For the 100th episode of the Everything EV podcast, host Charlie Atkinson was joined by Rodi Basso, the founder of the E1 electric raceboat series.
Recorded exactly 100 days before the first E1 event, Rodi talks about the journey of E1, the challenges he’s faced along the way and how the series has been supported by the likes of Tom Brady, Sergio Perez and Rafa Nadal.
What is the story behind E1?
E1 is an incredible story. I feel really blessed to be a part of it and to have started this process. In 2020, in full COVID mode, I was jogging with Alejandro Agag (the founder of Formula E and Extreme E), and we were talking about future visions and projects and also investment in sports. He mentioned that he had invested in a startup led by Sophie Horn, our Norwegian designer, and this startup had the idea of building electric boats based on foils and on electric propulsion.
As an engineer, I developed together, with my group of engineers in McLaren and Lucid Air, the battery for Gen2 in Formula E. Alejandro was asking me how to address this project, so in 24 hours, I went back home and I started writing the final presentation for our investor PIF and convinced them and Alejandro to build a Formula E on water.
There are a lot of personal stories behind the E1, but overall, E1 is a story of passion. I’m so passionate about water and the lifestyle in coastal areas, harbors of this world. Having two kids of 11 and 8 years old, I want to make sure that they will have the chance to enjoy the waters and the coastal areas of this world for the future. I want to make sure that we keep living and human beings keep enjoying the coastal areas, the waters and the sports events by trying to reduce as much as possible the impact.
E1 has compiled a star-studded list of celebrity owners. What impact will they have on the series?
Sport is life. It’s an amazing opportunity for inspiration for technology demonstration and for communication. When I met Tom Brady, Virat Kholi, Nadal, Sergio Perez; every time you shake hands with these people, there is a different level of energy of drive, of discipline. They all embrace E1 because they are competitive people. They love the sport, they love the competition, but they all said that they embraced E1 because of the impact. They want to leave a positive sign to this world and they also do it for the generations to come.
By putting together the celebrities that we have already on board, we have 500 million followers by adding the followership of the celebrities that we have involved. And we are now targeting to be south of a billion with the future celebrities that we will announce from now to December.
What are the technical specifications of the raceboats?
I am the father engineer of this project. When I started, I was by myself and I’ve been specifying all the parameters of the boat and put together incredible people and organizations in order to be where we are now. The boat can go up to 50 knots and this limit is due to the presence of the foil. So physics tells us that beyond 45 knots, the fluid dynamics around the foil gets more tricky and the risk of cavitation, which means the lack of lift is there.
We have 200 horsepower. The boat is 1.2 tons of weight, carbon fiber. We needed a light and agile vessel in order to make sure that the show is compelling. Our battery is 37kWh and the weight is 200 kilograms.
The format: we will have two days competition. One is only for testing. And then we have one big day when we will have qualifying and race. The qualifying is going to be a match race with a velodrome-like qualifying course. We have a male and a female driver, like Extreme E, but unlike XE, we won’t have a driver swap. Everyone will have their own session and they need to alternate the drivers from one session to another. Then we move into the race where there’s going to be a quarter final match with four boats. Then you have another session where whoever missed the quarter final will have another chance, and then semi-final and final. This is how we will define the winner.
What lessons have you learned from Formula E and Extreme E?
We had so many lessons and of course, having Alejandro as our guide into this project has been an incredible opportunity because the lessons are coming on the technical side, on the sport marketing side, on the finance side – Alejandro is the number one in terms of sport marketing and finance.
The first lesson on the technical side is the need for an independent source of electric energy. We are looking and collaborating with stakeholders and sponsors that want to showcase how you can generate electricity in an independent way from the grid. Sometimes we will have to use the grid in some locations, but most of the time we will use our own facility. They will produce electricity either with solar panels, green generators or hydrogen-based generators, and we will then use battery storage to charge our boats.
One of the key lessons when you are a startup and when you build a new sport, is that you need to be very aware of the industry you belong to. What we have been doing is consciously working in the event industry, which is an industry of billions, so our focus in the first three years is to build incredible city event, and we have to make sure that we celebrate the cities. This is what we’re going to do, not only through the events, but throughout the season, we will keep enriching our narrative by celebrating all the cities of the calendar. Venice, Jeddah, Rotterdam – Iconic places where the sustainability is a big issue. This was another big lesson from the previous experience of Alejandro’s electric empire, and this is where I set the direction for our organization.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you, personally?
It’s a plate spinning exercise. I have been involved in conversations from the diodes of the inverter to the catering of the hospitality. I have to say, I smile while I say that, because of course it sounds nuts, and it is! In the beginning, we started with a very small group of people. Now I feel much more relief because we have incredible people in the team.
In all the areas we have passionate and competent people and people I can trust. Now I can actually be the CEO, be less involved in the micro details, but making sure that the direction is set very, very accurately, which is something that I need to do every day. The CEO is like the captain of a boat, pun intended. I love sailing and when you go sailing, you need to keep correcting and making sure that you are in the right direction. And this is what I’m doing now.
This podcast was recorded exactly 100 days before the first E1 race in Jeddah. What’s left on the to-do list?
First of all, we need the boats, and we are producing the boats. We have eight boats already done and four in the pipeline. We need another two because we will have minimum eight teams. This is our target. There is a strong chance we will have ten, but for Season 1, I hope not to go beyond eight teams, because we need to understand many things and it’s important to walk before running.
So we need boats and we need pilots. I have developed together with a person that we know from Formula E and Extreme E, an academy to train the pilots. We were keen to build a new sport and I love the concept of cultural diversity, so we will have athletes coming from e-scooter, BMX, and we have been training them first on conventional ribs. And then there are three stages, and the last stage is to jump on the race boat.
What is your message to someone who has never heard of E1 before?
E1 will be one day of ‘wow’. It will not be only about E1, but there will be a celebration of the city and we will celebrate everything about water sports. We want to push people to practice sports because it’s so important for life, for growing, for keeping in good shape, being healthy and having fun.
There will be a lot of cultural elements as well. In our fan zone, we will have an exhibition of contemporary arts for local artists that are making, crafting pieces of art related to sustainability. There will be technology, because we want to celebrate the local startups that are part of the clean tech industry. And there will be a lot of educational and thought leadership initiatives.
E1 is going to be a fun day for families, for investors, and for people who enjoy to know more about the water lifestyle.