Imagine a motorsport scene without noise and the smell of burnt hydrocarbons – difficult, isn’t it? But racing is changing as fast as the rest of the motor industry, and Formula ‘E’ is already a reality. Will EV racing fizzle in a cloud of its own digital dust?

Electric racing cars have always seemed inevitable, and everything new seems like a great idea, until it isn’t. As a study in Design Thinking, electric vehicles (EVs) and their associated promotional activity make an interesting case.

The Design Thinking methodology puts consumers at the centre of the lifecycle equation and works back to the product. Look at the changes in motorsport from a consumer perspective, and you can see a huge opportunity for new suppliers and technological solutions. The major manufacturers are pushing their technology to be race competitive. And what starts on the track (think Fly-By-Wire and modern turbos) eventually appears in mainstream consumer production.

With EVs on the race track, the whole infrastructure of racing will have to shift to include an entirely new supply chain. Traditionally-fuelled cars and EVs will certainly exist side-by-side for a time, but ultimately EVs don’t need fuel, exhaust systems, filters and a multitude of other components demanded by the combustion engine.

Fire extinguishers for electrical fires are different to petrol and oil fires. Fire-resistant suits will need to change. Designers will need to rethink crumple zones in cars that house a battery instead of an engine. Every part of the driver interface could change.

The signs are already there. The Automotive Council published 11 roadmaps to show us how automotive technology will be developed over coming years, and we know that city infrastructures are being developed to accommodate driverless and autonomous vehicles. Have we joined the dots? Most of us probably never thought about just how soon EVs and driver aids would be a reality, even after recent government targets made the market for new petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars a short-lived proposition.

So where is the consumer in all this – the people that pay?

Unlike traditional F1, EVs don’t make any engine noise, so the most atmospheric element to a future race meet could be tyre noise and transmission whine. What will fans make of this? Will tyre tech be encouraged to generate a new sensory sensation? Playing cards in the spokes?

How about race meetings? To encourage viewing of EV races at their earliest stage, it’s likely they will be bolted onto existing events. Race meetings could become four-day affairs, with F1, GP3, and FE all on the same bill. This may appeal to fans, but it might not. If you love F1 and don’t mind the traffic chaos that an even bigger meeting will bring – no problem. If you are a GP3 fan and have enjoyed your own audience until now, without the extra glitz of F1, things are going to change.

The consumer justifies the advertising spend that pulls in sponsors. But the digital dust that drivers and other team members give off is being exploited remorselessly. Social media buzzes with the brand of watch drivers are seen in (Lewis Hamilton is brilliant at this), what bank they’re tied to, what fragrance they wear and what product holds their hair when they take off their helmets. The concentrated focus on pushing digital messages to consumers before, during and after a meeting almost makes it unnecessary for people to turn up at all. Take away the noise and the smell and sprinkle in a bit of VR, and perhaps they won’t need to.

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