Formula e Supercharged

FIA president Jean Todt: ‘We need to increase the use of electric cars’

Story highlights

Formula E races in heart of major cities

Electric car series devised by FIA president

"Increase EVs in cities," says Jean Todt

Hong Kong, New York could join calendar

CNN  — 

There are no defined lanes for the rush-hour traffic that rumbles across the Place de La Concorde in Paris, instead there is a cacophony of angry car horns and impatient engines.

Parisian motorists must choose their lines with all the dexterity of the Formula E drivers who raced around the city’s chic seventh arrondissement in April’s inaugural Paris ePrix.

Surveying the petrol-fueled melee from the FIA headquarters in the Place de la Concorde is the president of motorsport’s governing body, Jean Todt.

It was the former rally driver’s daily view from his office window that offered him a vision for the future of motor racing – the world’s first championship for electric cars.

todt screengrab supercharged intv
Jean Todt: 'We need to increase use of electric cars'
01:58 - Source: CNN

MORE: ‘Magical’ Paris shows ‘strength’ with Formula E race

“We talk a lot about pollution, CO2, climate change, and we have to take that into consideration when we discuss regulations for ongoing championships,” Todt told CNN.

“I thought it was important to create a specific series that could be adapted to the needs of the cities because we need to increase the use of electric cars in our cities.

“That’s why it was a great combination to find the biggest cities in the world, who are climbing on to the use of electric cars, and to implement a single-seater category with electric power.”

Lower emissions and running costs make electric vehicles (EVs) – which have a range of between 100 (62m) and 480 km (298m) according to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook report – perfect for city living. There were 665,000 passenger EVs on the road worldwide in 2014, with numbers rising all the time.

MORE: The world’s most exciting electric supercars

After dedicated work, Todt’s vision for an electric championship to help market EVs was realized with the inaugural Formula E race in the Chinese captial Beijing – a city with regularly reported “unhealthy” levels of pollution partly blamed on gas-guzzling cars – in September 2014.

Formula E is now into its second season and its success has seen metropolises Mexico City and Paris join the calendar in 2016.

“We have iconic cities and iconic locations within the cities,” added Todt, who toured the globe as team principal of the Ferrari F1 team from 1994 to 2007. “Paris is now part of that.

“It’s hard to believe we can host a race in Paris in this location. The track is just 50 meters from the National Assembly, it’s one of the city’s best locations. In Formula E, we have the names of cities but also the locations inside the cities.”

formula e steering wheel graphic
A Bird's eye view of Formula E
02:47 - Source: CNN

The chance to race on city center street circuits, in contrast to purpose-built Formula One tracks which are often located beyond city limits, is also exciting for the drivers.

“There’s no doubt about it, the atmosphere, the people, the amount of celebrities, the scenery… nothing could be better than being over here racing,” the sport’s defending champion Nelson Piquet Jr told CNN.

“The sky’s the limit and I’m sure we will be racing in all the major cities around the world, it’s just going to blow.”

Racing electric cars in city centers may have the ultimate goal of promoting “greener” transport and tackling pollution, but bringing racing into the cities has hidden hedonistic benefits.

Some of the drivers, and other members of the traveling Formula E community, went off to enjoy cabaret at the famous Moulin Rouge over the ePrix weekend in Paris.

The appeal of combining a day’s motor racing with a trip to a major city also extends to Formula E’s fans.

“What could be better than Paris and London?” Diane Bird, who has traveled to several races to watch her son DS Virgin Racing driver Sam, told CNN. “Long Beach was quite nice too!”

“What I like about Formula E in particular is that the race are in the city,” said Fabian Kuttenkeuler from Munich, one of 20,000 fans said to have come to the Paris ePrix.

“I haven’t been to Paris for a while. I was hoping for better weather but we did an evening river cruise on the Seine. Lovely. I love the French food.”

The arrival of a race amid the grandeur of Paris was seen as a major coup for Formula E. The DNA of motorsport is embedded in France, as the first motor race was held there in the 1890s, and staging an electric race on the streets of Paris is a signal of approval for the sport’s newest series.

Rumors swirled in Paris that Hong Kong, New York and Montreal were all serious contenders to join Formula E in 2017 and beyond.

Formula E’s quest to race within the world’s greatest city limits looks boundless.

Which city would you like to see added to Formula E’s global calendar? Get in touch on CNN Sport’s Facebook page!