'The world is going in our direction' - Formula E and the future

"I love Formula One, dearly. If I live for 100 years I will still love Formula One. But the world is going in the direction of electric, we don't know how long it will take but we have to make a change. It's not that we want to, it's almost mandatory. If we continue like this for 100 years there will be no planet so basically there is no option."

Those were the strong words of Formula E founder and CEO Alejandro Agag ahead of the London ePrix at Battersea Park, the finale of the all-electric championship's maiden season, which concluded in June and has just completed its first test at Donington Park ahead of the 2015/16 campaign.

It's still the enduring message of the series; Formula E paints itself a bold vision of the future of both the motor racing and car industry. Unlike other motor racing series, Formula E has a defined aim to change an entire industry and, crucially, spearhead that change. Agag makes no qualms about it; his dream is to see a world of only electric cars and he thinks Formula E is the way to bring that about.

Naturally, all the talk of the future this has led to people comparing the fledgling series to F1 and, though those within the sport have made it clear Formula E is not there to oust the other, Sir Richard Branson made headlines for boldly proclaiming it would overtake Formula One in the next four or five years.

Agag is quick to distance Formula E from the comparison.

"We stand no chance against Formula One directly. But we do stand a chance as a separate product ... Hybrid already is there at the pinnacle of motorsport, which is Formula One. Formula One is today hybrid. There is not a fundamental change, it's a good change, but still those cars are combustion cars. What is radically difficult with Formula E was should we go combustion or should we go electric?

"I think the world is going in our direction. This doesn't mean there will not be combustion races - there are still horse races and you wouldn't go by horse around the city."

Focusing on what Formula E means for Formula One is missing the point - the series has no interest in being seen as competing as an alternative. Agag and co seem genuinely inspired by making the world a greener place.

It's hard to disagree with Agag's claim the world is moving with his fledgling series. In Battersea Park it announced a partnership with solar provider Lightsource and made a big point of promoting it throughout the weekend. The entrance scanners were recharged overnight with solar energy. Fans could recharge their phones at points around the park using solar energy. The large screens they watched the action on were charged with solar energy. The safety and medical cars were charged with solar energy. It's a series pushing the message of sustainability at every opportunity.

This coming season, eight manufacturers will join the series after the 10 teams in 2014/15 used an identical powertrain. Opening up the championship allows the manufacturers to pursue their own in-house innovations on certain areas of the powertrain - specifically the e-motor, the inverter, the gearbox and the cooling system - and "further [increases] the series' credentials as a test bed for the development of electric vehicle technology", to quote the original announcement.

This is important to consider when you look at the areas people were quickest to criticise about the race product itself. One big problem, from a viewing perspective, is drivers hopping out of one car into another at their pit stop due to the current limitations in charging battery-powered vehicles. Like F1 and fuel saving, conserving battery power is a big part of a Formula E race.

"We want our batteries to last at least an hour at full racing speeds," Branson explained. "People are working very hard to make that happen so you don't have to change cars after half an hour. It's through motor racing like Formula E that these technologies are pushed forward."

Formula E hopes that progression will be swift. The series plans to introduce regulation progression for the third season, encouraging manufacturers to extend their efforts to improving battery life. The hope is that by Formula E's fifth season all drivers use a single car in races.

Branson thinks the advances being made by Formula E will correlate to the electric car industry.

"I'm willing to bet that 20 years from now there are no new cars being built that aren't battery-driven cars in the world," was another of his bold claims. "The current technology is antiquated technology, it will disappear over the next 20 years and like everything else it will be clean.

"I personally think things are going to move that rapidly now. Petrol-driven cars, what goes on in a petrol-driven engine, is really complicated, antiquated and out of date, polluting and everything. Battery-driven cars are the future. The companies that move quickest in that area [now] are the ones which will dominate the market place."

It may be another optimistic opinion, but the underlying theme is that Formula E and the technologies it is pushing will only get better with time.

Another issue facing the series' debut season was speed, which was capped at around 150mph and could look painfully slow around certain tracks. Branson's driver Sam Bird, winner of the finale at Battersea Park, echoed the sentiments of his boss by pointing to rapid advancements in other modern technologies.

"Just imagine it like your smartphone," Bird said. "If you go back to the first smartphone that came out and you put them up against the smartphones of today, you would think its old hat or old technology. It's the same with Formula E. We'll be able to look back in five or six years' time, the cars will be a lot quicker, we'll be able to re-gen a lot more energy, go a lot further, so this is just the beginning and we're only going to improve with the technology. Hopefully that technology will see an increase in electric cars on the road."

The sound is an issue to some - battery-powered cars aren't notorious for noise. My initial impression from trackside at Battersea Park was that they sound like an X-Wing from Star Wars: A New Hope, perpetually locking s-foils in attack position before attacking the Death Star. To prove I wasn't the only Star Wars nerd in the paddock, a fellow journalist said the gearshifts sounded like a Stormtrooper firing his laser gun. The cars sound as futuristic as the forward-thinking series proclaims to be.

The whirring cars may not create the same trackside sensation as a V10 or a V8 but it's something you feel fans will have to get used to. It may be an unpopular reality but, as one engineer told me in Battersea Park's open and accessible paddock, loud motor racing cars will soon be a thing of the past because noise is just wasted energy.

To credit Agag, he has not tried to make excuses for some of the quirks of Formula E's first season. At his two press conferences in Battersea Park he mentioned "risk" on numerous occasions, saying Formula E will achieve nothing if it does not think outside the box or shied away from being different. Fan Boost - which gives three drivers a five-second, 40-BHP boost based on a pre-race fan vote - is one such risk. Agag has suggested expanding this within the next three years to an in-race vote, giving fans the opportunity to spice up a late fight between two or more drivers.

A ridiculous notion? Maybe, but FanBoost helps boost engagement and awareness, two things the CEO thinks have been key to the series' inaugural season.

Asked if the series had achieved everything in its first season he had wanted, he replied: "Yes, we have. What we wanted to achieve was to put in motion this championship, the big challenge was to get the ball rolling and exist, to create Formula E, to complete the first season. That's how we demonstrate this can be done because many companies and partners and people who wanted to support us liked the idea but wanted to see it there. Now it is there."

Personally, the final impression I got of Formula E was leaving Battersea Park after the conclusion of the 2014/15 championship and speaking to Mike, 43, a life-long motorsport fan who watched the season finale with his young family.

"It's different," Mike said. "I enjoyed the experience ... there's a lot it can improve on but it's a brave new world, isn't it?"

A brave new world indeed, and Formula E is driving straight towards it.