The first three stages of the circuit are already there: Monte Carlo, Rotterdam and Budapest on the Danube. “But we are in contact with over 70 other places in the world”, say Alejandro Agag and Rodi Basso, the two visionaries who launched last night from the Principality – godfather Prince Albert II, the first financier of the largest sovereign fund in the globe, the Public Investment Fund (Pif) of Saudi Arabia, a lot of Italian know-how – the Formula E of the sea. A world championship of electric racing boats, the first in history, as well as the analogous car circuit, which aims to change mobility on water and make it increasingly sustainable.
The launch had already been, on paper, but the real first step was taken and celebrated last night at the Yacht Club de Monaco, with the unveiling of the boat, during an evening full of energy in the air. Lightning, an interlude of persistent rain that forced Prince Albert to talk nicely with a megaphone, smart set and then the emotion for the unveiling of the prototype, between blaring music and flashes. Here it is, RaceBird, carbon black, gray, silver, almost aviation blue under the lights: is a fireball in the shape of a bird’s beak, the sharp shell equipped with foils that raise it on the water as soon as it reaches 18 knots, powered by a battery developed by Kreisel (it will weigh about 200 kilos, for about a total ton of the boat ) combined with a Mercury outboard motor with traditional propeller that will be able to propel it to a speed of 50 knots, perhaps even a little more.
A boat that has an international soul, was born from a concept by the Swedish designer Sophia Horne of SeaBird which was then translated into something real and possible by the Italian designer Brunello Acampora, founder of Victory Marine, an over thirty-year career in boating, a pupil of the legendary Sonny Levi, specialized in the creation of racing cars such as – nomen omen – Bolide 80, which will be the fastest boat in the world. And around him, last night, were some of the greatest powerboat pilots of all time, testers of this futuristic hull, such as Luca Ferrari, Steve Curtis and Guido Cappellini.
First Formula E was born, then Extreme E, now the E1 Series. “Motorsport has enormous strength to bring about change. We are convinced that a change towards ethical mobility is needed, on all fronts. First for the car, on the road and then on the water, with a cleaner boating. Formula E and now the E1 Series are an acceleration towards this transition “explains Alejandro Agag, a past in Spanish and international politics (he was aide to President José Maria Aznar, EU parliamentarian and general secretary of the European People’s Party and the Centrist Democratic International), then an entrepreneur and patron in motoring (Gp2, Gp3 ), in football (he was the owner of the Queens Park Rangers), finally the creator and CEO of Formula E and now founder and president of the E1 Series, precisely the Formula E of the sea.
The spark started in Rodi Basso, Neapolitan, aerospace engineer at NASA, then manager in F1 at Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. “I had taken a gap year to think about my future. Also inspired by my wife who is a life coach. I wanted to make a change, I lacked that satisfaction that comes from the gut. Besides, I wanted to do something that could make my kids proud – I’m two, aged 9 and 6. Now, we keep our feet on the ground, but maybe with the E1 Series we can change a little bit, ”says Basso. From here, a sort of elongated brainstorming, in London, even during the months of the pandemic, between Agag and Basso, who live nearby. Walk, jog, chat. Widened visions. The circuit is the prodrome of SeaBird, which is the application of the electric with foil to pleasure craft, to the boat for everyone – with a declination like boat sharing.
The boat is there, we have seen it on the poolside of the Yacht Club. Aggressive, racy, beautiful. The starting point is the design, and Acampora had the right experience (it should be remembered that Mario Caponnetto, wizard of the study of hydrodynamic fluids, in the last America’s Cup with Luna Rossa also works with him) in the thermal, was chosen among five candidates. The following steps were the foils (the boat rises on the water, weighs less, there is less friction), the battery and the electric motor. Emotion and engineering. Times? “We will be ready with the tests in November,” says Basso. “The final test will start next year”.
What will RaceBird become? A world championship of electric racing boats, which will start in 2023, in ten locations, with 12 boats as a first step, ie 10 plus 2 reserve. But the idea is to do 28. “There will be two sets of 5 boats at the start. One will go around iconic let’s say classic ports, in Europe and England, which we will move on electric trucks. A second set will be loaded onto St. Helena, which will reach incredible places: Greenland, New York, Amazonia-Brazil, perhaps Cape Town and then the Middle East ”, continues Basso. Parenthesis: the Rms St. Helena is the cargo ship, black hulled white superstructures that connected Cape Town to the island of St. Helena. A truly mythical unit.
Go on. “If the center of gravity moves to the East, Singapore, Australia then we may have another set of boats to place there. But first we walk, then we run. In short, we’ll see ”adds Basso.
And the race? “The format is not yet defined, because we will have to do some tests,” says Agag. In any case, there will be races between four boats, between the buoys, tight turns, show with quarterfinals, semifinals and finals: “12 minutes per match for a total of 40 minutes of competition and an hour of TV show” explains Basso. “The driver will have to evaluate not only the route, the speed, but he will also have to manage the battery charge”, adds Agag. And he will have to figure out how to tack, because the game is to stay raised on the foils, otherwise, if you lose gas, splash in the water and stop.
There are negotiations, feasibility studies (paid by the candidates) for the locations that will host the championship. The host cities will pay a fee to the organization – Monaco has already been publicly announced, as has the honorary presidency of Prince Albert, head of a Principality that focuses heavily on sustainability and which has a credible history to raise awareness of the need for change. -, an organization that will take care of logistics. The teams will take the boats in a sort of loan for use and pay for assistance during the annual season (a million euro fee is rumored), the circuit and the individual teams will obviously open up to sponsors. “Ours is a business model that also wants to generate profit. I steal a sentence from Oscar Farinetti who said that a business that does not create profits is useless ”, continues Basso.
The lender and the common vision
And then, of course, there is the prime supporter, financial. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world. It is part of the vision. “It may seem absurd for an oil-producing country to look to electric, but it is not. There is a vision of Saudi Arabia in 2030 that wants to greatly enhance marine electric mobility, just think of the defense of the Red Sea ecosystem, which is a jewel, and obviously this is also part of the drive that accompanies our project. Without such support, an ambitious idea like ours could not develop ”. Are the funds available to E1 Series enough ?, I ask Agag. “We are more than fine. He is a great partner “.
Can it be changed? I ask him again. “Yes, you can. People have realized that we have a big problem and are ready to change “