Three years ago, after the demise of two international championships in which his China-branded team was competing – Superleague Formula and A1GP – Steven Lu was left searching for another series.
“I was looking for a series that could last longer,” he says bluntly. “I had meetings with people about electric racing cars and saw that Formula E had the potential to be a great series for us. I believed electric vehicles would become more and more popular in China, particularly because of the pollution and energy crisis.”
From this discussion, the China Racing Formula E team was born, with Mr Lu as its team principal. While his belief in the commercial viability of Formula E formed the backbone of his decision to pursue an entry into the series, Mr Lu’s competitive mentality and ambition to put his country on the motorsport map also played a part.
“It is very difficult for a Chinese team to catch up in other racing series as there is limited involvement from Chinese car manufacturers. I think electric technology is more of a level playing field, so we decided to start the team.”
It helped that the costs of competing in the championship were relatively low, at least in international motor-racing terms. Mr Lu estimates the current annual cost of running a team is around five to six million euros, with the lion’s share of expenditure going on organisational costs. But he foresees this overall number increasing with the ability for teams to become manufacturers next year.
“We’ll see how this goes,” he says, when asked whether increased spending will boost performance. But for this year, “it doesn’t matter if you spend four or forty million”, the on-track performance will be the same.
With Nelson Piquet Jr, the team’s number-one driver, heading into the Formula E season finale on top of the championship standings, Mr Lu’s instincts appear to have been spot on. The team is also on a sound commercial footing with the mid-season announcement of title sponsor NEXTEV, a new electric vehicle company with whom it will also have a technical partnership.
I have 1.4 billion people in China waiting for a Chinese brand to lead the development of electric cars
Predictably, his highlights so far of Team China’s Formula E season came in Long Beach and Moscow, where Piquet took victory in both races. “I was very proud of the team’s efforts; we have a great group and everyone works really hard,” he says.
Mr Lu believes there is a common goal in the paddock. He says: “All the teams would like to understand more about electric cars as a result of this high level of competition. As the championship begins to allow the development of the powertrain, battery and more, we will begin to develop new technology.”
The championship organisers plan to phase in the parts that teams and suppliers are allowed to develop. In its first year, the championship has been a single-make formula, with all the teams using the Renault Spark SRT_01E, but in subsequent years they will be able to purchase customised parts from different manufacturers. Next year eight approved manufacturers, one of which is team sponsor NEXTEV, will produce bespoke powertrains.
His vision for his team’s future is simple and consistent with his reasons for getting into the sport. “We want to develop the technology and win more,” he says. “I have 1.4 billion people in China waiting for a Chinese brand to lead the development of electric cars. We are trying our best to achieve this.”