13 Jan 21

Why Formula E doesn't just 'stick to racing'

The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is racing with reason; connecting the world of competitive street racing, tech and sustainability. But what does a motorsport have to do with sustainability, and what role do Formula E's teams play?

To dig deeper, we caught up with Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle and Jenn Babington, Operations Director of Envision Virgin Racing to chat about the positive impact motorsport can have, and how teams are playing their part.

"Formula E is a motorsport of course," said Reigle. "But we're a motorsport that is a little bit different than others. We were founded with this purpose of driving awareness around climate change. So, it's the intersection of the racing and reason.

READ MORE: How Formula E went net zero

"The FIA has long committed to environmental assessements of and improvements in all of its championships, and they set criteria and a set of standards that championships must try and adhere to," continued Reigle, with Formula E itself, and teams Mercedes-Benz EQ, Mahindra Racing and Envision Virgin Racing all complying to those strict FIA Three-Star Environmental Accreditation guidelines, encouraging sustainable practices.

Why Formula E doesn't just 'stick to racing'

"This is a sport that is grown up as a result of seeing that there is an opportunity for incredible racing," adds Envision Virgin Racing's Babington. "This isn't one guy winning every time, this is about proper wheel to wheel racing - and putting on that show in a way that is having the least impact on the planet as possible.

"It's brave. Motorsport could be seen as a dirty sport with the flights involved but we have to do something to help and make a difference. For us as a team, the environmental aspect of the championship is very much intrinsic to our founding principles, as is the need to be at the leading edge in achieving that FIA accreditation.

"We engaged with the FIA, and over the last 12 months or so they investigated how we operated in terms of our impact on the planet. This isn't just in terms of our carbon usage, but noise impacts, social engagement and a whole breadth of things. 

"Becoming the third team in the sport to achieve three stars inspired us, given that we're a smaller team compared to the rest with people carrying out multiple jobs. The experts' help that came from the FIA was important, and it's a huge deal for us."

The Race Against Climate Change

Not only did Envision Virgin Racing cement themselves in place as one of the most sustainable teams in Formula E, it's also been certified carbon neutral, and became the first motorsport team to sign up to the United Nations Support for Climate Action Framework.

Envision Virgin Racing's Race Against Climate Change Live

"We're going round around the track really, really fast, cool, and as a result we're getting loads of exposure, so how do we take advantage of that?" adds Babington. "We came up with the concept of the Race Against Climate Change, which has made us really hone in on a mission and purpose.

"It's not just wins on track that count. The whole team is behind the sustainability messaging that we have, and the importance of that, and the impact that we're having. So it was really nice to get everyone behind it and have the team behind it.

Making a difference

"Each year, each season, we hold RACC events," continues Babington. "We got all these people together, listening to their inspiring stories and we hear there are loads of problems in the world, but we can make a difference. 

"We have an opportunity right here, so let's be really positive, let's work together, let's lobby, government, let's eat less red meat, all the stuff that we all know now that can help. 

"It's not just about listening to business leaders and climate scientists talk about the problems, but listening to the people who inherit the problems that we're creating and listening to them to help us to make a change. 

"The beauty of sport is it's about competition," added Reigle. "The teams compete on the track of course, and they want to become champion, but equally, they're pushing each other in all the other areas too - that's a great thing."

Driving change

The championship has pioneered as the first global sports series, and one of the few companies in the world, to become net zero carbon from inception. With Formula E reaching millions worldwide, it aims to lead motorsport as a whole in having a huge positive impact on issues that are pressing, and affect us all - like air pollution, climate change and sustainability.

WATCH: How we can all play our part and fight the global climate change crisis

"We're using the excitement of motorsport, and the thrill everything that people love about watching racing, to tell stories around climate change, and around the importance of a shift to electric mobility," said Reigle.

"Sport has the power to inspire, to tell great stories and elicit human emotion. That's why we all love it. It also has the ability to tell stories that go beyond, and that's our opportunity."
Jenn Babington, Envision Virgin Racing Operations Director

"That's why we exist, and we're not shy to lean into that. It's something that's core to our DNA and frankly, what you're seeing is other sports, not just in motorsport, other sports in general is that they're becoming more conscious of environmental issues, and are making that push - we see ourselves as a leader in that regard."

'Sport inspires, and that's our opportunity'

"If climate change had a colour to it in the atmosphere, we'd all be a lot more scared than we currently are," adds Babington. "If you just want to watch Formula E because you want to watch motorsport, crack on!

"But actually, by doing that, you will be choosing to watch an exciting major sport that is having a positive impact on the planet that is creating and growing that tribe of people who start to engage with sustainability.

"Sport has the power to inspire, to tell great stories and elicit human emotion. That's why we all love it. It also has the ability to tell stories that go beyond, and that's our opportunity, and we all have a long way to go.

"None of us here are patting ourselves on the back and congratulating ourselves saying 'let's just watch the racing'. Hell no! We're thinking about how to make this even more efficient and how we can speed up that transition from the tech that we've got in the car to the tech that's on the roads today, because that's going to make us a better place.

"Working out how to make the powertrain more efficient, improving software, making battery temperatures right - all of this work that we're doing as a series and with the manufacturers will trickle down into the road cars of tomorrow.

"We want to get on track, but in the race against climate change we want to be working together with everybody and collaborating as far as we can."

Formula E

Formula E’s commitment to deliver better futures through racing drives its ongoing environmental, economic and social sustainability initiatives around the world