Formula E revolution taps into Generation Y

    Story highlights

    • Formula E has embraced digital media
    • Senna: Electric racing "more fun than F1"
    • F1 could 'connect with its fans a bit better'

    (CNN)Fast cars, exotic city locations and boundary-pushing technology has been the recipe for success in Formula One for almost 70 years.

    But these days it's not just petrol-powered racers driving full tilt towards the future: Formula E is also on a mission of discovery.
      The world's only all-electric racing series, just two seasons old, is enjoying experimenting with fan-friendly features, says its CEO Alejandro Agag.
      "Motorsport has been around for a long time and F1 is fantastic but Formula E is new and it's an advantage not to have heritage because we can try crazy things -- it gives you great freedom," Agag told CNN.
      "With big heritage behind you -- with Senna, Prost, Fangio -- you cannot really experiment, but in Formula E we can do whatever we want."
      Innovative features like "Fan Boost" -- where fans can vote to give a driver a temporary energy boost during races -- and 360-degree cameras have shown Formula E's willingness to experiment, giving its supporters the opportunity to interact with the sport in different ways on several platforms.
      Engagement isn't just limited to the digital sphere, either. At races, including last month's Paris ePrix, fans are able to watch the teams in the pit lane as they prepare their cars, "high-five" the drivers at podium ceremonies and even compete against their heroes in a racing car simulation at the "eVillage" entertainment complex.
      Formula E drivers race against the public on simulators before the real action gets underway.
      The formula is proving popular with both fans and drivers.
      "The interaction with fans is amazing," DS Virgin Racing driver and ex-F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne told CNN.
      "I think in Formula E, the tracks are smaller, in city centers (and) it bring a lot more people."
      Nick Heidfeld, who spent 12 seasons in F1 before joining Formula E, agrees.
      "We have street circuits which are huge fun and we've seen very exciting races -- the cars are close enough together for the fans to enjoy it," the German says.
      "The icing on the cake for me is locations. Anywhere we go -- Miami, Berlin, Beijing -- they are outstanding locations. When I arrived in Paris I couldn't believe it -- for me, it's a step above anything else. It's just surreal to drive here."
      A public vote decides which drivers receive a extra energy boost during races.
      Formula E can't compete with its older, petrol-fueled cousin in terms of pace -- the electric cars have a top speed of 140 mph, compared to 225 mph in F1 -- nor its annual turnover, which was estimated to be $1.8 billion in 2014, according to the Formula Money website.

      Downforce debate

      But it might have the edge in entertainment value, says Bruno Senna, nephew of F1 legend Ayrton Senna and driver for the Mahindra Racing team.
      "Of course, they are very different concepts of racing but I think our racing is definitely more fun than F1," the Brazilian says. "We have a bit less artificial aids for overtaking so we can run closer.
      "There are a few more recipes for fun races in Formula E than in F1."
      Senna also laments the aerodynamic arms race that has dominated F1 in recent years, with teams investing tens of millions of dollars in the quest for perfectly engineered front and rear wings.
      "It's a difficult one. The biggest enemy of F1 is downforce and this is where the most money is invested. Unless F1 makes a drastic change to the downforce regulations the racing is going to continue the same and there's nothing you can do about it," Senna argues.
      "If you make wings flat, really square like the cars were in in '70s and '80s, they are much less susceptible to turbulence from the car in front which makes the racing much better.
      "The simpler the aero package, the better the racing is. But F1 is about the peak, the maximum technology, and how can you convince people to say no wings in F1?"

      Revenues up, viewers down

      F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been critical of the dominance enjoyed by the Mercedes team.
      Senna, who spent three seasons in F1 from 2010-2012, isn't alone in thinking F1 has lost some of its sparkle in recent times.
      F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has made clear his dismay at the recent dominance of Mercedes -- the German team won back-to-back constructors' titles in 2014-15, winning 32 out of 38 races over the two seasons.
      This year, the trend has continued with Nico Rosberg taking the checkered flag at the opening four races before Max Verstappen's sensational win at the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend.
      In February, 85-year-old Ecclestone went as far to say that he wouldn't pay to watch an F1 race.
      Processional races may be proving a turnoff for diehard motorsport fans -- worldwide audiences have declined in recent seasons -- down from around 600 million annually in 2008 to 425 million in 2014 -- but revenues from advertising, race hosting fees and TV rights deals are booming.
      This trend looks set to continue, says Jon Stainer, UK & Ireland managing director of sports consultancy Repucom.
      "Formula One still continues to have a strong proposition. The year-round calendar is a great opportunity for brands to tell a narrative," Stainer told CNN.
      "It's also a great opportunity for brands to showcase and demonstrate technology and performance in a real-time event. It's not just about going out and drinking champagne, it's about getting businesses together sharing knowledge, showcasing development."
      Max Verstappen at the recent Spanish GP where the Dutch teenager became F1's youngest winner.
      But there's room for improvement when it comes to exploiting new types of media, he says.
      "It's got some work to do with its digital proposition," Stainer adds.
      "The teams are doing some good work around that creating a narrative -- they associate themselves well with heritage content especially.
      "F1 has a very strong broadcast platform but has an opportunity to connect with its fans a bit better going forward, and it should be looking at digital as a platform to do that."

      Courting the 'fan of tomorrow'

      Two years ago, Ecclestone dismissed social media as "nonsense" but has since changed tack, saying as recently as April that he had been "educated" and now realizes its importance.
      To that end, F1's social media accounts are now on the up -- the official F1 Twitter and Instagram accounts clocked up two million and one million followers respectively earlier this year, while an official F1 Facebook page launched before the start of the 2016 season has more than 2.3 million "likes."
      Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton takes a selfie with fans at the Spanish GP.
      Stainer says nurturing a digital strategy will be vital to F1's success going forward. So what advice would he give Ecclestone?
      "I would talk to him about the consumer and the fan of tomorrow -- that's the future of the sport," Stainer says.
      "This is the millennial generation and the generation after them that consume entertainment and media in a very different way to the traditional audience who consume through a linear broadcast platform."
      It's a necessity for all major sports rights holders, not just F1, to adopt this type of strategy, Stainer argues.

      'Multi-platform success'

      This multi-platform approach has proved successful for Formula E -- with marketing campaigns accelerating the reach of the brand. A recent "Leap of Faith" video where a stuntman backflips over a speeding Formula E car has been viewed more than five million times on YouTube.
      "Formula E are positioning themselves with a very strong digital proposition and fan engagement proposition," Stainer says.
      "A lot of that is facilitated through the fact that it is street racing and their audience skew is slightly younger than a traditional motorsport audience. They are building an entertainment proposition for consumers around the sport in which they are involving and engaging consumers.
      "Fan interest and consumer interest has been growing over the past 12 months and I expect that to continue as it develops the series and as the brands that are investing in it are continuing to develop."
      Formula E's path hasn't always been smooth -- the venture was close to bankruptcy many times in its early days, says Agag, and the recent cancellation of next month's Moscow ePrix outside the Kremlin highlights the pitfalls of trying to stage races on temporary city street circuits.
      But Agag insists the sport is in good health, and the Spaniard is looking forward to the future with optimism and reveling in the alternative route he is plotting.
      Next season is scheduled to start on the streets of Hong Kong, and Agag is optimistic about New York being on the 2017 roster.
      Next year sees more glamorous locations added to the calendar including Hong Kong.

      A 'solution for cities'

      "Formula E needs to be different from everything else that's out there, and racing in cities was one of our main aims of differentiation," the 45-year-old says.
      "It's very difficult to put these races on in the center of cities, but we've just come from Paris where we had an incredible race around Les Invalides ... we couldn't do it if we weren't electric," he adds, pointing to another important message that the sport is trying to deliver of promoting battery-powered vehicles in urban areas.
      "Electric cars are a fantastic solution for cities. The mayors want electric cars, people want electric cars, we want cleaner cities and a better environment. So racing in the heart of cities is essential for Formula E."
      This weekend, the series moves onto downtown Berlin, racing along Karl-Marx-Allee, the monumental boulevard formerly known as Stalinallee.
      The flagship communist building project of the German Democratic Republic became the focus of a workers' uprising in 1953 and May Day military parades during the Cold War.
      Saturday will bear witness to another transformation as drivers battle it out on the two-kilometer track with the championship finely poised -- Lucas di Grassi leads Sebastien Buemi by 11 points with just three races remaining.
      The drivers' championship may be hanging in the balance but Buemi, who spent three seasons in F1 with Toro Rosso, says the road ahead for Formula E is clear.
      "I think they try to do things a little bit differently," Buemi says. "They try to open the sport to more people. When you see what Formula E does with the podium ceremony, when you see the Fan Boost and (the efforts) to interact with the fans -- I think it's a great thing.
      "F1 could learn a little bit from that. They are trying hard as well but I'm sure with what I've seen this season Formula E has a good future."