Beyond the beating heart of competition, motorsport has always proved itself to be a showcase for emerging technologies.
Its real-world relevance is what keeps motorsport in the modern-day conversation, and that is particularly true for all-electric racing series Formula E. As the championship evolves its competitive offering, it is also seeking to position itself as a platform for driving sustainable change and a proving ground for electric vehicles.
To that end, last year saw Formula E debut its Change. Accelerated. Live. exhibition, a summit where experts from across the fields of motorsport, sustainability, politics and education converged to discuss a range of issues.
The event is set to return for its second edition this summer, taking place on 28th July ahead of this season’s London E-Prix at the ExCel. Attendees will be treated to on-stage discussions about topics such as how technological innovations are having an impact on sustainability and what sporting bodies can do to accelerate social progress, as well as Q&A sessions with Formula E teams.
Indeed, accelerating change is high on the agenda for Formula E, which is entering a new era under new leadership. Jeff Dodds, the former chief operating officer of Virgin Media O2, replaced chief executive Jamie Reigle just over a month ago, but the Brit already has big plans for the series.
Shortly after his appointment, BlackBook Motorsport caught up with Dodds to find out more.
How are you finding your new role?
The learning curve is really steep. I was in Jakarta for the Indonesian race just before I started, we had Portland [two weeks ago], and now we’re fully prepping for Rome. Joining in the final third of the season has been brilliant for me, I get to see the product really early on in my tenure. If I’d started in October, I’d have been waiting three, four months before I actually got to experience the product.
There’s a lot of opportunity here, so there’s a lot to do. I feel like I’ve hit the ground running. In the old days, people used to talk about your first 100 days – I’m not sure people wait 100 days anymore. It’s more the first 60 days, or 50 days. We’re a motorsport business and therefore we’re about doing things fast.
In a good way, I’ve come in at the deep end, because I’ve joined at a point where there’s loads of strategic conversations about where we race, who we race with, partnership discussions, generational developments on the car, etc. It feels like I’ve been here more than six months.
Pictured here with Formula E chairman Alejandro Agag (right), Dodds’ first race in an official capacity was the Portland E-Prix
Has the series matched up with your expectations so far?
So far, the expectations I had coming in have been met. Jakarta [produced] two quite different races, Portland was an incredibly competitive race on what we know is an incredibly competitive IndyCar track. I’ve loved the racing, got to meet all of the teams and got a better understanding of what they’re trying to get out of this series.
It’s exactly in line with what I hoped for. I wouldn’t have wanted to join a business where it was very mature and there was only incremental growth available, where it’s about eking out the extra one or two per cent.
I feel like there’s exponential opportunity here at Formula E, and I feel very privileged to have come in bang at the right time.
Are there any lessons you’ve brought with you from outside of motorsport?
I’d like to think I bring lots of learnings to this role, but maybe the one I would pick out is this sense of turning the volume up. I want this to be the noisiest, quietest sport on the planet. If you come to a race, one of our USPs and differentiators is there is no incredible roar as the car goes by, that’s not how they work.
On the other hand, the noise and amplification, it should be created around the messaging of the sport, which is incredibly competitive racing and being all about Net Zero from day one. The fact that you can showcase sustainability through an exciting racing series, I don’t think we’ve turned the volume up on that, I don’t think we’ve told enough people about it, and I don’t think we’ve used the media around the world widely enough to bring our product and show it to more people.
Formula E has raced in new locations this season, such as Cape Town (pictured) and Hyderabad
Why is it important for Formula E to be seen as more than just a racing series?
It’s about showcasing the development of electric vehicles and electrification. What we want to do is deliver compelling racing, but showcase and create a platform for sustainability. One of the ways we do that is we show people what electric cars are capable of.
That’s not just what they’re capable of from a performance point of view, but also what they’re capable of from a charging point of view. [Introducing] an element of charging that reinforces why people shouldn’t have this range anxiety and this panic about how they’re going to charge their vehicles is yet another way we can encourage people to go on this journey of electrification.
How does the Change. Accelerated. Live. event play into this ambition?
To not talk about [our sustainability mission] would be a big miss, because that’s what makes us different, makes us unique. To be able to use [the end of the season] to remind people why we do this, but also to share what we’ve learned and how we’re trying to change things positively, to accelerate sustainability across the globe, it’s perfect timing.
It’s really important to our partners, really important to our teams and really important to our fanbase. If you look across our global fanbase, it’s quite different to the fanbase of other motorsports. 25 to 30 per cent of that fanbase are largely brought into our product through sustainability. That’s the hook for them. It’s an incredibly important and growing part of why we exist, so we have to talk about it and we want to talk about it.
Change. Accelerated. Live. is BACK! ⚡️
�� 28th July
��️ Available NOW
— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) July 4, 2023
What are your expectations for this year’s Change. Accelerated. Live. event?
We did it [for the first time] last year, we learnt a lot of stuff about how we could make it better and they plugged that into this year. So yes, this year will be better than last year. The panel discussions are very rich. You’ve got Claire Williams, Dave Richards, some interesting motorsport characters with lots of motorsport legacy, but with their own story and their own focus on sustainability.
Our partners got a glimpse of what it could be last year, and their own stories and their own strategies around sustainability have grown over the past 12 months. [For example], ABB are going to be telling their story around electrification and charging. It will be a compelling event to come in and listen to.
I’m excited about the workshopping and panel discussions that take an idea and make it better and better throughout the day. I’m hoping we come out with some tangible stuff that people can go away and action, because that’s what it’s all about. We’re not doing for interest’s sake, we’re doing it for action’s sake.
The Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre will play host to Formula E in 2024 – could it also be the stage for a future Change. Accelerated. Live. event?
What are your plans for the event moving forward?
It works perfectly this year – and last year – because of London being the final race. But, there’s nothing to say that we wouldn’t choose to do even more of these each year, building on our already expanded programme this year where we have had Formula E panels at other leading events. It would be nice to take them on the road more and do them at different venues, so I wouldn’t be surprised. We haven’t talked about it, but given it aligns with their big sustainability conference in the city, it might be perfect to take this on the road and do something in Tokyo while we’re there.
But we shouldn’t use the Change. Accelerated. Live. event to only talk about sustainability. Every race we go to is an opportunity to talk about sustainability, why it’s important, and to leave a legacy in every location we go to. What Change. Accelerated. Live. does is punctuate the season with bigger moments for more discussion around sustainability.
I would love, maybe not even in five years, but I would love this to be the de facto sustainability conference. If it’s in the UK, the one that everyone looks forward to, the one that everyone needs to come to because they’re going to learn new stuff that they can implement back in their businesses or events.
You want to be the best at what you do, and that’s definitely what we want for the racing series. Why wouldn’t we want that for this conference?
The Change. Accelerated. Live. summit returns for its second edition at the 2023 Hankook London E-Prix at ExCeL London on 28th July. Click here to find out more about the event.