Motorsport.com spoke with the Formula E Team Principal.
Formula E is still brand new for many fans of racing around the world, so it is interesting to see someone that leads one of the top teams in the series who is also convinced that electrical power is what comes next, not just in motorsports, but for every day life.
Motorsport.com had the opportunity to meet with Alex Tai, Virgin Racing Team Principal, in the visit of Formula E to Buenos Aires this weekend and learn more about the series, its cars and how this is just the start of something bigger for the future.
Q: Why Virgin and you have chosen to join Formula E in its firt year?
Alex Tai: The Virgin Group really likes Formula E, right from the outset when we were introduced to it, so I think we were one of the first teams that considered entering. We knew in fact that Lucas di Grassi, who drove for us in Formula 1 and was one of the drivers when I was a team principal there, he was the test driver for Formula E, so he came to us and said: ‘look, this is a program that is really serious and is really good’ and he’s a race smart driver."
"What he presented to us was a series which has many of the problems that other series have, taken care of. First of all and most important thing for us is we like to drive innovation, so we want to sponsor and encourage development of technology which is good for us all, that can make our lives more efficient and also take better use of the energy of the planet and this is being down here in Formula E with developing power train, batteries, all these elements which will make the cars you and I will drive in the future ,which will all be electric cars, in my view, more efficient."
"And we’re also, at the same time, making it more glamourous and showing people that it’s more available because at the moment is very difficult you can buy an electric car: they’re expensive, people worry about running out of charge in between stations. But it was exactly the same thing when petrol cars first started. There were no petrol stations and you didn’t know how long they would run for and now petrol cars are all over the place. We believe this is the way that electric cars will be in the future so it’s a beginning, but it’s just a very beautiful beginning."
Q: You have a long career in Virgin, working in other projects like aviation and even Formula One. How is it being the Team Principal in Formula E?
Alex Tai: "I have to say it’s been a lovely start: we’ve won a race and we had podiums in two of the three races so far (before Buenos Aires) but it’s a wonderful competition. We can’t guarantee success but we’ve prepared ourselves very well. I’ve got a fantastic team that I’m working with and we have support of fantastic cities, like Buenos Aires, and all of these great places we’ve ever raced and the fans have been very enthusiastic, so for me and for Virgin it’s been a wonderful experience so far."
Q: How many people work at Virgin Racing?
Alex Tai: "One of the big problems that other series have is that it becomes a race just for rich people, for elite team owners and also for rich drivers and you know I’m not a rich team. I know I have a very rich boss but it doesn’t matter how much money he’s got it’s a question of how clever he can apply it to his team. And this is what it should be about and it should be about how clever and how fast and how talented your driver is, as well, rather than how big a check you can write as a team owner or how big a check you can write as a driver because your dad is rich and he can give a position in a car."
"This is not what the sport should be about and I think this is where other sports have been like this, so the team itself is restricted to the number of personnel so we started actually with eight but it didn’t work so they changed the team before starting the series to 12 and now we think, you know, because there’s a lot to do ... There are four cars, not like two cars you’d have in another series, so now it’s 13 operational members and you’ll see on race day they wear a yellow band if they’re allowed to be touching the car."
"And then on top of that we have people like myself, the Team Principal, and marketing and press and people like that, but there’s only 13 members of the team. This compares to sometimes there were hundreds people in other series, so this restricts the cost of flights and hotels but also means that everyone is doing an awful lot more so the mechanics are not just in charge of clutch control or in charge of engine spares, you are in charge of the entire car and each car’s only got two mechanics, so everything’s being done by far few people and there’s much more knowledge and there’s much more work being done by everyone involved. But it’s very exciting since the very dynamic environment.
Q: What is your balance of the series after these first races? Has it evolved since those firsts test in Donington Park?
Alex Tai: "There’s been no development of technology since we started and the teams agree that we were going to freeze any development on this year’s car. Because, you know, you can spend millions playing with your brakes, playing with your down force, but there is no advantage. We want to spend money on developing things that we will be developing for you; the batteries and things like this. So we’re working on this now for next year. What we have done and the differences between the winning teams and the not so successful teams is our understanding of this particular car, so what we have done in between races is spend a lot of time with our very clever engineers working out how we can refine the use of this particular car to understand how to make it more efficient."
"This car is a very difficult car to drive. It’s not as quick as other series cars, in fact it's quite a lot slower, but to drive it efficiently and fast, to carry the speed through so that you’re not using as much energy in breaking and acceleration, that requires huge amount of skill so we’re finding that most skillful drivers are winning and also the teams with the most understanding of the technology."
"What you have here, these leading three teams and we’re one of the leading three teams, you have Renault and you have Audi and you have Virgin, these are three large companies, so what we’ve done is we’re taking the best people to understand the cars, to understand how to make it more efficient, to develop strategy, to apply that and then to get the fastest drivers and I think personally I have the two fastest drivers in paddock, but I would say that."
Q: The championship is a target for Virgin Racing in this first year?
Alex Tai: "Absolutely, absolutely. I expect us to be fighting for the championship, otherwise I have to change my drivers and my team to do that. We’re in this to win, we want to get ahead and then stay ahead."