MESTRE, Italy — The exceptional flooding that hit the city of Venice over the past week didn’t slow the engines.
The Geox Dragon Formula E racing team gathered at the M9 museum on Friday, here, to unveil the Penske EV-4 racing car and kit for the sixth season of the ABB FIA Formula E championship, which kicks off Nov. 22 and 23 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
The event marked an opportunity for Geox Dragon to host a panel on smart and electric mobility and its sustainable impact. The event was attended by, among others, the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson; Jamie Reigle, chief executive officer of Formula E, and British model and former race car driver Jodie Kidd.
Before the panel started, Mario Moretti Polegato, president and founder of footwear and outerwear label Geox, explained that the team’s decision to host the event despite the unfavorable weather conditions was seen as “a contribution to the city of Venice, which is not a folkloristic one, rather it is a proof that the city can keep going.”
“This is the most respectful thing we could do for the city: To host this debate about sustainability, about smart mobility at this very difficult time,” echoed Matteo Mascazzini, ceo of Geox. He noted that despite the Paris Agreement and the United Nations’ SDGs goals set for 2050 and 2030, respectively, “unfortunately climate change is happening today.”
In 2018, Geox inked a three-year partnership with the Dragon Racing team, renaming it Geox Dragon, and providing its signature breathable shoes and apparel to the drivers and team members, who travel across five continents and compete on urban circuits.
Dragon’s owner and team principal Jay Penske, who founded the racing team, is also the chairman and ceo of PMC, which owns WWD.
“This season is a landmark season for the team and the championship,” commented Penske in a statement. “The entire organization has done tremendous work throughout last season and during the offseason to get us to this point, and I am pleased to be racing a livery that really represents our approach, our principles, and our spirit.”
Geox Dragon’s lithe 1,984-pound Penske EV-4 racing car is equipped with an engine produced by Penske Autosport, which reaches speeds as high as 173 miles an hour. The car’s livery, mostly black and white, is punctuated by a “X” crossing the car body, and it was conceived to perfectly integrate with the urban locations where the races are taking place. They include Mexico City, Marrakesh, Rome, Paris and New York, among others. The final race will be held in London on July 25 and 26.
“Formula E will keep exciting fans, today and tomorrow, and the Geox Dragon investment is part of our ongoing commitment to sustainability,” said Moretti Polegato mentioning such projects as a sustainable footwear collection for kids supporting the WWF launched this summer and a number of educational programs it spearheads to raise awareness among high-school and university students and its own employees.
“Formula E not only promotes sustainability, it is also for us a technological investment as it represents an external lab to test the new technologies applied to the pilots’ and team’s kits, especially in terms of breathability,” he added. New technologies include the Aerantis footwear collection developed employing a mesh insole that increases the shoe’s overall breathable surface.
“We’re living a social and economic context that is increasingly focused on the ecologic transition, as characterized by increasing transformations especially in gentrified areas,” said Moretti Polegato, adding that new generations are asking that not only governments but also private companies take environmentally conscious stances.
The Duchess of York praised Moretti Polegato’s intuition saying he has “told the world and inspired many people to understand that if they think of an idea, they make it innovative, they then bring in a team and the drivers and then you showed the world through Formula E an example of how we can change the world and the planet.”
Dragon’s pilots for the sixth season include two-time FIA World Endurance Championship’s winner Brendon Hartley, from New Zealand, and Nico Müller, who scored the top position in the 2009 Swiss Formula Renault 2.0. Both attended Friday’s event and shared their take on driving an electric racing car.
“I think there’s a misconception that [driving an electric racing car] is not exciting, but it’s quite the opposite. One of the biggest differences is that when you’re driving the car there’s not the same sound but it brings in new senses. When we push the accelerator pedal we have a very instant power and a more direct relationship with what’s happening from the drivetrain. That’s a nice feeling,” said Hartley mentioning also efficiency issues as challenging and exciting.
“The whole team is working on such a high level of quality that nobody can make mistakes. The race is just one day, it’s very compact, you need to find the right pace. The quest for perfection is a challenge that excites me,” added Müller.
During the panel, PwC analyst Massimo Leonardo noted that “despite the numerous efforts to decarbonize the economy, with initiatives that in 2018 alone reduced global footprints by 1.6 percent, this is not enough.” In the same year, carbon emissions increased by 2 percent globally, as he noted decarbonization should reach the 7.5 percent yearly benchmark to be compliant with the targets set by the Paris agreement on climate change.
“Electric mobility is the most concrete asset we can leverage and with the strongest impact on everybody’s lives in the next 20 years,” the analyst said noting the amount of electric vehicles reached 5.1 million units in 2018.
“Europe and the U.S. have a stable number of cars circulating, while that number in China is increasing year-over-year casting further concern on the issue. However, at the same time it’s a country that will drive the growth of electric vehicles, as the Chinese need to understand how to live in top-tier cities trying to deal with pollution and make them livable,” Leonardo explained. European and American citizens meanwhile were described as “culturally more conscious” of sustainability. He forecast that in 2030 the number of electric vehicles will reach 150 to 200 million units, impacting the landscape of our cities, with a new, more digitally driven driving experience as he noted e-vehicles are more technologically equipped.
In terms of economic impact, Andrea Stocchetti, professor of strategic analysis for automotive and mobility at Venice-based Ca’ Foscari University, said that globally revenues generated from the sale of electric cars were $45 billion in 2018, below the academic world’s expectations. He also contended that looking to the “overall concept of electric mobility, which is much wider, global revenues estimated by the International Energy Agency totaled $160 billion, telling that there is a future for electric cars.”
“Fashion not only is the mirror of society but it’s been pioneering and spearheading what’s new, so of course sustainability is important for fashion,” said Mascazzini noting they decided to partner on a Formula E team as they shared the same values. “Our values are innovation, sustainability and wellbeing — such as technology empowering the human beings — so we looked at Formula E and we found the perfect marriage because it is the pinnacle of innovation and technology which is used to be at the service of the humans and families,” he added voicing for a return for humanity and direct relationships.
“Formula E is much more than a sport, it’s a platform to develop and test new technologies for electric vehicles,” said Moretti Polegato, an assumption which resonates with the championship’s value proposition.
Reigle noted “Formula E is doing a small part but an important part in catalyzing the adoption of electric vehicles and racing in the cities is core to that value proposition…as we believe that by catalyzing electric mobility in the cities helps us make them better places to live.”
Asked about the polluting impact of electricity production, Reigle explained it’s an ongoing commitment. “We still have to figure out how to address all the elements of the change including energy production and consumption,” having already found engaging ways to raise awareness.
Headquartered in Los Angeles with additional operations in the U.K., at the Donington Park racing circuit, Dragon competed for many years in IndyCar before becoming one of the founding teams of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.