Formula E: Motorsport’s green revolution comes to South America

Uruguay and Argentina are playing their part in the latest ‘green’ sporting revolution: the Formula E series, which aims to promote electric car use and the development of urban sustainability.

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Best known for the endless noise, dust and gasoline, motor racing can rarely be described as a ‘green’ sport. However, the pioneering new Formula E series is hoping to break this mould by promoting the use and development of electric-powered cars and clean sustainable technology in the automobile industry, in the same way that Formula 1 and other motorsport series have driven innovation and development of countless safety and performance aspects in road cars.

The series launched in Beijing in September this year, with nine races scheduled for the inaugural 2014-2015 season. In a first for competitive motorsport, the cars are 100% electrically powered, a fact that organisers hope will help promote these sustainable technologies and boost the popularity of electric cars, while countering the widely-held belief that such vehicles are unreliable and incapable of delivering high road performance. The importance of this shift in opinion is encapsulated in the views of Formula E’s CEO, Alejandro Agag, who claims that “the electric car is the solution for urban mobility in the future”.

Now, it is the turn of two South American cities to host a competition that has already garnered significant media attention, particularly among those with a focus on green technology and urban sustainability. Round three recently took place in the Uruguayan port city of Punta del Este, on December 13th, while a race will be held round the streets of Buenos Aires early in the new year. The series will be made up of nine races in total, culminating with a race in London at the end of June.

The two South American races are set to provide the region with the chance to play a key part in this experimental series, and so have a stake in the development of low-carbon transport, itself an essential part of any efforts to significantly reduce global carbon emissions and stave off the worst effects of climate change. For Uruguay, the Punta del Este race also marked the first time that South America’s smallest country had hosted a round of a major international motor racing championship.

Ahead of the Punta del Este race, the Uruguayan Energy Minister Ramón Méndez told Spanish-language news agency Efe that the country was very much interested in supporting the development of electric cars, adding that the Energy Ministry had “immediately” accepted the offer from Formula E’s organisers to host a race as it recognised the potential to encourage sustainable urban mobility. The minister claimed that Uruguay is already at the vanguard of Latin American efforts to promote electric cars on a commercial scale, with one of the highest per-capita rates in the region.

Méndez also underlined Uruguay’s recent performance in boosting the contribution of renewables to the country’s energy mix, stating that the electricity powering the Formula E cars in Punta del Este would be “100% from renewable sources”. He added that even by the time the competition returns to Uruguay next year for its second season, renewable energy will be “even more present” in the country, following the instalment of more wind farms (which are expected to provide up to a third of Uruguay’s electricity by 2016).

The expansion of wind power has been behind Uruguay’s impressive recent record on boosting renewable energy production. Wind farms are expected to provide up to a third of Uruguay’s electricity by 2016, while the country could be generating around 90% of its electricity from renewable sources by this date. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Following the successful hosting of the Uruguayan ‘ePrix’ (as the races are known), attention will now turn south across the Río Plata to Buenos Aires, ahead of the January 10th race. Thanks to Argentina’s proud motor racing heritage – being home to the five-time F1 world champion Juán Manuel Fangio, among others – the event is expected to prove popular with local and visiting spectators.

Speaking after the Buenos Aires race was confirmed earlier this year, Mayor Mauricio Macri told reporters “For Buenos Aires to be selected to host a Formula E race […] demonstrates the commitment of the city to embracing new technologies, clean mobility and respect for the environment. The electric vehicle will play a significant role in reducing future pollution in cities across the globe […] and Buenos Aires is pleased to be at the forefront of this”.

The Argentinean event will also see a first in the Formula E series, with the staging of an FE School Series support race featuring students from local schools, who will build their own electric race cars before competing on the same circuit to be used in the main ePrix. The event, which is to be repeated at most of the remaining Formula E races, is being organised by the UK charity Greenpower Education Trust, an organisation which aims to promote sustainable engineering to young people.

The upcoming Argentinean ePrix will see the Formula E cars racing around the iconic Buenos Aires streets. Photo courtesy of .

As well as playing host to the two races, the region is well represented in the drivers’ line-up, in keeping with Latin America’s proud motor racing heritage. The winner of the first race in Beijing and the current championship leader, Lucas di Grassi, is a Brazilian driver who has also previously competed in the crown jewel in motorsport, Formula 1. Other drivers include his countrymen Bruno Senna, the nephew of the legendary three-time F1 champion Ayrton Senna, and Nelson Piquet Junior, son of another Brazilian F1 champion Nelson Piquet, and the Mexican driver Salvador Durán.

To see the Formula E electric cars in action, and to catch highlights of the race in Punta del Este, watch the highlights clip below. To find out more about Formula E, visit the series’ official website.