Faisal Al Sahlawi on the next big thing in the world of motorsport, Formula EDubai Autodrome General Manager
What is essentially F1 in eco-friendly cars, Formula E’s popularity is growing at an incredible rate. Predominantly raced on street circuits, we found ourselves curious as to whether the UAE is equipped to host such a spectacle. So we asked Dubai Autodrome’s General Manager Faisal Al Sahlawi about the sport and if the emirate’s premier circuit could adapt to it.
What do you think about the surge of popularity around Formula E?
The rise of an all-electric race series has coincided with the growing popularity of electric cars worldwide. For a new generation of race fans, petrol power may be viewed as a relic of the past and electric as the future. For traditional motor enthusiasts, the lack of engine noise emanating from an electric car is a serious drawback to the entertainment, but the close racing and overall potential of Formula E is slowly converting a growing number of fans to the young series.
What do you think the appeal is of Formula E?
Formula E’s popularity goes back to two reasons: their interactive digital presence and their eco-friendly nature. It’s the only motorsport event in the world that enables fans to play an active role in influencing the outcome of the race. FANBOOST is a digital feature that the sport has introduced through their mobile application, website and Twitter to give fans the opportunity to vote for their favourite driver and award them an extra boost of power during the race just by the click of a button. The second is its eco-friendly and futuristic profile. Corporate interest in the series has drastically risen recently as a form of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and as efforts to establish brand association with a clean type of motorsports. The series’ organisers have worked hard to make their events exciting for race fans, with plenty of off-track activities that coincide with the action on it. Apart from these major reasons, it also boasts close racing and a host of championship contenders, which has been the opposite trend in Formula One lately.
“The rise in Formula E’s popularity goes back to two reasons: their interactive digital presence and their eco-friendly nature.”
What do you think the drawbacks are?
Despite Formula E’s utilisation of digital integration to engage with fans, they still haven’t reached significant viewership numbers or ticket sales as other motorsports. The most probable reason for this is the lack of thrill and engine roars that mark out motorsports as true spectator events. Imagine watching an action movie on mute. Racing is all about the action and the noise, and unfortunately, electric cars do not give most petrol heads the show they seek.
Do you think it’s a phase or here to stay?
When you look at the growing list of manufacturers now on board with Formula E, including the likes of BMW, Audi, Nissan, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Porsche, it is a good indicator that the series will last long-term.
Is bringing Formula E to Dubai Autodrome something that you’re working on? If so, how are the negotiations going?
Dubai Autodrome is not currently in negotiations with Formula E specifically. However, the venue is open to considering it, as it partners well with current forward-thinking initiatives in progress to make the circuit more sustainable.
The sport takes place on street circuits, how difficult/easy will it be to accommodate it?
Dubai Autodrome is an FIA Grade One race circuit, so it is not a problem to run the vehicles on our track. The main hurdle would be to make sure the venue fits the ethos of Formula E. Temporary street circuits are viewed as more sustainable than purpose-built tracks as, once the racing is over, the circuits revert back to normal road use. Currently, there is only one none street circuit on the Formula E calendar, Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico, that is, although the site also doubles as a park. At Dubai Autodrome we are working on ways to transform our facilities and make the venue more sustainable in the future. For example, we are currently organising a project to canvas our existing grandstand and other buildings with solar panels to provide most of our energy needs. It makes good business sense to develop our facilities as more sustainable and eco-friendlier, and initiatives like these will make the circuit more attractive to many race series, including Formula E.
What events has Dubai Autodrome got coming up at the moment for spectators to enjoy?
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, Dubai Autodrome will host Roll Racing DXB on the main straight on consecutive Thursday nights (May 16, 23 and 30), which has been an extremely popular drag racing event for both drivers and spectators. And then every Monday night (May 6, 13, 20 and 27) will feature kart racing with four exciting rounds of the Ramadan Challenge at Dubai Kartdrome.
END OF INTERVIEW
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