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Formula E: On track to deliver a sustainable future

Formula E has electric cars racing on street circuits all around the world and is the first sport certified ‘net zero carbon’ from its inception. And its partner, DHL, is ready to adapt to any logistical challenge.

Some of the best ideas in life start out as doodles on scraps of paper, and Formula E is no exception. In 2011, Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag and FIA President Jean Todt met to discuss the idea of a single-seater electric racing series using the technology available. Over dinner, they scribbled the initial concept for what would become Formula E on the back of a napkin.

DHL has been with Formula E as Official Founding and Logistics Partner since day one. From the start, DHL instinctively understood Formula E’s vision to raise public awareness on e-mobility and low-carbon lifestyles.

From conception to FIA World Championship status

It took three years, innovative technology and many prototypes before the first “Gen1” cars took to the track at the first Formula E race on September 13, 2014, at the Olympic Park in Beijing.

During that first season, each team used identical cars – and because the car’s battery couldn’t last for the length of the race, each driver had two cars which they swapped during the pit stops.

A new initiative, “Fanboost” was introduced. This had fans voting for their favorite driver, with the two drivers with the most votes given an extra boost of power to use at any point during the race.

Gen1 car power


Gen2 car power

250kW (Qualifying & Attack Mode)

Gen3 car power

350kW (Qualifying & Attack Mode), 300kW (Race)

Source: Formula E

In season two, battery power was increased to 170 kilowatts, and teams were allowed to design their own motors, inverters, gearboxes and rear suspension.

The second generation of cars – Gen2, introduced in season five, 2018-2019 – had more power and more efficiency at their disposal. They could last for the duration of the new race format: 45 minutes plus one lap, so car-swapping pit stops were out.

Season five also initiated a new tactical element: Attack Mode. Drivers receive a timed power boost to help them during the race when they leave the racing line and hit the Attack Mode zone.

Formula E became an official FIA World Championship in season seven. The season has recently concluded with the final races in Berlin. Mercedes-EQ won the Constructor’s Championship, and their driver, Nyck de Vries, became the very first FIA Formula E World Champion.

It’s so much more than getting freight from A to B

Manuela Gianni, Head of DHL Motorsport Italy, and her team handle all the logistical requirements for Formula E organizers and teams – transporting, on average, 500 tons of freight per race.

Working in close partnership with the Formula E logistics team, Gianni’s team gathers information about the freight they plan to send to races: the volumes and values to find the best solution in terms of shipping and customs. They then adapt to each race’s specific needs, including those caused by unforeseen events such as crashes or technical failures, and put that into the planning. As a founding partner, DHL has been with the championship since day one and has the expertise to react and adapt quickly.

DHL has a dedicated team for the championship and, depending on the race, there are 10-12 staff on site, with four office staff acting as remote support. On arrival at each venue, they ensure that the freight is located exactly where it should be, so that when the teams arrive, they can immediately start unpacking it. This involves collecting the empty boxes and pallets and taking them to storage, ready to redistribute after the race in the correct order and sequence. Of course, some freight may need to go back to the factory for repair, and other goods may come in as replacements for the next race. But, in general, the freight is then transported to the next country, often within a short space of time.

Gianni says: “It’s a job in which attention to detail is crucial – especially with all the customs implications, and because there are so many shipments going back and forth.”

What goes into the planning process?

Once advised of the new season’s potential calendar, the planning group meets and thoroughly examines the race sequences and logistics they foresee for each specific event. Enquiries then start with local service providers, and together they evaluate all the different possible scenarios and back-up plans.

In reality, however, the race calendar study is very fluid. In these times, with the pandemic making everything unpredictable, DHL keeps an eye on all possible race venues, examining routings to foresee any logistics challenges that could crop up. Changes can then be made along the way. Once the official calendar is finalized, refining touches can be put in place.

The factors involved in planning

The most important factor is planning the movement of cargo. Gianni’s team is responsible for moving all the freight that’s present on the race track to make the race happen, including race cars, batteries, charging units, team equipment, Formula E technical freight, accreditation materials and media and broadcasting equipment.

Other factors include feasibility, sustainability and, not least, the human factor. For the DHL team, this is equally as important as the other factors, because, as Gianni stresses: “Our most precious resource is our staff. With races so close to one another and such a demanding calendar, we have to create a suitable rotation for the staff so that we achieve some balance between time away and time at home with their families.”

Smart sheets, together with other planning tools relevant to an international logistics office, assist with process flows and act as checklists to ensure nothing is forgotten. Because there are so many variables, and each race has different challenges, Gianni’s team needs to adapt their scenarios accordingly. Therefore, most of the solutions are tailor-made.

On the overall planning process, Gianni says: “It’s a complicated puzzle, but when the pieces finally come together, the results are really impressive and make us feel very proud.”

The top four logistical challenges

  1. Time constraints are the top challenge – especially when time zones are unfavorable, there’s less than a week between freight availability and the required delivery schedules.
  2. Transporting lithium-ion batteries is complicated and challenging because rules imposed by governments and industry-governing bodies are extremely scrupulous. The team is lucky to have a specialist contact center supporting them to factor all rules and regulations into the appropriate logistics plan.
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult market situation, in which demand greatly surpasses supply because freight capacity has been reduced.
  4. Differing rules and regulations surrounding customs and curfews for circulating the freight

Nevertheless, these challenges are overcome by a winning combination. Firstly, Gianni’s small, flexible and highly specialized team are true partners with their Formula E counterparts, and if there’s a problem everyone pulls together. Secondly, there’s the support of the huge DHL network and all their resources, which are available 24/7 to help.

Racing towards an electric future

For the foreseeable future, the DHL protocols will remain in place, and the team aware of the need for ongoing flexibility to prepare for any eventuality.

Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Gianni says: “The big lesson is always to react and adapt! It’s our new motto.”

Logistics has the largest impact on Formula E’s carbon footprint. Aware of their responsibility to do their part for the environment, DHL has recently launched “Mission 2050,” which aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and includes developing sustainable fuels and climate-neutral buildings, and expanding their zero-emissions fleet so that 60% of last-mile deliveries are electrified by 2030. For example, in season seven, DHL cut all carbon emissions for the Championship that are caused by road and ocean freight by using biofuel, one year ahead of schedule.

In their role as Formula E Logistics Partner, they are helping to push the boundaries of sustainability with a tailored, multi-modal transport approach that maximizes efficiency and further reduces its carbon footprint. 

Beyond logistics, DHL is working with Formula E to inspire a global audience and raise awareness of sustainable mobility and the environment with initiatives and events such as the DHL Valencia E-Prix earlier this year, where DHL turned one of the circuit grandstands green by covering it with 400 olive trees, or its “Send a Breath of Clean Air” initiative.

With the enthusiasm of Gianni’s team for their job, DHL’s commitment to a greener future and the next generation of cars waiting in the spotlight, Formula E’s future looks electric. — Claire Millins

Published: October 2021

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Most Starts

82 (Lucas di Grassi & Sam Bird)

Most Wins

13 (Sebastian Buemi)

Most Poles

14 (Sebastian Buemi)

Most Podiums

34 (Lucas di Grassi)

Most Championships

2 (Jean Eric Vergne)

Images: Formula E, DHL

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