The idea for E1 was germinated during a walk along the river Thames in London during the first pandemic lockdown in 2020.
Alejandro Agag, the founder of electric car racing championship Formula E, and Rodi Basso, an engineer who designed the second-generation batteries for the competition, were discussing why the marine sector lags so far behind the automobile industry in adopting electric power. Why not follow in Formula E’s footsteps and create the world’s first electric raceboat championship to help foster innovative competition?
“The automotive industry is at least 20 to 30 years more advanced in the electrification process,” Basso says. “By transferring this know-how to E1, we can accelerate the process of electrification in the marine industry, because people will be able to see that it is actually possible.”
The two friends got to work. They quickly secured a 25-year licence from the Union International Motonautique and began talks with coastal cities to host races. Monaco and Saudi Arabia are already signed up and there are advanced talks with Miami, Venice and Rotterdam. They plan to stage between eight and ten races starting in 2023 between 12 teams.
The automotive industry is at least 20 to 30 years more advanced in the electrification process. By transferring this know-how to E1, we can accelerate the process of electrification in the marine industry, because people will be able to see that it is actually possible.
The teams, each consisting of two drivers – one man and one woman – come from the yacht manufacturing sector, motorsports and even athletics, Basso says. For the first three seasons they will compete using the RaceBird, an electric powerboat on foils that can reach speeds of 50 knots that he designed with Sophi Horne, a former superyacht interior designer. In the fourth season, the teams will be able to start tinkering and tweaking the boat design to see how they can improve on the technology.
Horne, a 29-year-old Norwegian, teamed up with E1 after setting up SeaBird Technologies, which she set up to provide affordable leisure boats for hire for people of her generation. She began asking herself why there was no electric offer in the sector. After seeing how Formula E has succeeded in making electric cars more appealing, she approached Agag about designing her own electric speedboat, using inspiration from hydrofoil surfboards.
“I had the foiling system in mind as well as what Formula E did with their cars, making them sleeker and sexier and bringing a wow factor that will make consumers choose these kinds of product,” she says.
The result is the RaceBird, a speedboat that wouldn’t look out of place in a science fiction film, which Basso and Horne believe will eventually be able to challenge for the unofficial world record speed for an electric boat of 70 knots. With input from power craft designer Victory Marine, the RaceBird uses an engine taken from supercar racing and a special battery based on power density rather than energy density to provide for maximum acceleration.
E1 has greater ambitions than just racing. Basso says they plan to leave an infrastructure behind wherever they race to promote electrification and sustainability. The charging stations used by the boats will be donated so that they can be used by leisure vessels – at first they expect that to be ribs and small motorboats and eventually bigger yachts.
E1 will use special technology to test the water on the racecourse for acidity, which can be an indication of the presence of microplastics, to measure the impact of the competition on its environment. This technology will also be left behind for local authorities to use.
E1 is also looking to secure sponsorship to fund sustainability projects that will restore coastland biodiversity within 10 kilometres of cities where they race, Basso says.
E1 is also looking to secure sponsorship to fund sustainability projects that will restore coastland biodiversity within 10 kilometres of cities where they race
Horne plans to take technology and design of the RaceBird and apply it to her business renting out 8-metre day cruisers to young people. She thinks that access to this kind of technology will encourage people to go electric when buying their own boats.
“The strategy is for the SeaBirds to have the same design DNA as the RaceBirds,” she says. “They will have everyone feeling like this is for everyone, but also like they’re actually cruising around in a raceboat.”
As a former superyacht interior designer, Horne has been keeping her eye on developments in the business. She thinks the sector should be focusing on hydrogen technology as the best way to reduce its carbon footprint.
Basso says a technological solution for superyachts might still be a decade away, although the acceleration in other industries gives him hope that it could come sooner.
“Today’s technology can be implemented on leisure boats and small yachts of up to 15 or 20 metres,” he says. “When you go to a larger scale, you need to wait for the technology to develop in solid-state batteries and green hydrogen, which will happen within ten years. But given what we’re seeing in the market these days, I reckon it could accelerate to less than that.”