tech for manufacturers
Next season, Porsche and Mercedes will join the paddock meaning 10 out of 12 of the teams will be major car manufacturers
Innovation is at the heart of Formula E and it does not stop with green technology. It wants to be different, and attracting new audiences is at the heart of that.
Interaction is key. On the track, ‘Fan boost’ offers drivers five seconds of extra power for those who collect the most votes from the public. Off it, e-Gaming races give the public the chance to race on simulators directly against their driving heroes. At Berlin, there was even ‘ghost racing’, which allows the public to compete against the drivers on the track in real time through a simulator.
‘We have very clear as a target. We need to attract younger generations to motor sport,’ says Longo
‘Other Championships are forgetting about that, their audiences are getting older and older every year.
‘Young people today are the most difficult people to engage, because they are all on the internet. So we want to become more digital every year. To keep being attractive for younger generations.’
Alberto Longo (centre, left) tells Sportsmail about Formula E’s impressive growth and the sport’s plans for the future
Longo emphasised the need to appeal to newer, younger audiences which FE achieves through its on-site e-village
The green racing and off-track innovations do not hinder the sporting spectacle which has shown to be frenetic and intense
The emphasis on innovation does not, however, detract from the sport itself.
In fact, its competitive nature is one way in which comparisons to F1 are a moot point.
Heading into Berlin, after nine rounds of racing, there was still few clues as to who would win the championship this season. Reigning champion Jean-Eric Vergne of the sport’s leading team DS Techeetah, led the way by a single point ahead of team-mate Andre Lotterer.
But while Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes saunter towards perennial titles, in FE, only 28 points separated first from sixth, following a season that has seen eight winners from the first nine races. With three more circuits to go after Berlin – including a double-header in New York – everything is still to play for.
The reason the competition is so tight is in part due to its format. Drivers have two practice sessions, before do-or-die qualifying.
They head out in groups of six and five, based on Championship position. The first group are the leaders, which puts them at a disadvantage due to the untested track surface. They have one out-lap, one warm-up lap, then a fast lap. The top six fastest will go again in ‘super pole’ to decide top spot. But that’s all the time they get on track.
In the Panasonic Jaguar team garage, Kiwi driver Mitch Evans, who still has a shot at the title in sixth, heads out in the second group.
Panasonic Jaguar welcomed Sportsmail into their garage to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the team operates
Formula E teams are only entitled to two sets of all-weather Michelin tyres per driver per weekend to reduce waste
Driver Mitch Evans (centre) discusses with his team ahead of his critical qualifying lap for Jaguar on Saturday morning
Qualifying involves one out lap, one warm-up lap and one fast lap, making it a highly pressurised part of the weekend
‘It’s very tricky, none of the engineers will be speaking with Mitch when he’s on track, the pressure is too great,’ Jaguar’s Amanda Stretton tells Sportsmail, as silence descends, and the pre-race buzz quietens.
Lotterer, a German racer and one of the favourites, fluffed his qualifying lap by failing to complete it in time from group one. Has an opportunity presented itself?
Disappointment crackles over the radio. Evans is initially three-tenths of a second down off the leaders. Ultimately, that will leave him in 18th.
‘The lap wasn’t my best for sure, but I didn’t have the peak grip that I had (on Friday) so there’s a few factors that could have caused that,’ Evans later tells Sportsmail. ‘So we need to figure that out, we’ve got a few ideas on what happened.’
Despite his disappointing qualifying, Evans was only 0.695 seconds behind Vandoorne, who posted the fastest time before ‘super pole’.
The margins on the track are also extremely tight, mainly due to the cars and the rules that govern them.
Evans spoke to Sportsmail before the race about his hopes for the weekend and ambitions in the Championship hunt
The car itself is reminiscent of an F1 car however there are some key differences regarding what the teams can change
The chassis and battery are the same for every team, with the power-train at the back the only area teams can alter and adjust
The chassis and battery are uniform, with the power-train at the back of the vehicle the only area where the teams are allowed to get hands on.
But the cars, once criticised for their lack of speed and ‘only’ producing 80 decibels worth of noise, have been transformed for season five. The introduction of the Generation 2 car has changed the landscape; gone are the derided mid-race pit stops, a feature of previous seasons, where drivers would change cars to use a new battery. This year, the battery lasts the entire race, while the noise they produce sounds like a hypersonic jet from a sci-fi movie.
‘It feels a bit like driving in the future,’ says ex-F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein, who races for FE team Mahindra Racing.
‘These cars, it feels different but in the end it still feels the same like a racing car.
‘It’s still futuristic, you know the cars they look amazing, we’re in the coolest cities you know this technology especially for the race is really interesting and impressive.’
Pascal Wehrlein, formerly of Sauber F1 team and a Ferrari test driver, tells Sportsmail how the car feels futuristic to drive
Wehrlein drives for Mahindra Racing and would ultimately finish the Berlin e-Prix in 10th, enough to take a point for his team
Alex Lynn (L) is Mitch Evans’ team-mate at Jaguar and joined the team midway through the season after Nelson Piquet Jr’s exit
Evans’ team-mate in Jaguar garage is one of six British drivers on the grid, Alex Lynn. The 25-year-old was brought in after Nelson Piquet Jr parted company with the team midway through the season. The former F1 driver had scored just a point this term, following a smattering of crashes.
Piquet Jr’s difficulties highlight that ex-F1 drivers do not dominate the championship. On Saturday, former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa qualified in 19th, and would finish the race only four places higher, despite picking up his first podium in Monaco. Wehrlein, in his home e-Prix, finished 10th, while Vandoorne fared a little better in fifth.
‘I think Formula E has a chance to make its own superstars,’ says Lynn.
‘I’d say someone like Mitch is a classic example, or someone like myself, we never made it to Formula One, through many reasons, we never got our chance.
‘Here in Formula E we have our chance, to make our own story, which I think for me, is what’s important.’
Lynn, like most drivers, was keen to emphasise that while ex-F1 racers are good for the sport, FE can create its own stars too
Lynn has had the difficult task of having to adapt to the new Generation 2 car, which is very different to last year’s iteration
The car’s battery no longer requires the driver to swap vehicle mid-race, as it can now sustain itself for the entirety of the race
Lynn spoke to Sportsmail about the challenge of joining Jaguar and how he is adapting to the new-powered vehicles
Evans prepares for his qualifying lap while the team watch the first group of drivers take to the circuit on Saturday morning
The Kiwi driver had a disappointing qualifying and started the race from 18th, but his team-mate Lynn made ‘super pole’
A roar erupts in the Jaguar garage as Lynn completes his qualifying lap. He’s fifth, and will go again in ‘super pole’ -the first time he’s reached that stage since joining the team in March.
‘It’s great for Alex, there aren’t team orders but Mitch has always been the quicker,’ says Stretton.
‘This will be a real boost for him and his side of the garage’.
A Formula E garage looks just like that of F1, if a little smaller. Teams are restricted two 20 engineers each, all part of financial caps that prevents overwhelming investment from the big boys.
This helps smaller teams, like Venturi, for whom Susie Wolff is their team principal and Di Caprio is one of their founders.
Next year, when Mercedes and Porsche stroll into the paddock, they will have enormous financial resources at their disposal. Mercedes, for instance, spent £315million on their F1 team alone. Is there a fear that they could demand more influence over the cars?
‘Not at all. The way the Championship is organised, it gives every team, no matter how big or small, the chance to win,’ says former Williams test driver Wolff.
Next year big manufacturers join the series but Susie Wolff, team principal of Venturi, is not concerned about their threat
Mercedes and Porsche will have enormous resources but the rules prevent larger manufacturers from blowing teams away
The tightness of the rules means the competition is extremely tight with often just a few seconds separating front to back
‘I don’t underestimate the step up we will need to make as a team when Porsche and Mercedes arrive next season – along with the brands already in it.
‘It’s going to be a huge challenge, but it’s one we’re preparing for and I have no doubt they will do a good job.’
‘We need to keep the costs controlled, in this Championship and all the teams and manufacturers agree to it,’ he insists.
‘And I don’t think there will be a change of view of that from their side.
‘From our side? No way. We’re not going to go down that route in which these Championships are not sustainable for the teams.’
Alberto Longo reiterated Formula E’s stance that no matter who joins, the rules will not bend to the whims of big teams
The race itself is a different format to F1, consisting of 45 minutes of racing plus one final lap once the time is up
Tighter regulations ensure the race itself becomes enthralling contest.
It’s 45 minutes, plus one final lap, of wheel-to-wheel driving. It is rare that a drive is lapped, and a there are only a handful of seconds from front to back.
The additions of fan boost and attack boost – the latter forcing drivers off the racing line at least twice per race – offer so much scope for overtaking.
Lynn qualifies in fifth and flies out of the blocks, leapfrogging Vandoorne to take fourth before being pegged back. But 15 minutes in, disaster strikes.
‘My rear axle has seized up, I can’t move the car,’ he says over team radio, as he lies stricken on the home straight.
Alex Lynn had a brilliant qualifying but disaster struck when the rear axle of his car inexplicably froze during the race
Lynn’s stoppage on the home straight required full yellow flag to be implemented which had an impact on the rest of the race
Team principal James Barclay talks to Lynn, who was disappointed that his most promising race yet ended in disappointment
It’s a disappointing blow for Jaguar. Evans, meanwhile, fights his way through the pack to reclaims six places and finish 12th. But with those above him all picking up points in the drivers’ standings, his championship hopes are on the line.
‘The race is just a mess when you’re at the back, there’s people that are super desperate, making stupid moves and stuff,’ Evans says after the race.
‘I made a good start.
‘The race was coming to us, but then with the yellow flag, and Alex stopping, which was really unfortunate for them because it means some points for the team, it made the race a lot more difficult.
‘So one to forget.’
Evans meanwhile suffered disappointment in qualifying but was able to show resilience by climbing back up to finish 12th
Lynn and Evans will be hoping to be back among the points at the next circuit in Bern, Switzerland, on June 22
In the short term, Evans will be hoping to put things right on in the track in Bern, Switzerland which is next on the calendar on June 22.
But looking further ahead, it appears to Formula E is growing week-by-week.
Indeed, Berlin has hosted races for ever since the sports inception five years ago. Gradually, the gates have increased, with 15,000 cramming into the grandstands of the defunct airport to witness the future of motorsport on Saturday.
With the technology advancing at an extraordinary pace, it may not be long before FE’s battery innovations are competing with the best combustion could offer.
Combining green racing with thrilling sport, then, appears to be a winning formula.
‘It’s clean, efficient motorsport, it’s part of the future, it’s also showcasing that these cars are fast – it’s not only the environmental message – but there’s still amazing performance, amazing sport. That’s fundamentally it, at the end of it it’s great sport,’ says Jaguar’s team principal James Barclay.
‘Formula E is here, it’s the fastest growing motorsport property in the world, and it’s a really exciting time.’
Team principal James Barclay believes Formula E’s thrilling sporting contest and strong ethos makes it a winning formula
The ABB FIA Formula E Championship continues on Saturday June 22 with the Julius Baer Swiss E-Prix broadcast on the BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer and the BBC website at 5pm.