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James Barclay, Jaguar Racing | “Formula E is the perfect platform to tell the world about our electrification expertise”

Ahead of the fourth round of the Formula E season in Mexico, James Barclay, team director, Jaguar Racing, gave a manufacturer’s take on why the electric motor racing series is proving so appealing to car brands and non-endemic sponsors.

Why do you think Formula E is so appealing as a sponsorship proposition?

In comparison to other parts of the sport it is quite cost effective still, but we’re definitely seeing that increase very quickly. It ticks a lot of the criteria for brands coming into sponsorship these days. We hear a lot from sponsors around the need for properties that have a strong sustainability story that talks to their own ambitions and objectives as brands. Brands want properties that engage audiences the majority of time in the heart of key metros and want activities which are close to their consumer bases. One reason we came in, and I’m sure many other manufacturers did as well, is the sport is so accessible. Clearly you get that through the obvious things like the broadcast but just generally on a Formula E weekend the sport is very easy to be part of because it’s right in the middle of a city. From a demographic point of view, Formula E talks not only to current consumers but to future consumers as well.

Formula One sporting boss Ross Brawn recently said there would be “nothing to stop” Formula One going electric. What would you think as a manufacturer if that were to happen?

[Formula E chief executive] Alejandro Agag has publicly said that Formula E has exclusive use of that technology as an FIA championship. Another championship can’t just come and take that away. Alejandro and the FIA agreed [on that exclusivity] at a very early stage and obviously that’s a very important part of what the investors in Formula E have bought into. It’s important for everyone involved that that exclusivity is in place, which is what Alejandro publicly said.

James Barclay with Jaguar Racing driver Nelson Piquet Junior

Can you expand on why you chose Formula E and not Formula One? Jaguar used to have a team in Formula One.

We did a lot of work around our return to the sport. We didn’t just want to return for the sake of it; it had to be for the right reason that was aligned to our future. Battery electric vehicles are absolutely key to our future and we publicly said from 2020 onwards, we would start to offer mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full battery electric vehicles across the Jaguar Land Rover Range. So for us it was moving right into the bullseye of where we are as a car company, and the perfect platform for us to tell the world about our electrification expertise.

The second reason was the fact that we raced in city centres, not traditional race circuits, so we bring our race activities to new audiences. Our first race was in Hong Kong in 2016 – the first time a motor race ever happened in Hong Kong – that was the best proof point of just how unique this formula is. And then, thirdly, is the transfer of technology from the racetrack to the road. In our two-and-a-bit seasons now, we already have a really healthy transfer of technology from the sport into our future electric vehicles.

Tell us about the partners that you are working with and the partners other teams are working with. What attracts them to the sport?

If you look at the brands that are coming into the formula, it’s everyone from the likes of Panasonic from an automotive context, and a consumer brand context, to the likes of Hewlett-Packard and all the complimentary industries to that. You look at the likes of Shell and Total joining the DS Techeetah team – these are traditionally fuel companies that actually are rapidly investing in fast-charging capabilities. It is actually about showcasing that the forecourts of the future will have fast-charging and fossil fuels. From that point of view, the sport has a really broad appeal.

The final thing that we’re now starting to see, with the likes of Heineken and Hugo Boss joining, is the sport moving to business-to-consumer brands, which we really believe will be our next growth phase for sponsors joining teams, as well as the championship.

What are the mechanics of your deal with Panasonic? Is there a value-in-kind element to the deal where Panasonic technology is used in the team’s cars?

A little bit of both. We work closely with Panasonic in our production cars – they provide a number of different components for our production vehicles. They also work with us on the race team in terms of some of the technologies we have in the race car and also obviously from a consumer brand point of view, we use a lot of their technology products in our team environment, everything from their laptops, very robust laptops, through to their tough books, which are basically touchscreen, mobile tablets that we can use in the garage. They’re actually a very integrated sponsor that helps us deliver performance through their tools and technology. It’s a platform fundamentally for them rather than a value-in-kind deal, a sponsorship deal with a benefit in terms of what they can use that platform to promote their product over and above what they invest from a sponsorship perspective.

James Barclay with Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag at the launch of the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy

This is the first season of the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy based on Jaguar production cars. Can you tell us about the series and Jaguar’s role in setting it up?

We were the first premium brand to come into Formula E. As a premium brand we felt it was the right direction for us and that our competitor set would follow. By being first in, we had that slight head-start that allowed us to come in for a season and the one thing which became apparent is that Formula E didn’t have any support categories because everything has to be electric on a race weekend. We were also the first premium brand with a fully-electric road car. The Jaguar I-Pace launched in Geneva in 2018 and that was a perfect opportunity for us to turn that road car into a racing car. So we worked with Formula E and with the FIA to create the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy – the world’s first production, fully battery electric production racing car. So you can now race the road car you can buy in the showroom – it’s fully electric.

Are you saying your early involvement with Formula E gave you some negotiating power to demand the new series?

I think it was important from Formula E’s perspective; you have to be invested in the formula already. I don’t think a brand that was unassociated with the championship would come in and have that opportunity. I think that was an opportunity and a benefit we had as a proven investor in the concept. I think that’s very important to Formula E in terms of the overall ecosystem that those who are committed are the ones who get the opportunity.

The most common question around Formula E is what it will take to get more media coverage and for the sport to seep into the public consciousness. Do you think it is getting more media attention now?

Now it’s about transcending just being a new sporting category and actually becoming sports news, as well as tech news, and that’s the progression the championships is on. Deals like the one the sport has signed with the BBC and the manufacturers who are involved, and the drivers involved, are absolutely key to that. F1 correspondents are obviously being asked by their editors to cover Formula E now because it’s this growing force in the sport. You can’t really ignore it when for the first time in the history of the sport you have more manufacturers in one category than ever before.

If you look at the migration of brands from other categories of motorsport, the likes of Hugo Boss, obviously the likes of DHL that have been there from the start, Heineken joining, you look at the scale of some of these deals that are coming in and of course ABB as title sponsor – one of the biggest sponsorship deals in the history of the sport – these are major milestones and show that the sport has fully arrived and is beginning to transcend just being an industry thing.

Are the 11 manufacturers in Formula E really a record for a motorsport?

It’s not a record in terms of the number of participants, in terms of the number teams, but the number of manufacturers that make up the current 11 in the sport – next year it’s 12 with the addition of Porsche – the sheer number of automotive manufacturers in one category, that’s never been seen before. You have all the key German brands together for the first time really in a sport – again, in a single-seater category, that’s never been seen before. The fundamental reason is that every major manufacturer in the world has battery electric vehicles in their future and if that’s the case, you have to be in Formula E.

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