“Racing On Water Is A Lot About Challenging Nature. I Don’t Want To Say Working Against It, More A Duality With Nature.”
By Ben Page | October 26, 2020
Earlier this month E1 Series, an all-new electric powerboating championship, was launched in Monaco by Rodi Basso, former Head of Motorsport at McLaren, Alejandro Agag, Founder of Formula E and Extreme E, and the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique).
Basso is to oversee the new sporting venture as Chief Executive Officer, so iSPORTCONNECT’s Ben Page spoke to him about the new project, discussing how the idea came about, why he is passionate about it, how E1 will be working alongside Extreme E and more…
Where did the whole idea to create E1 initially come from?
So I live pretty close to where Alejandro [Agag] lives and I’d had a chance to collaborate and interact a lot with him during the Formula E battery delivery when I was Director of Motorsport at McLaren. Around the time of lockdown in April and May we exchanged a few messages then started going running together and this was an opportunity to brainstorm everything.
He shared his interest in a start-up wanting to change the way people experience the marine world and I had seen an idea for a new form of racing on water. Coming from 20 years of motor racing this is my passion, especially how the combination between sport and technology is so important and can be so fruitful.
I proposed a race format to him with all the possible details, the logistics and the vision, then we started working on how to combine this into a new experience for racing on water, where I think there is already one strong point that we have on our side.
Our idea is embedding a technology transfer process which is already there and pointing towards a final product.
This is that we’re not working on a motor racing application to develop something then after 5-10 years decide ‘ok let’s see how we can apply this to a broader industry’, but actually our idea is embedding a technology transfer process which is already there and pointing towards a final product.
It’s going to be a completely unique product, the first electric powerboating series, how much potential do you think it has with that unique selling point?
I’m feeling very positive for a few reasons. First of all, there is already the conversation about SDG-14 from the United Nations [Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water]. We are in a moment where taking care of our oceans and our waters in general is not a choice but it’s a strong need, it’s a race to improve the situation.
On the other side, in terms of experience we are not only inventing a new electrified sport but I believe we’re going to place ourselves between motorsport, from a technical and technology standpoint, powerboating, as that’s the end product, but also sailing.
I add motorsport in is because I believe motorsport is a few steps ahead in terms of electrification, so by adding the right partners into the marine industry we will accelerate this process.
We want to design our powerboat to be more immersive and somehow collaborate with the water in order to manoeuvre, accelerate and all these things without impacting it negatively.
Racing on water is a lot about challenging nature, the waves and the water conditions. I don’t want to say working against it, more a duality with nature. We want to design our powerboat to be more immersive and somehow collaborate with the water in order to manoeuvre, accelerate and all these things without impacting it negatively.
It’s a very interesting point that racing on water is totally different because a track stays still while water is constantly moving, does that unpredictability add an extra element?
Absolutely, you have the interaction with the track but it’s how you transfer the power. Not anymore on a tarmac but on water, even the way we want to transfer this power has a different sensation. I think we will come up with something very interesting in terms of controlling the boat which is going to be super exciting for the fans.
You have extensive experience within motorsport and how that relates into both the technology and the racing product side. What do you think is most key for this?
We have a very tight schedule that we’ve given ourselves, coming from the motorsport approach we know what it means to get to the key points that you want to achieve and to demonstrate it to the fans and broader public.
What I’m going to bring is for sure the racing mindset, this will be the main driver I can bring and it’s absolutely present also in the marine industry, I’m exchanging great ideas and common points with stakeholders from the sector.
Where are you planning on racing around the globe and how does that factor into the environmentally friendly aspects of E1?
We’re planning to have testing for more or less the next year before starting the season in September 2022, earlier if we can, but September will be a very good achievement considering the time needed to create key aspects like the safety of our powerboats on the water.
The race will begin in 10 places, with five host cities. At the launch we had the incredible honour to announce Monaco will host the last race of the championship. We’ve already been contacted by cities who want to host the race in their ports because there is an incredible entertainment format that Alejandro and his team are replicating in different sports, so there is potential for incredible reach.
We are going to build, through our partners, infrastructure and charging points in the hosting ports to run the race, but we will leave this infrastructure and charging points there for future commercial use.
There are many other strong points that cities will be interested in, as we are going to build, through our partners, infrastructure and charging points in the hosting ports to run the race, but we will leave this infrastructure and charging points there for future commercial use.
On the other side, through Alejandro’s presence, we had the idea of having five races alongside Extreme E, representing the issue of climate change. The two I would say are certain is Greenland and Amazon, then during the St. Helena’s journey we will potentially target cities like New York or Miami and the Middle East, but we also want to incorporate lakes or rivers.
From the learning perspective working with Extreme E, how do you think that benefits the E1 project?
I would say we are incredibly lucky, I mentioned the events already butExtreme E is based on a very scientific approach thanks to the presence of a really strong Scientific Committee.
Extreme E has now shown its face and it’s ready to make the difference. The recent announcement with the FIA is a testament of how serious they are.
We will benefit massively from the suggestions on how to drive our vision and in the beginning from the expertise of the marketing vehicle represented by the team at Extreme E. So we can boost the narrative and increase the interest as well as sharing our ideas, for a start-up this is a luxury.
How aware of Extreme E’s progression were you, had you been following the progress through your motorsport interests?
I’ve been following Extreme E since the very beginning and the interest and the buzz around the championship has definitely grown. I think in many start-ups, across any industry, you have an initial phase of a gentle growth and then all of a sudden it explodes, either from incredible testimonials or an increase in sponsors understanding the potential value and investing in it.
This is exactly what happened in the last six months, Extreme E has now shown its face and it’s ready to make the difference. The recent announcement with the FIA is a testament of how serious they are.
Why is the sustainability issue in this project so important to you?
Thank you for this question because of course this is key. For me everything started from my passion for sailing, it’s an incredible experience in life with many lessons. I always focus on the specific moment when you switch off the energy and you are completely free from everything, you just go with nature not against it, so this is maybe linked to a personal passion.
Alternatively, as I mentioned before, we are all aware humanity is in a race to save our planet. It’s not just the standard slogan, all you need to do is open a newspaper and read about the health of water, microplastics, the ice quantity. The scientific community is now sharing with us how important the waters are to balance the temperature of the planet, for the atmosphere, everything.
We need to look at the waters as something that can heal us. We need to pay more attention and do something about it.
As an aerospace engineer I’m always fascinated by those topics but I decided to keep my feet on the ground! The other big issue is we don’t know a lot about the waters, the oceans and the seas, we know only 100,000 species in the oceans and there could be 1 million or even a new way to design structures that are incredible inspiration.
I say that this project is the ‘son’ of lockdown, when we realised we are guests on this planet, we are just a very, very small entity but we are behaving too much like the owner.
We need to look at the waters as something that can heal us. We need to pay more attention and do something about it, because then maybe we can save ourselves, not the water…