Charisma, event atmosphere & manufacturers: 5 things on the to-do list of new Formula E boss Jeff Dodds
From June 5, Formula E will have a new boss. At the start of a "transitional phase," English businessman Jeff Dodds will then take over from Jamie Reigle, who has led the series since September 2019. Ahead of the Liberty Global official Dodds lie some big tasks: He must lead Formula E into an uncertain future.
Jeff Dodds is 49 years old, British, and studied marketing and finance. After several years at the universities of Westminster, Aberdeen and Oxford, he gained experience as a businessman for companies in the automotive and telecommunications sectors. Most recently, he held responsibilities on the board of Virgin Media O2 in the U.K., and he also has a leading role in several philanthropic projects. And as of early June, he will also be: Chef Executive Officer of Formula E.
So much for the facts. On paper, Jeff Dodds appears to be an uber-qualified candidate for his new job in charge of the electric series. But if his era in Formula E, which will most certainly be marked by some big decisions, is to be a successful one, the new boss will have to overcome some challenges. That's because his predecessor, Jamie Reigle, leaves Dodds with no small number of tasks.
1 - Demonstrate charismatic leadership
Extricably linked to the question of whether Reigle has been a good Formula E boss or not, is the observation of his presence within Formula E. For as level-headed as he was in solving tricky tasks such as dealing with the coronavirus pandemic or the manufacturer exits of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, people inside and outside the organization often hardly took notice of him.
This is also because the Canadian was largely based in Hong Kong during his time in charge of the series. He had emigrated there with his family a few years ago to set up the Asian business of the Manchester United soccer club. By no means does he have to reproach himself for a lack of willingness to travel: At times, he must have spent more time on airplanes than with his children.
But Formula E is based in London, where a couple of employees have complained that they rarely get to see their boss. Reigle also failed to fill the shoes of the extremely charismatic Alejandro Agag in matters demanding external communications. Jeff Dodds will be expected not only to lead the company, but also to have a greater presence in dealing with stakeholders.
2 - Finally create calendar stability
With all due credit to Agag and Reigle for their achievements, Formula E has failed to establish its race calendar on firm, supporting pillars over the past eight-and-a-half years - apart from the E-Prixs in Berlin and Mexico City. Time and again, the series announced deals with new venues that fell through a few months later.
The races in Montreal, Seoul, Sanya, Zurich and Bern each took place only once. Formula E never made it to Vancouver, despite much fanfare. And it's also doubtful whether Paris, Santiago or Hong Kong will ever return to the calendar. Dodds' task can be formulated simply and yet is so difficult: Instead of dazzling social media posts about ever new, hip locations, the electric series needs a solid base of race tracks that it visits every year. As chief negotiator, that's Dodds' responsibility.
3 - Bring back the spectacle to the events
If Formula E finds its core locations, new venues can of course be happily added to the calendar. However, the future races of the championship need much more character in the support program. Spectators who travelled to the German E-Prix this year will know: The fan village in Berlin looked hardly any different in 2023 than it did in 2022, 2021 or 2018. In 2019, at least, there was Nico Rosberg's "Greentech Festival" in Tempelhof.
But 'e-Formula.news' has also heard of a certain frustration from fans from other countries in recent years that the events seemed to be rather soulless and copied from one venue to the next. How about finally having an electric series fill the supporting program of Formula E? Why does the autograph session necessarily have to take place in the pit lane (and then at sinfully expensive admission prices for fans, as was the case in Berlin)? Is it really only due to the lack of space that, apart from the podium celebrations, since the Swiss E-Prix in Zurich and Bern, there is hardly any festival atmosphere on race day?
4 - Keeping the series sustainable with Gen4's rulebook
Barely more than halfway through the first Gen3 season, the teams, manufacturers and partners of the FIA and Formula E are already talking about the Gen4 rulebook. The new vehicle is expected to be more powerful once again, and innovations such as (semi) slick tires, all-wheel-drive or the free development of front motors are being discussed. At the same time, new financial rules are likely to be introduced in just a few years, with which, among other things, driver salaries are to be capped.
The adjustments hold a lot of potential for the electric series. But Dodds, as the interface between all parties involved, is responsible for ensuring that Formula E remains viable. The financial rules must not lead to driver talents leaving the series for economic reasons, the manufacturer rules must keep the constructors happy and engaged. And the tightrope act of making the Gen4 product attractive from a sporting perspective has only just begun.
5 - Keeping the manufacturers happpy, including Porsche
Keeping manufacturers on board could shape the landscape of Formula E in the years ahead. Dodds must manage to keep the involved manufacturers in line. He can succeed in doing so with good, balanced racing on the one hand, but also with the right balance of development freedoms and spec-components, as well as growing attention for the Formula E product.
In recent years, that seemed to be precisely the Achilles' heel of the championship. Audi, BMW and Mercedes left the championship to develop their electric car technology elsewhere, for example as part of hybrid systems in Formula 1 or WEC/IMSA, and at the same time reach a larger audience there. Formula E's international TV ratings are good and reported to be growing, but they are nowhere near the level the series would have hoped for.
For good reason, the pressure on Dodds at the beginning of his tenure will thus be palpable: Porsche, Stellantis, Nissan, Mahindra, Nio 333 and Jaguar Land Rover expect their wishes to be heeded. Otherwise, the new CEO risks that they, too, will pull the plug at some point.