Head to any corner of the world and you’ll find a support series where emerging professional drivers are serving their apprenticeships as they look to become tomorrow’s driving superstars. While they’re all important, they all have two things in common: they’re wildly expensive, and they all place emphasis on driver development.
Formula G is the latest addition to the motorsports landscape, and while it too wants to be an ideal proving ground for emerging drivers, this isn’t something cut from the same cloth as the likes of Formula 3 or Indy NXT. It aims to target less represented areas, develop talent outside the car, and do it all at a significantly reduced cost, all while being the first true single seater development category to use electric cars.
“If you do a chart of the motorsport world right now, there’s a big hole in the middle, and that’s a hole we want to fill in right now. We’re not really re-inventing anything,” series co-founder and CEO Dilbagh Gill tells RACER. “Support racing with combustion engines that has existed for 30-40 years, doesn’t exist in electric, [so] let’s go and do it. We’re not trying to get into the crowded landscape, we’re just seeing this huge hole that hadn’t been taken care of.
“The second thing is it’s absolutely the right time, because technology and regulation are coming together, and it’s a perfect business opportunity. As motorsport has to expand round the world, you look at half the world’s population which is India and China, there’s not much motorsport but there’s a lot of aspiration coming — you have a Chinese F1 driver right now, two F2 drivers from India and there are more aspirational drivers coming in.
“We want to grow the market and that market is going to grow into an electric market, so it’s a pure business opportunity.”
Along with the traditional aspects of driving discipline, mastering technology is becoming an increasingly vital part of the racer’s toolkit, and Formula G thinks it can help them develop it. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images
It’s no secret that the automotive world is going in the direction of electrification, with motorsport following suit. But this is more than just a mere business proposition — with new types of cars comes a new way to drive. It’s a skill set that drivers have been typically learning once they reach the pinnacle, be it with all-electric cars in Formula E, or electrified hybrid vehicles in Formula 1 or endurance racing.
“We’re trying to create the born-electric generation, but at the same time, I also don’t want to keep talking just about electric — we want to talk about motorsport also,” Gill says. “Electric motorsport can be fun motorsport, it can be cost-effective motorsport, and at the same time we believe it can give tools in certain markets for developing drivers to become good drivers, irrespective of where they want to go on their journey.
“We know we’re not the end of the journey; they’re going to keep moving on from where we have to get to. So do they go towards the direction of Formula 1? Fantastic. Or are they going to be a professional driver and into WEC, LMDh, etc.? And most of these series around the world have a large part of electric energy coming into it.
Another co-founder of the Formula G project, Nick Heidfeld, knows a thing or two about alternative-powered racing cars and the skill set needed to handle them, having plied his trade in Formula 1, WEC and Formula E previously, and it’s experience he’s now applying to Formula G.
“The two things which Nick is focusing on as a co-founder is energy management and tire management, and the other bit which we feel is changing quite a bit in motorsport is the front axle’s getting more important, and that is something which we would like to start focusing on — the front axle on our cars so people understand what the front does,” Gill explains. “Single-seat, front axle — it’s still something new. It’s novel — we’ve just had one year of that in Formula E. I think that’s something really important and I think that will help them transcend into other forms of racing.
“If you look at the 2026 Formula 1 regulations also, energy management is getting really important. In all forms of motorsport there’s some sort of energy management coming into it as you go forward.”
Their stint together at Mahindra in Formula E, as team principal and driver respectively, showed Dilbagh Gill and Nick Heidfeld the rising potential of electric racing, and they are keen to apply it in new directions in Formula G. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images
Crucially, though, while there is of course no true motorsport without drivers, it’s a team game. And Formula G will be a leader in how the next generation of off-track talent will be fostered.
“We drivers are very lucky, earning a lot of money driving the cars being in the limelight, if you enjoy that part of the story. But the whole team behind that is probably even more crazy, because they don’t earn that much money,” Heidfeld points out. “They’re not that much in the limelight, and they work more hours than we do. You need a passion for that. It’s not like a nine-to-five job — they all put some hours in and they’re so motivated.”
The merits of schemes like the Red Bull junior program or Ferrari’s Driver Academy for drivers are clear, and Formula G will look to emulate that in a sense by partnering with universities and sponsors to create an ongoing conveyor belt of talent.
“Not everyone wants to be a driver, and that’s something which we would like to take forward,” says Gill, who previously spent eight years based in the UK while running Mahindra’s Formula E team, where he worked closely with a number of educational establishments. “When I was at Mahindra Racing, I’d talk to my peers in Formula E and every week we got resumes asking, ‘Can I be a weekend warrior? Just give me an opportunity’ and that’s when you realize there are people really looking to get into the sport and we are not able to give them that many opportunities.
“At Formula E, we suddenly realized that’s such a high level. We wanted people coming from Formula 1 and suddenly our salary levels went crazy, our engineer costs were even more than F1 engineer costs because it’s so much more important in Formula E — you’d have a staff of 60 guys giving you all the data and the amount of simulation you had to do. That’s when we said let’s go and try and create something that genuinely gives these people an opportunity.
“I was a mentor for my alumni university in India which does Formula Student — they’re quite successful internationally and I helped them there,” he adds. “I live in Boston — I was invited to give a talk at the MIT Formula Student program and I see these guys and I think, ‘If I could hire them, I would put them on my team in a heartbeat, they’re so damn brilliant,’ and these are people who want to come through, they’re already spending their free time tinkering around with these cars.”
The need to attract and develop talent is just as high on the engineering side of racing, and Formula G aims to build relationships with universities to prime the pump. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images
The development of engineers – which will also include sponsors being offered 10 scholarship places within the series and 10 percent of the series’ revenue going directly into scholarship schemes – has the potential to open up new avenues of development and problem-solving as well; in effect crowdsourcing car development.
“Can we start throwing away some of these small problems with different universities?” Gill queries. “Brunel could do the wiring harness for this particular car, Oxford Brookes could do the brake-by-wire, for example; what’s stopping us from going to these universities and sorting through these challenges? And I think they would come up with some fantastic ideas.
“I believe in the world of crowdsourcing. There’s some person sitting somewhere that’s going to solve your problem, they just need to know your problem.”
It would also be a way to promote diversity in an organic way, as well. Gill says he’d like to partner teams and educational establishments from different parts of the world, while the creation of regional championships would give parts of the world underrepresented in traditional motorsport a platform to showcase and develop new skills and people.
“Our target is to also grow in the under-represented markets, in Asia, for example,” Heidfeld says. “This will not happen tomorrow. That takes some time, but this is our target that’s on the horizon.
“Motorsport as a whole has been growing over the last years, especially in development and single-seater categories. We have drivers but unfortunately not championships everywhere. This is what we target, but from many different places in the world that are pushing into this direction.
“Interestingly, speaking to some teams, manufacturers and OEMs they are actually happy and looking forward to educating engineers and mechanics, especially in regards to electricity and electric motorsport, because it’s still relatively new.”
Formula G definitely has the potential to set the blueprint for how motorsport can develop in the future, something Heidfeld says would be “a dream.” It’s a project he believes in, having climbed the ladder himself as a driver, and who is now involved in on the other side.
“I was lucky in my life that I could make my passion my job,” he says. “And afterwards, I did not jump on any job opportunities, [but] this is something that excites me.
“I just believe in the program, in the idea we have, and I enjoy being part of a startup. This is also something that interests me, and also helping emerging drivers and giving everybody a chance. I think this for Dilbagh was the main motivator, and I admire him for that.”