Why Agag’s repeated calls for a Formula 1-Formula E merger fail to persuade

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Last week the Spanish national sport daily Marca published an interview with Formula E and Extreme E founder Alejandro Agag in which the flamboyant Algerian-Spanish businessman suggested that “Formula 1 and Formula E should be converging, because in the end the only technology that is going to prevail is electrical technology, be it batteries or hydrogen, and both are within the license that we have with the FIA.”

Asked what FE could offer F1 and vice-versa, Agag said, “F1 has one very important thing that I would love to have – that is history. The F1 champion is the successor to Senna, Lauda, Fangio, Schumacher… that’s a 73 or 74-year chain and we are going for six. F1 would like to have the electrical technology or the possibility of developing it, which is what that we have.”

While Agag’s suggestion – not the first time he has made such comments, nor likely to be the last – will resonate with devotees of electric vehicles, the primary criterion of any voluntary merger is that both parties have a genuine desire to merge based on the final result being greater than the basic sum of the individual parts. If not, why bother?

There are, however, some sweeping statements in Agag’s comments: First, he presumes “only electrical technology will prevail” – which is not a given, even if fossil-fuelled vehicles are eventually banned across the planet. Who knows what energy technologies may emerge in due course – and these may not ‘fit’ FE’s license. Hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines are one possibility: synthetic fuels another.

Mercedes already race in Formula E as well as Formula 1
Agag told Marca “there are attempts to create synthetic fuels, but that is artificial; an excuse not to go electric because you can’t. Synthetic fuel costs 10 times more than a normal one, so that’s going nowhere.” He seems to have forgotten that batteries were once (at least) 10 times the cost of fossil fuels for a given energy density, and that market and sporting competition reduced costs and boosted efficiency.

Last December the FIA Technical Department delivered samples of 100% sustainable fuel to F1’s power unit suppliers for testing. F1’s 2025 engine regulations are currently being defined to facilitate a zero-carbon F1 by 2030. Given that the FIA owns both F1 and FE – the series’ rights are leased – does it sound as though the governing body is planning to merge its primary two-single seater series any time soon?

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Agag believes “only electrical technology will prevail”
Second, Agag, who no longer plays an active role in FE although he retains a shareholding, assumes F1 is prepared to dilute its hard-won, illustrious history by merging with what is an emerging championship with a single differentiating factor – electricity. While F1’s history may rub off on FE, what would F1 gain from FE save the right to use electricity, which it has no plans to embrace? History is earned, not acquired by merger.

During Marca’s interview Agag was asked whether he’d had conversations with his friend Fernando Alonso, who raced in Le Mans, IndyCar and Dakar in a quest to be classed as the world’s most complete driver by adding victory in these categories to his two F1 championships. Yet this consummate racer – with a WEC title and Le Mans victory to his name – declined the chance of adding another FIA world series, Formula E, to his CV.

“I would have loved to have Fernando, but it couldn’t be,” Agag admitted. “There were conversations, but half in jest. He never looked at it as a real possibility because he had other plans in mind. He wanted the Triple Crown (Monaco, Le Mans, Indianapolis 500), he has the Indy left and, knowing Fernando, he will keep trying at one point or another in his career.”

Indianapolis 500 over a Formula E world title? Some admission, particularly given the choice is not binary…

Fernando Alonso, McLaren SP, IndyCar, Indianapolis 500, 2020
Formula E isn’t on Alonso’s ‘to-do’ list
Former title-winning GP2 team owner Agag is a supreme showman in addition to being a masterful politician. The economics graduate and former Member of the European Parliament held various offices, including a seat on the EU economic and monetary affairs commission where he focused on anti-trust issues. He would therefore know better than most that any such merger would require EU approval.

This in itself could present a major obstacle should F1 and FE even consider a merger, for promoters, broadcasters, sponsors and even manufacturers would have their options and opportunities reduced by 50% in one swoop, with the ultimate loser being motorsport fans who stand to lose out on a choice of two world-class series – or of following both, much committed ball fans embrace both rugby and football.

Crucially, the EU’s original investigation into the lease of F1’s rights was triggered by rows over TV rights and inter-category competition, and the EU eventual ratification of the FIA’s commercial rights transactions was contingent upon the potential for competition within various FIA motorsport disciplines, with clause six of the June 2001 directive stating that under the reforms:

“Competing events and series within the formula one discipline (and with other motor sport disciplines) will be possible. The reforms also create the possibility of increased inter-brand competition. New disciplines can be created, and events and series in potentially competing disciplines can be approved.”

Does that sound as though the EU is minded to approve a merger of two major FIA two-single seater series any time soon?

F1 and FE have as much right to exist alongside each other within the pantheon of FIA world championships as electric, hybrid and zero-carbon ICE-powered cars have of sharing open roads. Healthy competition pushes technical, commercial and sporting boundaries while providing competitors, fans, sponsors and media outlets with the freedom of choice.

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44 comments on “Why Agag’s repeated calls for a Formula 1-Formula E merger fail to persuade”

  1. “If not, why bother?”

    F1 has the name/brand, FE has FIA exclusivity as a fully-electric series.

    This is inevitable.

    1. Only if / once you accept the statement that electrical is the only option out there @proesterchen.

      1. Watch what happens to that “exclusivity” when F1 wants to make electric powertrains one day. Money rules, F1 has much more of it than any other motorsport including Formula E. He can only hope that his exclusivity won’t be taken away from him and bought when it is valuable to other parties.

        1. Too true. F1 will be able to use “X” percent electricity if it chose.

      2. I don’t have much hope for alternatives if the best Dieter (who apparently thinks they may be viable) can come up with are:

        – Hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines

        Burning hydrogen in an ICE is just about the most wasteful use of it. (even if you’d cleaned up LH2 production and storage, which by no means it is today) This is so absurd, in fact, that BMW tried it in the late 1990s, only to quickly abandon the concept and never speak of it again.

        – synthetic fuels

        Somehow we are supposed to believe that using energy to create hydro-carbons that then get transported across the planet, and burned in ICEs is a viable alternative to just transmitting the energy either directly to the devices using it or into some form of local or mobile storage to be used later.

        How this is supposed to get anywhere close to the efficiency of a system with many fewer moving parts is still the secret of those championing this fata morgana. How it has any future without the continued production of ICEs, which is quickly becoming a non-viable business, is also left curiously unexplained. How it could be price competitive is mostly ignored, or hand-waved away when mentioned at all.

        “Synthetic fuel” is the last plea for relevance from the petroleum-addicted energy industry. They have incredible amounts of cheap to pump oil and gas they want to have a market for, after all.

        1. Well @proesterchen, you on the other hand seem to ignore that there are many places where it just is not viable (yet?) either to carry around a battery with the pretty bad weight to power ratio they currently have.

          Nor that relatively frequent refuelling/reloading or loading during the night might not be all that easy for all use cases.

          Nor should we ignore that creating billions of relatively polluting batteries (in their production and potentially if they end up in landfills – at least until better tech replaces them – and vehicles to replace all the billions of ICE vehicles in the world is not a particulary envirnomently responsible step anyway. The real solution should be a move towards more use of trains, trams, busses etc, not having thousands of cars sitting wasted on the pavements all over big cities.

          The syntethic fuel that the FIA produced is not made of any pumped up oil or gas. If they manage to make one that works with ICE engines with relatively little adjustments, and does not use any plant based materials that have to farmed to be available (both are exactly what they target to do) that would help the world quite a bit in lessening the burden we put on it.

          There are so many steps taken in research and even starting to get “warming up” business that we should not repeat the mistake we made a century ago, when we ended up fully committing to petroleum based ICE for just about all transportation needs (to replace steam engines and for new applications).

          1. @bascb the thing is, a number of the synthetic fuels that you are suggesting are also quite energy intensive to produce.

            For example, the Royal Society noted in their assessment of e-fuel production a few years ago, for every unit of energy you put in at the start of the process, you waste over 55% of that in the production process of converting it into an e-fuel. Even before you put into an ICE, you’ve introduced a significant amount of wastage and inefficiency into the production process.

            There are a lot of things that are often glossed over when discussing synthetic fuels and e-fuels. Nobody can yet produce e-fuels or synthetic fuels on an industrial scale – there are only a few small scale demonstrator facilities, and nobody has yet demonstrated the capability to scale that up to industrial scale and overcome the challenges associated with that.

            Yes, the FIA might have received the first samples of synthetic fuel for teams to begin doing some tests – but, right now, the demonstrator facilities that exist are barely capable of even supplying the grid with fuel (most of the demonstrator facilities which exist are set up to produce methanol, and the few which do provide petrol or diesel would take several days to produce enough fuel for a single race weekend).

            The energy requirements and capital expenditure are also not discussed, and that makes the questions that are put about for electric cars look relatively trivial by comparison. If you wanted to switch the whole of Europe’s aviation market to synthetic jet fuel by 2040 – 20 years is considered a more realistic timeframe over which that might possibly occur – then, to satisfy the anticipated demand of 223 million litres of jet fuel per day, the optimistic scenario predicted that electricity consumption would rise by 1,400TWh per year – an increase of 47% – whilst just the initial infrastructure capital costs would be €280 billion. At the pessimistic end of the scale, you would need to increase energy production in Europe by 70% to satisfy that same demand, whilst those initial capital costs would rise to €560 billion.

            Bear in mind that those figures relate to just a single transportation sector in one continent – and aviation is one of the smaller energy users. Whilst you comment that e-fuels might “help the world quite a bit in lessening the burden we put on it”, there are significant commercial and technical issues with producing e-fuels on any sort of large scale – especially because there seem to be those who are using the possibility of e-fuels to say “well, e-fuels are coming so that is the silver bullet that means we can continue as we are”.

          2. Your underlying assumption appears to be that BEVs have to be better at everything (including every corner case) to warrant them replacing ICEs in general use. That is obviously not necessary.

            But there is an important problem for the cases you cite: As ICE production inevitably ramps down, ICEs for specific applications are going to go up in cost greatly, allowing alternatives to compete favourably where under today’s cost structures they would struggle. If anything, that’s an opportunity for specialized engineering companies to take ubiquitous, off-the-shelf components like electric motors and batteries and design tailor-made solutions for these specific niches.

            As for different modes of transportation, that’s an issue that’s orthogonal to how new cars are powered.

            The syntethic fuel that the FIA produced is not made of any pumped up oil or gas.

            Indeed. It’s also either not green or not efficient. It’s not scalable. And it’s a bet on a future that has car companies continue building ICE-powered cars when that is clearly no longer a priority to them.

            So, cui bono?

  2. Giving an exclusive licence to a series for something as important as an electric powertrain seems stupid. I bet that was a good lunch the FE people bribed the FIA with.
    F1 will wait until FE goes bust and then they will get the ‘licence’ from the FIA.

    1. Don’t hate on Alejandro, he did a great deal when all the “important” people were busy arguing about how hybrids are not F1 and such nonsense.

      And he put a racing series on tracks around the world, attracting more manufacturers in just 6 seasons than F1 has had in the last two decades, probably more.

      Of course, he wants a nice pay-off from F1, but he’s earned it, too.

      1. When F1 ratified hybrids FE had not yet been born, plus FE was not Agag’s vision, it was the FIA’s and AA was second in line.

        1. According to Formula E’s history, the initial discussion between Jean Todt and Alejandro Agag was ten years ago almost to the day. (March 3, 2011)

          Formula 1’s 2014 hybrid engine regulations were agreed in late June 2011.

          I’ll gladly defer to you on when the legal framework for Formula E was put to paper.

          1. Are you agreeing with Dieter here? An initial discussion is not a ‘birth’. Conception, maybe or even a first date (not always mutually exclusive!)

  3. Some are still 20th century delusional if they think they can keep on burning fossil fuels just for their entertainment.

    1. Who said anything about fossil fuel? F1 will be off that by 2025 but electric is not the only alternative. Overall efuels are arguably cleaner than electric.

      1. Beat me to it. Electrofuels or synthetic fuels are highly interesting, especially to make aviation carbon-neutral.

        1. Aviation, shipping, rail (in all places where electrification is not viable) and the billions of currently operating ICE vehicles out there in the world which will be going round at least for another few decades even @d0senbrot.
          Possibly even the best solution for long haul road transport, dependant on the weight/power ratio of battery tech for heavy duty trucks.

          Even if we would manage to completely ban any and all production of new ICE vehicles in 2030-35 worldwide (very unlikely, given current production capacities and planned new production capacities it’s probably not going to be much more than 50%) we will have them going around the world for 10 (private vehicles) to 20 (trucks, busses, smaller aeroplanes) or even up to 50 years (planes, construction, ships, trains) depending on how fast and where future development takes us.

      2. I think the sport is also considering the sound the cars make. They would need to pay FE off to go full electric, and using biofuels allows them to keep making noise through an ICE.
        Maybe the plan is to keep burning fuel, but with the angle that the fuel is 100% sustainable, whilst planting some trees in various places around the world? Racey noise + eco friendly.

        Not sure I’d totally buy into that, but it would certainly allow F1 to remain an ICE series for a lot longer.

    2. Yes “super delusional” and airplanes will go electric too, boats too…
      Come on!! It’s an entertaining series, they can be on fossil fuels forever, like airplanes and boats will be. So… don’t say sentences like if it’s going to be the end of the world soon… LOL

    3. Personally, don’t expect any forms, other than the occasional historical novelty, of Motorsport to be around a great deal longer.

      As soon as Esports get sufficiently monetised and capture the major sponsors, capture huge audiences online, and the revenues for things like F1 drop to critical, live sports as we know it will go.

      Fuels, PU specs etc are probably not really the issue. The current and future generations of fans are married to their devices and gaming machines which is a a natural fit for the future of sports.

      Please before you all take off recognise that my tongue is firmly in my cheek :)

  4. Who said anything about fossil fuel? F1 will be off that by 2025 but electric is not the only alternative. Overall efuels are arguably cleaner than electric.

    1. You know what really happens here, its a politicians game. If you know Agag’s background, and who he’s family related you’ll know a lot of his tactics. He changed politics for companies, because they gave him more chance of power, money and fame. And because he saw the political situation of Spain, with lot of corruption cases surfacing to the newspapers, and lots of politicians being judged on trials.

    2. I’ve been wondering, how many petrol giants currently pushing “synthetic fuels” would still be doing that if in return they had to give up all rights to their current stash of fossil sources.

  5. Merely to clarify: I didn’t know FIA ‘owns’ F1? Yes, FIA governs F1, FE, and several other categories, but is it necessarily the same thing as owning (by definition), or have I misunderstood something over the years?
    Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind if F1 and FE merged someday. The latter should give up on the long-term right for electric exclusivity, though, for the sake of pushing for carbon neutrality and making things more environmental-friendly sooner rather than later, if everyone is serious enough about wanting it to make a change, of course.

    1. Yes, the FIA own Formula 1, and have, under previous president Max Mosley, leased out the rights to commercially exploit it for a period of 100 years.

    2. The commercial rights are owned by Liberty Media for F1 and Liberty Global for FE.
      Yes, they are sister companies owned by the same man (John Malone I think).
      So, if F1 wants the right to use electric powertrains, then the “real” owner of FE will let the “real” owner of F1 have it.

  6. Sounds to me like he is desperate to unload FE before that series itself becomes unsustainable…just a hunch.

  7. Interesting to see how the industry has developed this common misconception that electric is the only way to go. I guess most companies are afraid to lose out and opt to stay on similar paths.

    Like 2 ice cream sellers competing for a beach that will end up close to each other to both be closest to half of the people on the beach. And for general cars manufacturers, there is another issue, one can’t decide to go its own way because refueling (in whichever form needed) requires a network to make the cars attractive, and network are build around number of users. That’s why CNG cars are mainly found around locations with high density of stations and not so much elsewhere. It’s also a big advantage for EV as there is electricity available in lots of location, it might take a while, but you gonna be able to continue your trip.

    EV’s have the advantage (to the public) to have the emission at production rather than during use making it seems cleaner than its competition. We were once complaining about petrol being a finite resource, and at current rate the same question will be asked for silicium and lithium sooner than later (it already has some impact).

    Of course everyone is defending its product, but I sincerely hope that we will see other high profile alternative to electric vehicles which are more likely to be a transition. On the long term, probably that we will tend toward hydrogen once we manage to make it safe and affordable. In the meantime I don’t mind F1 going CNG, bio fuel or others and it might actually make F1 relevant to some manufacturer that want some R&D aside electric with return on investment.

    Interesting times ahead!

    1. It sure is interesting, @jeanrien how we repeat this mistake that was made about a century ago when ICE engines became the default instead of the then still considered solid alternatives and would think that the only solution must come from battery electric, right.

  8. This is not at all about technology, but as usual about money. So no need to speculate on technological developments. There are currently two events, two separate revenue streams. No-one will touch that. The DNA of both will alter given societal developments. I even see F1 disappearing completely. There has been a chance to merger, which was at the conception of FE. That ship has sailed.

  9. As a fanatic electric passenger car person I don’t want F1 to go fully electric yet and even less so merge with FE.

    I don’t need the car that my heroes drive have the same motor as my own vehicle.

    Also green synthetic fuels would not be an issue if they are 10x more expensive than normal petrol. F1 tyres are also 10x more expensive.
    And green synthetic fuel is already dropping in cost very rapidly. Adopting it in F1 will only accelerate that process.
    It might actually be a life line for F1; rather than only focusing on more efficient combustion PUs they can lead the way on green synthetic fuel which will be needed for many years to come for the existing and still growing stock of combustion engine vehicles.

    1. Well said there @coldfly.

    2. @coldfly good point, going through this page and comment section. It clearly shows that options exist. We all might have our little preferences, and relevance might vary but no reason to believe electric is the only way to go for F1. I join you and I would rather not have F1 going down this path.

  10. I think the myth that people watch a motorsport because of what engine is being run has long been debunked. People watch a motorsport because they like watching sports and competitions. That’s what drives the viewerships.

    All this talk about electric, and road relevancy, and synthetic fuels are all good and well. But at the end of the day I just want to see a bunch of teams and drivers going fast on a track to the top of their ability, engine formula and choice of fuel be darned.

    I watch FE, mostly because it’s free and it’s generally on during the winter break, but I do not enjoy it anywhere near the level of many other motorsports. Not because it’s electric, but because it’s often failing at showing good competition. There’s the circuits, which are often slabs of concrete (parking lots and such) with no “soul” to them. Then there’s a bunch of gimmicks like “attack mode” and “fan boost” that make the competition seem artificial and unfair. Then there’s the “driving” that’s often just trying to block other drivers by late defensive moves that just end up putting other drivers in the wall or off the track, unless they manage to avoid the contact.

    And if a “merger” of F1 to FE were to happen, and it would bring this to F1, than that is where F1 dies. Because F1 is more than an ICE engine, it’s a sport and its a vastly different sport than FE is. It would be like merging American Football and Football (aka soccer, to be clear).

  11. There would be no “merger” with FE, should F1 want to go all-electric it’ll do just that and nobody will say a word. If FE’s still around by then there’s more chance that it would become an alternative feeder series to F2/3. That’s not me being silly, that’s the way of the world.

    Liberty own both and will be looking to maximise long term shareholder value, it’s how they work, and I can’t see any merger scenario where something the size of F1 doesn’t swallow FE whole for minimal increase in value. Agag talking about F1 is just him trying to raise the value of his stake in FE, no more.

  12. My mind changes Agag to Agrajag when I’m reading articles like this. Think I need help.

  13. I don’t see how this merge would be a good thing for Formula e. With the exception of being electric, there aren’t really any features of Formula e that should be transferred to F1. Energy management, for example, is interesting in Formula e, but is not a path I, or most others, would want F1 to do down. The same is true for the gimmicky qualifying system. Attack mode is also an exciting feature, but it is in Formula e as a replacement for tyre pitstops, and I would not want F1 to get rid of pitstops. Fanboost definitely has to go, but that is unpopular even in Formula e. Also, I doubt the majority of the Formula e teams would be able to afford to run what would essentially be an F1 team, but electric.

    So this merge between the two motorsports would most likely end up being the same as F1 now, but electric, and with a couple of extra teams. I think this would be a good thing for F1, as long as the likes of pitstops are not scrapped, and there is no energy management (apart from small amounts, like they have to save fuel now, but not Formula e levels of energy management). Formula e, on the other hand, would probably get a lot of money from F1 but would then disappear, and a promising motorsport would be gone. It is important to note that this version of the merge would only happen if F1 were given almost total control, and Formula e were only supplying the feature of being electric, but I don’t see the merge happening at all if Formula e wanted any more influence than this. But sooner or later, Formula 1 has to stop powering its cars by fossil fuels, so maybe F1 should just pay Formula e to become electric (if they need to pay, and I’m not sure they would), and then Formula e would have to change to become more ‘Mario Kart-like’ to remain popular as it would have lost its defining feature of being the only electric world championship. That way, both series can remain in existence.

  14. Formula 1 and Formula E should be converging, because in the end the only technology that is going to prevail is electrical technology, be it batteries or hydrogen, and both are within the license that we have with the FIA

    Sounds like a Fund Manager trying to influence his investors into an investment just to grow his portfolio and then move on to the next investment. His shareholding will be rocketing the first day of the merger and he’ll make a fortune out of it. He then will not care a second if the series will vanish in a couple of years.

  15. Stephen Thompson
    11th March 2021, 18:39

    By 2030 ( or maybe sooner) electric will be faster and more dramatic than F1. All the sponsors and manufactures will be there and if that isn’t F1 it’s dead.

  16. RocketTankski
    11th March 2021, 19:30

    I think F1 will merge with LMP1, NASCAR and RedBull Soapbox Race before it merges with Formula E.
    Ultimately, if the world goes all electric then F1 will go all electric, and Formula E will become a feeder series or cease to exist.
    All this talk of “we have exclusive rights to electric cars” would be a light snack for the juggernaut of F1.

  17. @dieterrencken
    Two comments, exactly word for word 🤣

  18. This all becomes moot if FE cars become faster than F1 cars with close to equivalent range.

  19. Agag did say converge not merge. It seems inevitable any powertrain evolution will be more electric as with the actual car/sportscar/supercar market. I fully expect that until big oil’s sponsorship wanes F1 will adopt one of the stopgap technologies also put up by the conglomerates as ‘realistic’ in the real world. Aramco’s big push in this year shows the ethically compromised sponsorship involvement steeply increasing (history repeating) so Agag may have to wait a while for a more acute convergence i.e if Shell start building battery plants rather than spruiking hydrogen…
    All these global series: F1, FE, FeX – have powertrains, rules and formats in flux. I’d be happy if, as it plays out, they also have focus on their sum green cred – and show reductions year on year of overall carbon footprint.

  20. I still believe it would be better for everyone if Hydrogen is the preferred option around the world. It’s the most abundant element in the Universe. Why people are causing more ecological damage by digging lithium, I don’t know.

    Besides, Hydrogen is non-polluting, delivers performance thats only 5% less than Petrol/Gassoline, and it’s only by-product is water. That’s the route we should all be going down, let alone F1

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