motor racing

A green dream for Aznar’s son-in-law

Alejandro Agag hopes to carve out a name for himself in Formula E

Few people would disagree that Alejandro Agag is a man who is going places. The son-in-law of former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, he began his professional career in Spanish politics in the 1980s working as Aznar’s assistant, and was later elected to the European Parliament. In 2002 Agag moved to London to form a telecom, energy and media consultancy firm, and soon expanded into financial fund management, setting up Addax Capital. In 2007, the Financial Times named him as one of the 10 “movers and shakers” of the Spanish economy.

Now, as the CEO of Formula E Holdings, he is the driving force behind the development and operations of the newly formed Formula E Global Championship, featuring high-performance electric cars capable of reaching speeds of more than 300 km/h. On January 6, a Spark-Renault SRT-01E Formula E car was given its first test drive in Las Vegas.

For most of the last decade, Agag has been immersed in sport, acquiring the Formula 1 television rights for Spain. Thanks to his involvement in promoting the sport, Agag has since secured some of the largest sponsorship deals in the sport to date. In 2008, Agag’s Barwa Addax Racing Team won the GP2 Series Championship, and then came second in 2009. Agag is also a friend of Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, with whom he jointly owns English Premier League soccer side Queens Park Rangers.

But it is in the upstart Formula E racing category that Agag aims to make a name for himself, and he has used his contacts in the sport, and in the United Kingdom, to put his plan into action. A year ago, British motorsport company Drayson Racing became the first Formula E team owner. A few months later Michelin signed on as Formula E’s official tire supplier. But Michelin isn’t the league’s only major corporate ally: TAG Heuer has joined as a global partner and Renault (along with Spark Racing) as a technical partner.

Agag has signed a TV rights deal to broadcast races with Sky Television

But the key element in ensuring Formula E’s success has been Agag’s ability to put together a race schedule that includes some of the world’s biggest cities in time for the 2014-15 season, which will run between September and June of next year, among them Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Berlin and Monte Carlo. The latest city to join the roster is Beijing. With its growing pollution problems and an appetite for electric cars, Asia was a major target for Formula E, says Agag, and Beijing as good a place to start as any. Formula E has also announced a race in Bangkok, Thailand, and its preliminary schedule includes Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Not that everybody in the world of motor racing sees much future in Agag’s green dream. “It may look like a racing car, but I can’t see myself getting too excited about a championship where the cars don’t make any noise,” Sebastian Vettel, four-times Formula 1 Championship winner, has said.

Formula E has however attracted some heavyweight support. Movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, who owns a luxury Tesla electric car, has secured one of the 10 team licenses on offer, and will be teaming up with Gildo Pastor’s Venturi. Richard Branson and his Virgin team will also be participating, as will four times Formula 1 Champion Alain Prost’s e.dams team, which already competes in GP2.

Agag says that he has no intention of trying to compete head to head with Ecclestone’s Formula 1 empire, and if anything, Formula E aims to learn from some of the mistakes of its noisier big brother, such as limiting the role of aerodynamics. For the first year, all Formula E cars will be identical, and changes only admitted for the 2015-16 season. Each events will take place on a single Saturday. Agag has signed a television rights deal to broadcast races on Sky Television, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, also head of News International, of which Aznar is a board member.

Jaume Sallarés, a veteran of the Formula 1 scene tasked with marketing Formula E, says that the future of the sport depends on “a balance between performance and sustainability.” This explains why all cars must be fitted with the same tires, regardless of the condition of the track.