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Celebrities and sport superstars enter the water to compete in E1 Electric powerboat series

Celebrities and sport superstars enter the water to compete in E1 Electric powerboat series

Motorsport is a huge business, with F1 alone being worth in excess of €2 billion a year. However, it’s often criticised for being environmentally unfriendly, with even the glamour surrounding it not compensating for that fact.

Come 2024, though, there is an alternative taking the world of luxury sports by storm. Enter the E1 Series - the world’s first ever all-electric race boat championship.

Teams Checo, Drogba and Miami battle it out on the water in Jeddah
Teams Checo, Drogba and Miami battle it out on the water in Jeddah - Sam Morris / Spacesuit Media

After a huge launch last month amid much fanfare in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, it’s generated  enormous interest worldwide and now it's set to add excitement on Europe's waterways, too, as the season continues.

Sanctioned by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) - the international governing body for all powerboating activities - the E1 World Championship is unique in its vision.

Race and protect

It was established not just to create a competitive on-water racing platform utilising the latest in electric technologies, but also to protect and restore both coastal areas and urban waters.

The teams, made up of one male and one female pilot, are also set to race around European hotspots as well. They'll be driving the RaceBird - the first ever all-electric race boat.

Each boat uses cutting-edge hydrofoil technology and can reach speeds of up to and over 80km/h.

A star-studded roster of owners

Perhaps more interesting than the gender balance of the pilots or, indeed, the boats themselves are the owners of the teams.

They are owned by the likes of Tom Brady, Didier Drogba, Rafael Nadal, Steve Aoki and Marc Anthony.

With such star power onboard - they boast over 500 million Instagram followers - hubbub surrounding E1 has, unsurprisingly, been growing and growing.

Superstar DJ Steve Aoki attended the Jeddah event to support his team;Mashael Alobaidan and Saud Ahmed who both hail from Saudi Arabia - and are famous for their considerable racing talents.

"Racing is a big part of my family history" - Steve Aoki
"Racing is a big part of my family history" - Steve Aoki - Danny Hayward / Spacesuit Media

Racing on water is very much in Aoki’s blood. His father, Rocky, was a professional offshore powerboat racer, who was twice champion of the Benihana Grand Prix.

Speaking to Euronews Culture at the inaugural event, Steve Aoki explained the sport “is a big part of my family history. It was a big part of my dad's life."

"I think that carried through, and when [E1] was a conversation on the table, if I have time, if I'm willing to put in X, Y and Z. I was all in,” he added.

He laughed at our suggestion that he might like to follow in his father’s footsteps and race the boats himself, though, saying: "I have the opportunity to continue the legacy of my father. I'm not going to be driving it… he's crazier than me. I just have some of his drive and ambition - and his courage."

Also in Jeddah was Aoki’s musical colleague and, dare we say, rival - on stage and on the water. Marc Anthony, the top selling tropical salsa artist of all time, is also no stranger to the world of sports.

Let's go, team! Marc Anthony cheers on Team Miami
Let's go, team! Marc Anthony cheers on Team Miami - Shiv Gohil / Spacesuit Media

Learning by losing

In 2009, he became a minority stakeholder of the NFL team Miami Dolphins in 2009 alongside his then wife Jennifer Lopez.

They have certainly had their ups and down in the competitive world of sport - something Anthony knows all too well.

"When we first bought the Miami Dolphins, in the first seven years we knew that we were restructuring the team. I learned that losing hurts when you're an owner of a team, it burns differently," he told Euronews Culture.

Did it teach him any lessons about how to handle loss? Absolutely, he says: "It's about patience. It's about what you lose. It's what you learn by losing. That's what I realised, right? Every challenge is an opportunity.”

Supporting his team - called Miami, rather than named after himself, to celebrate his heritage - he was able to put these lessons into practice.

"I told [my E1 pilots, Anna Glennon and Erik Stark] no matter what happens just chalk it up to, 'oh, well I know how that feels and I don't want to feel it ever again'.”

The positive mindset paid off in the end, with Team Miami coming in second place overall, just after American football star Tom Brady’s pilots.

While Brady wasn’t able to attend the race in person, legendary footballer Didier Drogba was in Jeddah for every part of the proceedings, even speaking to scientists to learn about the mechanics of the racing boats.

For the Ivorian hero, E1 was a chance to indulge his competitive nature and also to work towards a more sustainable future for sports.

“I really wanted to be involved with E1 for its focus on the conservation of the oceans and the very real issue of climate change,” he told Euronews Culture in the purpose-built event space on the banks of the race site.

“Winning trophies and medals and earning money is nice, of course, but in everything I do, I want to give back to the communities. Communities are the ones, I believe, who make us champions in the first place.”

A true team player: Didier Drogba at the event
A true team player: Didier Drogba at the event - Danny Hayward / Spacesuit Media

“For people like me - so-called legends - we need to give something back. That ties into climate change, too. We need to fight for a better future for the youth and E1 can be a positive step towards a brighter future.”

How did E1 begin?

Rodi Basso, the former McLaren Motorsport business director and NASA consultant, is the brains behind E1, as its co-founder and chief executive.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, he teamed up with the founder of Formula E and Extreme E, Alejandro Agag, in a bid to electrify racing on water.

After ironing out the kinks, the duo knew it wouldn’t be hard to attract team owners who are at the top of their respective games.

Rodi Basso speaks at the launch of the E1 series
Rodi Basso speaks at the launch of the E1 series - Shiv Gohil / Spacesuit Media

"They [the owners] are all at the peak of their careers. Some of them are still ongoing with entertainment and sport,” Basso told Euronews Culture, “They wanted to have a project with a big impact.”

Tennis champion Rafael Nadal is another owner keen to expand his repertoire from his exceptional sportsmanship.

"Rafa Nadal, before he listened to the E1 project, spoke to his managers and his team, and he said, 'when I stop playing, find me a project with high Impact',” Basso explained.

So far, so good. The only thing missing for Basso is, it seems, female team owners.

While each pair of racers is made up of one man and one woman, all eight team owners are men.

"This is my biggest frustration, I can tell you that," he explained, but maintained, “We tried. We tried very hard.”

All is not lost though. While there are just 8 teams now, there will eventually be up to 12 - and, Basso promises, there will be at least one female owner when all are eventually announced.

Regardless of ownership, it's clear he and his team are excited for the future of the fledgling sport.

Steely determination: Tom Chiappe for Team Rafa pictured in his E1 Race Bird
Steely determination: Tom Chiappe for Team Rafa pictured in his E1 Race Bird - Sam Morris / Spacesuit Media

“What we are doing with E1 has never been done before - we are charting unknown waters in our mission to drive change through electrified sport and sports entertainment,” he explained, “By combining innovation and sustainability with celebrity glamour and sporting drama, we’ve created a unique Championship that’s set to connect to a global fanbase and instigate change that will positively impact marine habits and waters in coastal cities.”

That fanbase is getting more established by the day. It’s certainly a thrill to watch the talented, world class E1 pilots navigate tight and technical circuits behind the wheel of the electric race boats which look like something out of a science fiction writer’s idea of the future.

While Tom Brady’s team did take the win after two days of fierce competition in Jeddah, there’s still a chance for the others to prove themselves.

The Saudi event was just the start of the first season - with future seasons planned already.

Before that though, the teams will head to some of Europe and the wider world’s most famous waterways.

All the glitz and glamour you'd expect: A snapshot of the opening night of the E1 event in Jeddah
All the glitz and glamour you'd expect: A snapshot of the opening night of the E1 event in Jeddah - Shiv Gohil / Spacesuit Media

On 11 and 12 May, they’ll be in the iconic canals of Venice before heading to Marbella, Geneva, Monaco and Rotterdam before the season draws to a close in no doubt spectacular style in Hong Kong on 10 November.

Unsurprisingly, everyone involved - even those of us on the sidelines - is full of anticipation for what’s coming next.

“E1 has firmly landed on the global sporting map, and our next stop, Venice, is set to be another tremendous event,” says Basso - and we can’t help but agree with him.