Alejandro Agag hasn’t always been taken seriously in motor racing circles. Cynics were quick to scoff when this ex-politician and Spanish businessman founded Formula E, then launched the electric single-seater series in 2014.
“When Alejandro first presented Formula E years ago, I laughed – and I was wrong,” admits McLaren Racing chief and Extreme E team co-owner Zak Brown. “He’s a real visionary and I wish more people in racing were as commercially focused as he is. We’re in sports and entertainment, but the majority of motorsport starts with the question: ‘What are we going to do technically? By the way, I hope it works commercially.’ Alejandro decides what he wants commercially, then works out technically how he can do it. He has a balance other racing series could learn from.”
Agag has come a long way since the early days of Formula E, as Autocar’s crowning of him as our Motorsport Hero award winner for 2021 attests. Today, having overseen Formula E’s growth into a full-blown FIA world championship featuring seven of the world’s major car makers, he has switched focus to his new baby. Extreme E is another pioneering series for EVs, this time for offroad SUVs, built around the twin pillars of combating climate change and promoting gender equality. Motorsport with a social conscience? Agag is an easy target for critics, but he doesn’t care. In fact, he feeds off the barbs they love to throw at him.
“I love it. I really like people criticising me,” he grins as we talk in a tent pod in the middle of the Al-’Ula desert in Saudi Arabia, in the midst of Extreme E’s fraught but ultimately successful debut event. “Criticism gives me motivation. I have my own ideas and I’m convinced by them. I respect others but I think mine are right! In this extreme adventure, I’m getting a lot of positive comments but also some more cynical – and I love them. They give me a great passion to prove others wrong.”
Agag thrives on chaos, much like two other familiar motor racing disruptors: Bernie Ecclestone and ex-Benetton/Renault team chief Flavio Briatore, both former associates the 50-year-old Agag admits have been an inspiration. Spot Ecclestone in his natural environment during his Formula 1 prime and he’d be darting in and out of paddock motorhomes “fighting fires”, as he put it. Agag is the same.
“That’s where I feel comfortable, when there are problems,” he rattles off in his trademark machine-gun delivery. “That’s where I operate better. When everything is normal… Look, I’m clearly not a day-to-day manager. So that’s why I want to start new things.”