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SMITH: Formula E Paddock Memories

Sam Smith’s final piece for e-racing365 looking back at his time reporting on Formula E…

Photo: Formula E

When John Dagys approached me at the Nürburgring FIA WEC round in July 2017 about the possibility of starting a site dedicated to electric racing, there was little hesitation in saying yes.

I had known John since I’d shown him around the Lola HQ in the UK when he was working for Fox Sports back in 2011 and much admired his work. There was a yawning gap for a dedicated EV site so all systems were very quickly go, largely thanks to ‘JD’.

The Formula E ground was fertile. That very same month had seen Porsche and Mercedes commit to fielding factory teams and there was a sense that Formula E was the ‘magic carpet’ to ride.

Everything happened quickly and by mid-September, e-racing365 was launched.

More than just filling a niche, it was purposely fast-tracked to capitalize on the final season of Gen 1 competition before the much heralded second rules set iteration kicked in for 2018 with the new manufacturers.

The first event at Hong Kong in December was fraught. A double header start was brutal but immediately the paddock was talking about e-racing365 via breakout stories and the daily Notebook which quickly became a favorite in and out of the paddock.

Over the two years and three months of filing news and features there are inevitably stand-out moments.

By far the most memorable story we revealed was the idea, concept and formation of the Extreme E platform in August 2018.

In the early summer of 2018 a highly detailed tip-off led to a trail of information leading to Alejandro Agag’s new adventure: Extreme E. At first it sounded outrageously fanciful and I had to triple-check that this wasn’t a complete send-up.

But it wasn’t and it all stemmed from Agag and Gil de Ferran having a coffee one Sunday morning and getting creative. Remarkable.

It remains to see if the project will work and how they will pull off the numerous challenges, environmental messaging and legacy aspects but few doubt that if anyone can pull it off then Agag is likely to be the man.

Then there was the intrigue which circumnavigated the complex and fascinating story of Nissan’s 2018-19 powertrain, which is detailed here. It was by far and away the most intense story of e-racing365’s history.

The whip-like ricochets of this episode echoed through the paddock and literally changed the rules overnight. E-racing365 was there to break its fall-out.

There have been difficult times. Notably, and inevitably, some disagreements and tense situations with team principals and championship officials were intense.

Were they worthwhile to provide interesting, informed and original news content? Most readers seemed to think so. We know we are read by many in the paddock because they told us.

One manufacturer even alluded to what they described as “an alarm system” in their garage that sounded when our Notebooks are published. If it was at an opportune time they would then down tools and read it!

We also know that most of the drivers in the championship read us too.

Amusingly at last May’s Monaco E-Prix, Mahindra Racing turned the tables with a ‘grill the media’ podcast. Jerome d’Ambrosio asked what methods we employed to get stories and what the depth of our sources was. It was super interesting to see what the star performers thought about what was published about them.

Sadly, for reasons outlined by John earlier this month on e-racing365, creating, maintaining and practicing independent media coverage of a global series like Formula E doesn’t run on fresh air or indeed electricity alone. It needs investors, it needs partners.

There is great privilege and freedom in writing for genuine independent sites like e-racing365. This is far from glamourous work.

It is waiting around for drivers, team managers and officials, who are often not in the best of moods. It is making do with a stale sandwich for dinner at 10 p.m. while most others are at a swanky bar or glittering gala dinner. It is usually making sense and sometimes triple-checking what is going on in a complex, sometimes paranoid and suspicious world.

Remarkably, somehow there are still doubters out there that believe, quite irrationally, that Formula E is nothing more than a cosmetic marketing formula just riding a trend. It is of course so much more than that.

The hope is that the editorial success of e-racing365, which became the go-to place for Formula E news, greatly added to the enjoyment of it for you, the reader.

The site will continue strongly, covering an increasing variety of electric racing in touring car, rally, rallycross, motorbike and single-seater disciplines, and more to come, to inform and entertain on this growing strand of motorsport.

I, for one, will be a daily reader of the content that John Dagys, Jake Kilshaw and Daniel Lloyd will continue to ensure is at the forefront of great independent writing that gives EV competition the coverage it deserves.

Photo: Paul Ryan

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Nicolás Naves

    December 22, 2019 at 7:47 am

    Thanks Sam for all your stories and insights and good luck for the rest of the team

  2. Avatar

    Chris Llana

    December 22, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Oh, my. A great vacuum has just opened up. The future of FE information has gone opaque, and I, for one, am feeling some trepidation about what I may be missing going forward. Thanks, Sam, for all the enlightenment you have provided.

  3. Avatar

    Esteban Garcia

    December 22, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks Sam for all the very useful information in this time. I will miss the notebooks from each event
    Good luck in your next projects and all e-racing365.com crew!

  4. Avatar

    ops30

    December 22, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Can’t thank you enough for all the Formula E coverage these last couple of years Sam. Your work, including the podcast, played a big role in turning me into a Formula E fan. You will be greatly missed.

  5. Avatar

    Old Trombone

    December 22, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks Sam Smith and E-Racing365, for your amazing independent journalism that is the best there is available anywhere in history. Future historians will use your material as the the highest-reliability, most-cited, journal-of-record in the field of competitive powered-mobility, similar to how Fox-n-CNN won’t be used for history’s journal-of-record but NPR/BBC will. Always remember, you deserve to be proud to join a list of trusted ur-text historians who didn’t get their society’s prime job but nevertheless gave the world their best work through other jobs that carried less prestige – Ben Franklin was a printer, Marx was a news editor, Einstein was patent-clerk (where ironically he spent all day studying hundreds of rail-timing proposals that he would never have seen as a university prof). The Library of Congress will feature retrospectives on Sam Smith and Dagys, not those other guys!

  6. Avatar

    jeronimo69

    December 23, 2019 at 7:10 am

    I am very sad about this news.
    It will undoubtedly be more difficult to understand and follow closely the FE without your articles.
    I wish you the best for the future
    A big thank you from a loyal French reader.

  7. Avatar

    Chris

    December 23, 2019 at 10:21 am

    I’ll definitely miss the race weekend notebooks. Sad to lose the excellent coverage.

  8. Avatar

    Allan McNish

    December 23, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks Sam for the stories, the background and amazing insider knowledge that astounded us at times, real journalism is still alive and kicking

  9. Avatar

    Ruaraidh

    January 6, 2020 at 5:13 am

    Such a shame. Sam Smith;s columns were the main reason to come to this website.

    Where will your work be featured now Sam?

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