The key appointment driving Formula E towards an ambitious future
Formula E has a fresh face at the top who isn't holding back on his ambition to see the all-electric championship reach new heights; both in terms of the speed for the next generation of cars and in the quality of racing. Meet Jeff Dodds, whose vision is already taking shape one month into his new role
As it nears the start of its 10th season, Formula E is at a critical juncture. Now a well-established part of the motorsport landscape, it still faces a daunting task to break out from its current position as a niche within a niche to achieve true mainstream recognition, not helped by the COVID-19 pandemic and the quickfire exits of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
Tasked with driving the series to fresh heights is Jeff Dodds, who succeeded Jamie Reigle as the championship’s CEO exactly one month ago. On paper, the 49-year-old Briton has got the perfect resume for the job, having spent part of his career in the automotive sector with major brands like Volvo and Honda, and then latterly working in telecommunications, most notably acting as Virgin Media’s COO from 2019 to 2021.
Autosport sat down with Dodds at last month’s Portland E-Prix, which marked his first race officially on the job - although he had also attended the previous race at Jakarta in an unofficial capacity. Addressing a wide range of topics about the present and the future of the championship, he articulates his vision with confidence and clarity, belying the fact he has been in post for such a short period.
“People talk about the first 100 days as chief executive, but I think that term was coined almost 100 years ago,” says Dodds. “With the pace of life today, within 30 days you need to have a good feeling for changes you can make quickly.
“Already we’ve made some structural changes, and we announced the [2023/24] calendar, which required some quick decisions to be made. So I feel like I’m already into it. I’m excited, I’ve loads of energy to bring to it, and everywhere I look, I see potential.
“We have a great tailwind. Every month the percentage of electric cars sold around the world goes up and up. My mission is to harness all the potential, that momentum, and expose this sport to more and more people.”
From the outset, Dodds makes it clear he is a fan of ‘traditional’ motorsport, professing to be a regular viewer of both Formula 1 and MotoGP, but he is also a major proponent of the type of racing Formula E has been producing so far in Gen3. The tendency towards tactical energy-saving races - with Portland providing a particularly extreme example of the genre - has divided paddock opinion, but Dodds suggests it’s not going anywhere soon.
Constant jostling in the pack at Portland earned mixed reviews, but Dodds is unapologetic
Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images
“I don’t think people are particularly excited about watching processional racing, or going into a race knowing who will win, unless the car has a problem,” he argues. “I enjoy watching Formula 1, but I don’t like processional races, which is why I like bike racing as well. And I actually think there are some similarities with what you see here with bike racing, if you think about the number of overtakes you see and the strategic nature of the racing.
“It's very different from Formula 1, where we would be fairly confident at the moment in saying that Red Bull would win and these cars would be in the top three. An incredible advantage about this series is that none of the teams know who will win.”
This conversation took place prior to the Portland race that generated a record 403 overtaking moves, and although Dodds admits that excessive energy-saving might be off-putting to some fans, he suggests that the slightly less extreme Berlin (190 overtakes) and Monaco (116) races provide the right balance for the series to follow.
The fast, flowing nature of the Portland track, which featured almost no heavy braking zones to allow regen to take place, delivered a very different spectacle to what Formula E fans are used to seeing on more traditional street venues. But Dodds says he is open to the idea of adding more permanent tracks to the Formula E calendar in future.
"The tender documents that have gone out for Gen4 give you a sense of where we are looking to push the series. Clearly, I want these cars to go much faster. That means they need more capacity, and different battery constructs" Jeff Dodds
“It brings a completely different racing,” he says. “I want to see very different styles of racing, and it could be a twisty permanent circuit, it could be fixed tracks like this, or it could be a different style of purpose-built [street] track if the venue allows it. I think that’s the beauty of this sport, is that we are not tethered to any particular style of racing.”
While Dodds is enthusiastic about the type of show Formula E is putting on, he admits that not enough people know how to watch it. As a former Virgin Media executive, he knows the importance of good old-fashioned television deals, and he says the recent announcement that US fans will be able to watch five races live on CBS (as part of a wider-ranging deal with streaming platform Roku) next season will be the first of many.
“We need a breadth of media deals that allow you, wherever you are in the world, to watch Formula E live, or at least highlights,” says Dodds. “Within that, we need consistency, so people know where to go. That hasn’t always been the case. Our strategy is to find a home for Formula E in every market. That home might not always be the biggest outlet, but it has to be somewhere that loves the product and invests in the product.”
When it comes to the calendar however, Dodds is not afraid to keep chopping and changing, suggesting a ‘hybrid’ model between returning to the same venues year-on-year and new locations.
Dodds is content to chop and change between established calendar staples and fresh venues that introduce the championship to new fans
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
“Part of our charm is that we can bring our story to different cities around the world, in some cases where they don’t have [permanent] racetracks,” he explains. “I think we’ll end up with some fixed locations where we want to grow our fanbase, which stay consistent, and then have new locations so we can bring the sport to new people.”
Dodds admits that going to a track like Portland, with its built-in IndyCar and NASCAR audience, means questions are inevitably going to be asked about the sheer performance of the current Formula E car. The Oregon venue clearly demonstrated the series’ predicament in this regard: while qualifying was a thrilling spectacle, breaking new records for the fastest laps ever set in the series, the sheer amount of energy saving in the race showed how much of a limiting factor the current battery is at showcasing the Gen3 car’s true ability.
“Because we are fixated on providing competitive racing, we haven’t really shown the full theoretical performance of the car,” says Dodds, who adds he is keen for the electric series to “flex a muscle” in this regard. “I am keen to take the shackles off these cars. Everyone I talk to wants to know how these cars compare to Formula 1, IndyCar, etc, but we don’t set the cars up for that. I think we have to show people, so we are looking at how to do that.”
Moves are already afoot to dramatically up the capacity of the batteries for the Gen4 era, which is set to begin in 2026/27. Tender documents recently released by the FIA show that the capacity is set to increase 17% from 47 to 55kWh, while the power available to drivers in both qualifying and the race is set for a dramatic escalation to 600kW from the current level of 350kW in qualifying and 300kW in the race.
This fits in with Dodds’ vision for the car to get “faster and faster” over time. He continues: “The tender documents that have gone out for Gen4 give you a sense of where we are looking to push the series. Clearly, I want these cars to go much faster. That means they need more capacity, and different battery constructs. In Gen4, we will have more capacity, so we will see the racing evolve, and definitely the cars will have more performance.”
Whether Gen4 will attract new manufacturers to the series is also sure to be a talking point in future seasons, especially after the exits of Audi, BMW at the end of the 2020/21 campaign and Mercedes the following season. That mini-exodus means Formula E still has a vacant 12th slot to fill on its grid, but it's perhaps a sign of the series’ confidence when Dodds declares that there is no real sense of urgency to try and fill the breach.
“We aren’t going to fill it for the sake of filling it,” he says. “We already have amazing brands like Maserati, McLaren, Jaguar, Nissan, Porsche, Penske, Andretti… we have to find a brand that is on a similar level. We are having conversations, but I’m not in a hurry to fill it.”
Whether Formula E can fulfil its big ambitions of becoming a ‘tier one sport’ for the rest of the decade will depend on a number of things, including the successful implementation of fast-charge pitstops next season, a smooth transition to Gen4 that keeps the current manufacturers on board and new big-ticket events like Tokyo proving to be a hit.
Dodds will certainly have a full in-tray to deal with as he settles into his new role at the head of the Formula E hierarchy, but on the limited evidence so far, he’s the right man for the job.
Dodds wants to see FE cars get progressively faster to showcase the virtues of electric technology
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
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