An update from Alberto Longo as Formula E looks to Diriyah and Season 8

ABB FIA Formula E World Championship Co-founder and Chief Championship Officer Alberto Longo discusses Maserati, Gen3 and ongoing talks while looking ahead to 2021/22 on the eve of Season 8, which is all set to get underway in Diriyah on 28 January.

Maserati joins the fold

Formula E welcomed aboard its latest manufacturer last week, with the announcement that the historic Maserati Trident would be represented on the grid from the start of the Gen3 era.

Maserati will become the first Italian marque to enter the championship, and it makes its return to single seater competition for the first time in more than 60 years. The brand's Formula E entry is clearly a source of pride for Formula E Co-founder and Chief Championship Officer Alberto Longo.

"We’re incredibly proud and honoured to have such an iconic brand like Maserati jumping into the championship,” says Longo. “It’s a brand with such huge heritage in motorsport, and in single seaters.

"These guys are one of the last European winners at Indianapolis, they have a Formula 1 title with Juan Manuel Fangio – one of the sport’s greatest names – and they were the first manufacturer to line up a female driver in the history of F1. They are pioneers – they always have been, and it’s such an honour to have them join.

"I spoke to Davide Grasso, Maserati's CEO, a couple of days before the announcement and he was cautious about his expectations in the first year. He’s right to be. He knows the level of competition in Formula E and there are a lot of big names challenging for the top. He realises just what a challenge it will be to perform well from the beginning in a championship like Formula E."

Gen3 and the electric revolution

Discussions behind-the-scenes on Gen3's framework - from sporting regulations to the underlying technology and a cap on costs - between the FIA, Formula E and its teams and partners have been longstanding but fruitful, with Maserati highlighting technology transfer and the development opportunities Gen3 opens up for its road cars as a key factor in its decision to join.  

READ MORE: Gen3 is coming

"The company has its Folgore initiative, which sees an electric model of every road car it makes - it’s a natural fit," adds Longo. "There’s no better championship for them to come back to motor racing with than ours, given its plans for the future of its production cars – and Maserati have highlighted that.

"They see Formula E as the perfect proving ground and laboratory for honing its road car tech, and the “purest expression” of its sporting and competition heritage. For a manufacturer with such a history to speak in those terms – even given its focus on EVs and its future – is huge.

"What’s key is the two or three major changes we’ve made for Gen3; they have proven decisive factors for Maserati, as well as in discussion with others. They didn’t place such a focus on the cost cap but the technology transfer possible with the new technical framework we have coming was key for them. We have a number of examples of where manufacturers’ learnings in Formula E have improved the tech of their road cars – in both software and hardware development – and Maserati, I’m sure, are looking at exactly that.

READ MORE: Formula E's new financial regulations

"Being part of the electric revolution is where most of the big manufacturers want to want to be, and need to be, given the climate situation, and the market. Some have left the ecosystem, yes, but I have always retained a calm belief. There’s been a lot of traction behind-the-scenes, that there will be other manufacturers ready to join.

"Those of us who have been in motorsport long enough understand how cyclical manufacturers’ participation in series is. They come and go, and hopefully for us, it will not only be Maserati joining the Formula E grid but there will be more news to come in the very near future."

Fromula E's Season 8 preview

Sporting updates

There are significant changes set for Season 8, before we get to Gen3. Formula E's 2021/22 calendar is its most extensive yet, with 16 races on the schedule including first visits to Jakarta, Indonesia and Vancouver, Canada as well as the finale in Seoul, South Korea. The sporting regulations have seen major tweaks, with all-new qualifying, added time and increases in power output for Gen2's swansong.

"On the sporting side, from Season 8 on, we’ve got a unique new qualifying format. I’m really looking forward to seeing it play out – it’s exciting, and something fresh," adds Longo. "The head-to-head duels will pile on the pressure for drivers and the format rewards the consistently quick, and those that can deal with that pressure. It’ll be intriguing to watch and see who best deals with it.

READ MORE: The new qualifying format explained

"With the races, we’ve also added time in the regulations for neutralisations, which means fans watching on will get more action on-track – making up for time spent under cautions and the like.

"Into Gen2’s final season, we’re also going to have 10% more power during the races with now 220kW and a maximum of 250kW in ATTACK MODE. All of these innovations will bring a big show to the fans in the city centres in which we race, as well as those watching back at home on TV.

"We have been thinking, working closely together with the FIA, about how we should progress to highlight the uniqueness of Formula E and after months of study and countless simulations we have settled on these changes that will become a reality in Diriyah, in less than two weeks’ time."

A close, crucial relationship with the FIA

Longo has been a Formula E fixture from the very beginning, as one of the championship's founding figures. Key to the championship's rapid development has been a close and collaborative relationship with the FIA and former President Jean Todt.

READ MORE: The story of Formula E

Formula E's Co-founder emphasised how critical that relationship has proven, and will continue to, as the governing body embarks on its own new era with newly-elected President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

"What is critical, before with President Todt and now with President Ben Sulayem, is that we feel the support," says Longo.

"They understand we were born to be different and working closely with the FIA has given us any number of innovations in developing Formula E – and together we have managed to do what would have been unthinkable even 10 or 15 years ago. We’ve had a huge amount of support from the FIA and I’m sure we’ll continue to have that relationship in the future as well."

What to expect from Season 8 and the Diriyah opener

The championship's founding sporting principles of world-class, open, equitable competition - where any combination of driver and team has the ability and opportunity to come out on top given hard work, engineering brilliance and driving talent - has consistently produced strong competition and close racing over Formula E's seven seasons to-date.

For 2021/22, the altered qualifying format should see those on form become more able to consistently fight for a spot higher up the starting grid. That though, won't mean any driver is any less likely to have a chance of silverware given the nature of E-Prix - providing they do the "best possible job", says Longo.

"Looking to Season 8, we should see those drivers, teams and manufacturers that do the best possible job, on a consistent basis, looking at those top 10 positions. In Formula E, though, even if you’re quick enough in qualifying to start at the front, there’s no guarantee of staying there. That’s the key element.

Formula E's best season openers

"What we laid down 10 years back – what we wanted – was a championship that was open for everyone to compete for race wins and ultimately, titles. That the new qualifying should reward the strongest package of driver and car on a more regular basis doesn’t change too much. It’s such a competitive grid that there’s so much left to do in the race itself to make good on a strong qualifying performance.

"Diriyah last season was groundbreaking, and it continues to be so – as the most efficient night race in the world. There’s no other system in use like ours. I just love going to Saudi Arabia. The track is unique and it’s a real showcase of the country itself – racing amid a UNESCO heritage site. There’s real history there and it’s one of the favourites of everyone in the paddock."

Looking to the future

"There’s news to come in terms of not only teams and manufacturers but also cities and sponsors – you’ve seen that this week with Hyderabad signing a letter of intent to host the championship," says Longo. "We’re excited to now be able to explore the opportunity of bringing world-class motorsport back to India.

"All the work we have done during the pandemic amid the restrictions and the ongoing situation has laid the groundwork. The whole team at Formula E has been excellent, and that work has helped to generate a real appetite for Formula E from partners, broadcasters, prospective entries and host cities. I’m so proud of the team and of the company.

"Season 8 will be an exciting one and we’re looking forward to signing off a special Gen2 era in the best manner possible before we welcome in Gen3."

Formula E is back on 28 & 29 January as Season 8 gets underway in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. For all the latest, sign up to the Newsletter