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Renault e.dams driver Sebastien Buemi in action at last year’s Hong Kong e-prix. Photo: SCMP / KY Cheng

‘China is going to lead the electric car revolution,’ says Formula E chief Alejandro Agag as he targets return to the mainland for fledgling motorsport

Ahead of Hong Kong return, the racing series is desperate to establish a base on the mainland to capitalise on government’s new electric-car push

Formula E boss Alejandro Agag has revealed plans are under way to bring mainland China back into the fold of the electric racing series.

“China is one of our pillars,” said Agag. “Of course we have Hong Kong, which is great, but now we are working on a second race, in mainland China.

“Those two races would be for the long term and would be the base for electric car racing in China [because] the electric car market in China is where The Frontier is.”

Mainland China hosted the first Formula E Grand Prix – won by Audi Sport ABT’s Lucas di Grassi in Beijing in 2014 – and again opened the season in 2015.

But suitable arrangements could not be made for last season, and Hong Kong picked up its first major international motorsport event.

Alejandro Agag, chief executive of Formula E; attends a press conference of HKT Hong Kong ePrix in Admiralty. Photo: SCMP/Dickson Lee

China has placed itself at the forefront of the push for the motor industry to go electric, with the government stating last week that manufacturers would have to ensure 12 per cent of the vehicles they put on the road were electric by 2020.

Watch: How Formula E transformed Hong Kong’s harbourfront

“I think the direction is realistic,” said Agag. “What is good in China is the government sets the direction and gives clarity to the actors in the market and then the actors can operate. I think China is going to be the leader of the electric revolution.”

Agag was speaking on the sidelines of the Circuit Ricardo Tormo just outside Valencia on the second day of Formula E’s official preseason testing.

Formula E testing near Valencia. Photo: Formula E

The circuit kicks off its fourth season with the FIA Hong Kong E-Prix double-header around the Central Harbourfront across the weekend of December 2-3.

Ten teams will contest Formula E’s fourth season, with a pumped-up presence from motorsport giants Audi.

Major manufactures Porsche and Mercedes are set to join in season five – when rapidly improving technology will mean drivers will only need to use one car per race. Currently, they have to switch cars when their batteries run out.

Watch: On board the cars in Hong Kong

Agag admitted to being surprised at how far Formula E had come so quickly, considering the concept was only first mooted back in 2012.

“We are far beyond our expectations,” he said. “It’s been like a snowball gathering momentum. When we created it of course we had hopes but even in the first season we didn’t know if there was going to be a second season.

The Hong Kong ePrix will return to Central Harbourfront. Photo: SCMP

“We’ve got to the point where the perception in the market, in the motorsport world, is that Formula E is not the next big thing, it is here. The next big thing is happening. The industry is going electric.”

Agag said it wasn’t so much that Formula E was changing the world, but that the planet was changing of its own accord.

“City pollution and climate change have become a much more immediate problem,” he said. “And electric cars are a very direct way to fight city pollution. People are a lot more worried and a lot more responsible than they were five years ago.

“Also there is the technology and this is like the digital revolution. It’s like the mobile phone revolution. It is unstoppable. It’s not us. It’s the world. The world has changed.”

Action from last year’s race. Photo: KY Cheng / SCMP

Organisers of the Hong Kong event have reached out to the public for its second edition, and it seems to be having the desired effect with a ballot for free access to the e-Village entertainment area attracting more than 23,000 entries by the end of September.

There were concerns last year raised over just how many people could see the event and the old bugbear of disruption to the city’s roads. Agag said such worries come with the territory.

“The criticism will always happen,” he said. “If you go to Monaco, the critics have been there for 89 years. That’s just the way it is.

“If you race in a city not everyone can see and you have to shut down some streets. That’s inevitable for a city race. But once you have done it people see that these bad things are not so bad and the really cool thing is that we have this event in Hong Kong.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Formula E eyes return of Chinato the fold