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Jeff Dodds: Formula E boss plans to move into pole position

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Jeff Dodds: Formula E boss plans to move into pole position

jeff Dodds has been a Formula One fan “all my life,” he says. That’s probably a good thing because, as CEO of the Formula E electric racing series, he should find the comparison to its fossil fuel cousin a constant one.

So he takes it head on. Such is the growth and improvement of technology in Formula E that one day, he says, it is “realistic that the question of whether the two can exist together” will be raised. talking with him Observer At the racing company’s headquarters in west London, he adds that perhaps one day, as Formula E develops, “there won’t be (both).”

The skepticism of Formula One fans is forgivable. The petrol-powered series boasts 1.5 billion viewers and several hundred thousand spectators at each race (including 480,000 at Silverstone, the birthplace of motorsport in the UK). Formula E has 225 million television viewers, an attendance of tens of thousands and hardly any coverage by traditional Western media.

However, Formula E has technology (and perhaps geography too) on its side. The global shift towards electric vehicles seems inevitable, and the transition is led by Asia, and particularly China, where more and more fans are embracing electric motorsports. Thousands of people have flocked to this weekend’s Shanghai ePrix.

Dodds has led the business for the past year. Sitting in the Formula E offices, wearing a racing-style tracksuit adorned with sponsor logos, he exudes the forceful charm of a man used to pressing the skin of the racing paddock and persuading the world that they should want to be there too.

The electric racing series is now in its tenth season, having started in 2014 in Beijing. It was the brainchild of Alejandro Agag, a Spanish businessman, and Frenchman Jean Todt, then president of the FIA ​​(Fédération International de l’Automobile), which governs motor sport worldwide.

From the start, Agag and Todt emphasized the race’s low-carbon credentials, even claiming it was carbon neutral, albeit thanks to controversial offsets.

Dodds says sustainability is “part of our DNA”, but there is plenty of evidence that green credentials don’t matter much to motorsport fans of any kind. Formula E itself has a Saudi sponsorship deal and this year held a race weekend in Riyadh.

There were teething problems with Formula E. Teams in the first series had to change cars mid-race because their batteries couldn’t last the entire race. But electric cars have come a long way since then, with lighter and longer-lasting batteries. A new generation of cars will be able to go from 0 to 100 km/h in 1.8 seconds, surpassing Formula 1 in acceleration, and will reach a maximum speed of 320 km/h. As technology improved, the series attracted audiences and investors: media companies Liberty Global (the owner behind F1’s recent boom, fueled by the popular Netflix series). Drive to survive) and Warner Bros. Discovery purchased in 2015.

Formula E does not avoid all links to fossil fuels: Jeff Dodds, centre, with actor Adrien Brody and designer Georgina Chapman at the Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty Images

Dodds is tasked with growing Formula E (after a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic). But his recent work – as chief executive of Dutch telecoms company Tele2 and then chief operating officer of Virgin Media O2 – does not seem to make him an obvious choice to lead a motorsport series.

However, let’s go back a little further and the quote makes more sense. Dodds was born in Kent into what he calls a “very working-class family”: his mother was a nurse and his father a firefighter. He was “fascinated by cars from a very early age” and chose jobs in the automotive industry when he left school, working in sales and marketing for Volvo and later for Honda. He says that he caught the motor virus at the Japanese company, which at that time competed in Formula One cars, motorcycles and motorboats. “I think they even ran lawnmowers at one point.”

A set of Phil Mickelson’s clubs in his office is evidence of a stint at US golf equipment maker Callaway, but he soon moved into telecommunications, eventually managing 17,000 people at Virgin Media O2. Liberty Global had bought Virgin Media in 2013, and when Dodds told CEO Mike Fries that he wanted to leave telecommunications, the American told him to “stay at the hoop for a while” – a basketball metaphor.

The Formula E ball has now fallen to Dodds, with Liberty and Warner happy to endure big losses (€242 million in 2021 and 2022, according to their latest UK accounts) in search of growth.

He acknowledges that “not enough people know us” but says Formula E now has 385 million fans, while F1 has 800 million according to the same survey methodology. “Across Japan, China and Indonesia, we’re seeing incredible growth in the fan base,” he says.

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Moving forward in Europe and the United States is more complicated: German manufacturers Audi and BMW pulled out in 2021. “Before my time,” Dodds says hastily, suggesting it may have been due to doubts about the pace of the manufacturers’ transition. to electric cars.

Formula E now has 11 teams, including the UK’s Jaguar and McLaren, Japan’s Nissan, Germany’s Porsche and Chinese battery maker Envision. One last space on the grid is for sale. Dodds says he would consider the Germans “reunited”, and drops the name of Fred Vasseur, director of the Ferrari F1 team, with a studied matter-of-factness that suggests the company is not interested. But above all, he courts other Chinese manufacturers.

Their proposal: eyes around the world at a fraction of the cost of Formula One. Buying a Formula One team could cost more than $1 billion, with an annual cost cap of $140 million before driver salaries. pilots. Formula E’s cost cap is $14 million, and a team could cost between $25 million and $30 million.

Costs are lower because most elements of racing cars – from the chassis to the batteries – are identical and research focuses on the motors and the software that controls them. That upsets some racing purists, who value the battle between constructors, but avoids Formula One’s “Max Verstappen problem”: the dominance of the Red Bull team. The races are usually held in city centers, which takes advantage of the cars’ strengths: impressive acceleration and relatively low noise.

This will change as the series looks for larger circuits to match the longer ranges of the batteries. Dodds says Formula E could start alternating 40-minute top-speed races with longer-range tactical battles.

He and Formula E face a tough task to win over motoring fans. But as the world’s automotive center of gravity shifts toward Asia and electric cars become the global norm, he may find that there is no need.


Age fifty
Family Married to Maria. Two children and two cats.
Education Oakwood Park Primary School, Maidstone, then whilst working he gained an MBA from Westminster Business School, a master’s degree in international marketing from Robert Gordon University and an honorary doctorate from Bournemouth University.
Pay “I won’t reveal details about this case,” but fairness in business is part of it.
Last vacations Easter holidays in Doha, Qatar with the family back from the Tokyo ePrix.
The best advice you have ever been given. “Usain Bolt once told me that he always enjoyed winning relay races more than individual events… The feeling of winning with a team is much better than winning alone.”
Words you use too much More of an expression: “How could we prove that?”
how do you relax Gym, golf, shooting, reading.

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