Carlo Boutagy is the Promoter of the Diriyah E-Prix, the opening act of the Formula E season as well as the season opener for Extreme E in Saudi Arabia. He created the official F1 Fan Zone 12 years ago and is a pioneer of fan engagement in motorsports. This weekend is the fourth round of the Diriyah ePrix – the first time it was held as part of the 2018/19 season and is the first Formula E race to be held in the Middle East.
This is an intense moment for motorsport in the Middle East. The FIA has just elected its new President Mohammed ben Sulayem of the Emirates. Between November and last March, the region hosted five consecutive F1 Grand Prix. And with the Dakar and Extreme E in between, the center of pressure in today’s sport feels like it’s moving east.
“We have a lot of FIA motorsport events in the Gulf. And having an FIA President from this region will help us a lot,” said Boutagy. “I can already see it with Formula E. We translated the entire Formula E website into Arabic. Same thing for all social media, we have Arabic and English, so you see it growing. It’s good. Many people think that more racing in this region means competition and they see that as a negative thing. I see it very differently; more lively, educating the public, they are excited when motorsport events come to the city and they understand more. I think the FIA president will put a lot of emphasis on that.”
That Formula E The race holds a special place because it was the first international event to take place in Saudi Arabia in 2018 and it meant changing the laws of the country, “The Berlin Wall that fell on Saudi Arabia, it means more to Saudi citizens than just any other motorsport event,” said Boutagy . “It was the first international event that changed all the rules and laws of the kingdom to allow tourists in if they bought a Formula E ticket. It allowed mixed genders in the same venue, international music, concerts, dancing. So this race for Saudi nationals has a very special place in their hearts.”
Boutagy’s motorsport career began with a 10-year contract he signed with Bernie Ecclestone in 2009 to create the F1 Fan Zone. At a time when there was nothing like that in F1, today most Grands Prix have fan zones.
“It’s a platform to give Formula One racing back to people for free, bringing it to the cities,” he said. “We do a lot of activations, we are a platform for sponsors as well to show their affiliation to the sport, not only on track but off the circuit. So for non-ticket holders too. We’re also trying to extend Formula One racing to people who are less interested in motorsport, but more interested in the celebrations that surround it.
“The main thing with fan engagement is access, you have to give everyone access. And more repetitive; Formula One comes once a year, if you look at football or ice hockey, a team will have about 40 games at home every year. So you need to activate all over the city or country or here the Kingdom all year round, activation whether it’s in shopping malls, exhibitions and things like that.”
Formula E will hope that its Gen 3 cars, due to debut in a year’s time, will attract more fans than current cars. They are much lighter, faster and more powerful and 40% of their energy comes from regenerating during braking. Boutagy thinks that Gen 3 will prove a pivotal moment for the series. Despite the disappointment of losing BMW and Audi and with Mercedes backing out of a full-fledged work effort, the Gen 3 rule has pulled Maserati and there are other suggestions to follow.
“I was lucky to be invited to see the secret launch of the Gen3 car,” he said. “There were 50 or 60 people, only one person from each team, each promoter and I saw it. It looks phenomenal. It has a lot of developing technology. I mean, in 2014 with the first generation they needed two cars to complete one race. The second generation is one car to do races of the same length. And now the third generation has half the battery, half the weight, and 40% of the power generated during the race. Technology is developing very fast. And there’s a few other things we shouldn’t say right now until they’ve made it public fully, which is really cool about this Gen3. I’m really looking forward to it.”