Dear Formula E: I’m not ‘negative’ about your event, but it’s not my job to sell it either

Contrary to what the sport’s powerbrokers may think, the Post does not have an agenda against the Hong Kong race – perhaps next year they will show the people of the city a little more respect

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2016, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2016, 11:53am

By any measure, Alejandro Agag and Jean Todt are hugely impressive individuals.

They’re the chief executive of Formula E and the president of world motorsport governing body FIA, respectively.

Both speak at least four languages, are highly intelligent, very rich, and have major influence with powerful people and organisations all over the world.

Agag, 46, was an aide to Spain’s president aged just 25, and a member of the European parliament at just 28.

Todt, 70, had a successful career as a rally co-driver before guiding Peugeot to victory in multiple racing disciplines as director, then overseeing Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s Formula One dominance.

As for their personal lives, Agag married then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s daughter in 2002, with guests including the country’s king and queen. Todt’s partner since 2004 has been glamorous Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh.

It’s fair to say both are doing quite well.

Which made it all the more bizarre last weekend at the Formula E race in Hong Kong when they took great exception to what I thought were a couple of fairly innocuous questions.

I asked for an explanation of the screens around the Central Harbourfront track denying the Hong Kong public a free view of the action, and how long the race could continue to be held if it made a HK$50 million loss every year.

Hong Kong Formula E race to stay at Central Harbourfront in 2017, says Tourism Board’s Peter Lam

Agag gave a fine precis of his firm’s stance, as you might expect from a politician. Todt took great exception to such “negativity”, castigating me from the stage for my “lack of support”.

He said it was the “media’s responsibility to sell the event”, a ludicrous and insulting notion.

After that, the pair cornered me to ask why the South China Morning Post was so “negative” about Formula E.

As curious onlookers watched our argument, I informed Mr Todt that I was not employed to sell his product and nor did I appreciate being publically chastised for doing my actual job. Luckily his phone rang and he walked away before our strained tempers hit breaking point.

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But for the avoidance of doubt, I’ll repeat here what I told the pair.

As a sports journalist, I want to see as many sporting events, major and minor, in Hong Kong as possible.

As a supporter of electric car technology, I hope Formula E continues to grow, in Hong Kong and beyond, and overtakes F1.

As a proud Hong Kong resident, it would be terrific if the city could have a regular event in the city centre attracting the level of global interest of an F1 race.

But some sections of the public had valid concerns, which Formula E and the FIA might have addressed ahead of time, instead of expecting the supplication to which I must assume they are accustomed from media and others in the cities to which they bring their roadshow.

Hong Kong’s Formula E debut was an incident-packed thriller - and it’s just the start

“I’m surprised it was as successful as it was,” somebody who had dealings with organisers in the build-up told me this week. There were more than a few people from the sports, marketing, media and PR industries in the city who were frustrated with the way they were treated.

But the event was a sell-out (of sorts), according to the organisers, and those in attendance seemed to enjoy it – albeit the grandstands seemed heavily swayed to the corporate hospitality crowd rather than genuine petrolheads (or should that be batteryheads).

The race was a thriller and the Tourist Board will be delighted with how terrific Hong Kong looked on the worldwide TV coverage.

Drivers said they were impressed compared to other cities on the series, despite a few minor blips (“they could do with a few more toilets in the paddock,” laughed Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist), and though the circuit could be improved, they were looking forward to coming back.

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Yes, some in Hong Kong will carp at anything new.

And though the Post has a plurality of voices in its comment sections, as an organisation we are never “negative” about any event just for the sake of it.

Nor it is our responsibility blindly to provide them with free PR.

Perhaps Messrs Agag and Todt might bear that in mind. I look forward to seeing them next year – if I have not been forever banned from all FIA events ...