First the asphalt of city circuits. Then the expanses of sand in the desert and the tracks in the most remote areas of the planet: now it is time for the sea. Alejandro Agag’s horizons know no boundaries and he is off to conquer the oceans. Some have called it a revolution, others an epoch-making turning point.
Those who know him know that he means business. You only have to look at what happened with Formula E to see for yourself the scope of the E1Series project. The aim is to accelerate the transition to sustainable mobility on water. In what way? Through a circuit of races involving electrically-powered motorboats. “Motor sport has an enormous power to bring about epoch-making changes,’ says Agag. Formula E is a case history in this sense. From a competition reserved for electric cars, it has become a research laboratory that has enabled leading car manufacturers to develop increasingly high-performance and efficient electric engines.
This experience has proved useful in launching production for production cars. Agag has applied the same principle to Extreme E, a successful new format featuring electrified off-road vehicles in thrilling races in the wilder parts of the world. This is also a way of raising public awareness of environmental issues and climate change caused by pollution. Now the time has come to shake things up in the nautical world too.
A winning formula can’t be changed. In this new chapter, Agag can count on a top-level team. Starting with Rodi Basso, co-founder and CEO of E1Series, whose past in Formula One with the Ferrari teams (he was Rubens Barrichello’s Race Performance Engineer), Red Bull and McLaren has proved to be a valuable resource in fine-tuning the project. The project also sees other first-rate protagonists in the form of Sophi Horne who, with her SeaBird Technologies, developed the concept for these Formula One boats that are halfway between a boat and the X-Wing Starfighter from Star Wars; Brunello Acampora’s Victory Marine, involved in the engineering and construction of the hulls themselves; and Mario Caponnetto, whose experience in the America’s Cup will make all the difference in enabling the Race Birds to literally fly over the water. The show is assured, as Agag himself tells us in this interview.
In September 2020 in Monte Carlo you presented the E1Series project. A year later, also in Monaco, you unveiled the 1:1 scale model of Race Bird, the boat that will race in the E1Series. It’s fair to say you haven’t wasted any time.
We have come a long way in a year. We have found an important partner such as the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which has provided the financial resources to develop the project. This was followed by technical partners such as Mercury Racing, Navico with Simrad and C-Map, Victory Marine and Kreisel for the electric batteries. What started out as just an idea and a concept shared with Rodi Basso and Sophie Horne quickly became a tangible reality. But this is only the beginning. The programme for the future is tight. In early 2022 the RaceBird prototype will take to the water for testing and trials. The idea is to arrive in June ready to start producing the boats that will take part in the world championship and to have the fleet ready by the end of 2022. There will be a total of 24 boats plus three in reserve. Also because the aim is to start the championship in 2023.
What will the format of the E1 Series be?
In the first phase we have imagined a championship articulated on trials that will be held on courses in places of great charm and accessible to the general public. In this sense, we are pursuing the project of racing in Venice, a seaside resort with a unique charm but also an extremely fragile city threatened by the effects caused by climate change. But there will also be room for stages taking place in cities that overlook the lake, such as Geneva. At the same time, another set of hulls will be embarked on the St. Helena and will race in remote areas such as Greenland and the Amazon.
Sustainability is one of the pillars of this project. The same applies to Extreme E. In that sense, I saw that it was present in some stages of the world championship. It’s a dress rehearsal that can give you a sense of what the E1 Series will be like in the future. What was it like for you to see races held in such unusual locations for off-road competition?
It was a challenge within a challenge. Taking the cars to such remote areas required an unprecedented organisational and logistical effort. But the thing that impressed me most was to see for myself how the pollution did not spare even the Arctic. Our aim is to focus on the environmental issue, which has become a priority. We want to do our part.
Do you think that respecting and protecting the environment also requires a different way of understanding the concept of mobility?
It’s already a reality in the automotive sector. In the nautical sector this transition process is only just beginning. It won’t be immediate. It will take time. The objective is clear, but how to achieve it remains to be seen. There is certainly no single way forward. Technology has made important advances and will help in this transition process for the marine industry as well. I am convinced that the E1Series will be an extraordinary accelerator. My dream is to one day see Benetti, Feadship, Lürssen, Riva, to name but a few, at the start of the championship. This project also aims to be a communication platform that will allow the main players in the nautical industry to give visibility to the projects and strategies they are pursuing in the field of sustainability.
How will the E1Series be organised?
It has not yet been defined in detail. There will be no more than 12 teams. The championship will consist of 10 races, including knockout races, in which speed will not be the only requirement for winning. The driver’s skill will also be put to the test in battery management.
But that’s just the beginning. Fasten your seat belts, the show is about to begin.