Racing for clean air

Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi is the most successful Formula E driver. Far beyond the cockpit, the Brazilian is committed to the electrification of mobility and is a UN ambassador for clean air. In New Delhi, di Grassi experienced everyday life in the metropolis with the worst air pollution and its consequences. The film ‘The Race for Clean Air’ impressively documents his visit to India.

02/04/2020 Reading Time: 3 min

Lucas di Grassi in India

Race for clean air

Lucas di Grassi next to the Audi e-tron FE06

Motorsportsman with sustainable motives

Lucas di Grassi

“What sense does it make to drive around in a circle only to end up where you started from?” Lucas di Grassi wasn’t able to come up with a logical answer to his mother’s question about the meaning of motorsport for a long time – until the professional racer from Brazil discovered Formula E as a new place of employment for himself. Since then, the former Formula One driver, with great success, has not just been battling for victories and points, for titles and trophies, in the world’s first all-electric racing series, which he co-founded in 2014.  


Far beyond Formula E, the winner of the inaugural Formula E race and former drivers’ and teams’ champion has become a globally acknowledged ambassador for the electrification of mobility. In addition, di Grassi has been an official UN ambassador for clean air since the spring of 2018. The principle of ‘Racing for a reason’ – in other words motorsport driven by sustainable motives – has been guiding him and Audi alike. “Lucas really wants to make the world a better place,” his mother, Leila di Grassi, has long been convinced, and her conviction is shared by a growing number of her son’s fans and followers around the globe.  

Road in India

In grey conditions everyday

Lucas di Grassi

He leaves his personal comfort zone in his adopted country, Monaco, to immerse himself in the world’s greyest daily life in New Delhi: India’s capital, the second-largest city (28.5 million residents) in the world after Tokyo, is the metropolis with the worst air pollution. Here Lucas di Grassi, together with renowned local environmental journalist Bahar Dutt, meets with people for whom the increasingly menacing smog and its consequences are part of everyday life. Just like Shanti, the car mechanic, who shows the prominent guest one of Delhi’s largest truck workshops. Amongst countless dump trucks, tractors and lorries, Shanti tells of her Husband’s fate. Together with him, she used to repair everything from passenger cars to trucks. Until he died, far too soon – from consequences of the extreme air pollution. It kills nine million people worldwide per year, one million of them just in India.

This trip was an eye-opener for me, because I witnessed at close range what grave effects air pollution can directly have on people.

Lucas di Grassi

People at the fire

Underneath one of New Delhi’s many streets built on stilts, Lucas di Grassi visits men, women and children who are not even aware of the fact that they’re inhaling extremely polluted air day in day out. Air that pollutes your airways as much as if you smoked ten cigarettes a day. What’s more, this extremely harmful environment is not just produced by the still largely coal-fired industrial plants and the constantly growing traffic in India’s capital city, but mainly by these people themselves: due to the open fires, which they use for heat, to burn their daily garbage and to cook their meals. However, without cooking in this way, they wouldn’t even have any warm meals at all.  

Road in India

“This trip was an eye-opener for me, because I witnessed at close range what grave effects air pollution can directly have on people,” says Lucas di Grassi. “I understand that the challenges are much greater and, above all, more complex than we think. There’s not just a single cause and therefore no easy solution. That’s why the fight for clean air and the economic development of a country have to go hand in hand.” The key question for a country like India in this context is how economic growth can be achieved in sustainable, in other words in more environmentally compatible ways.

Road in India

A silver lining thanks to e-mobility

Road in India

Following his visit to India, the Formula E driver, who in 2019/2020 is contesting his sixth season for the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team, emphasizes: “The electrification of mobility plays a key role in fighting air pollution. That’s why we’re advancing the development and marketing of these technologies together.” In this respect, India has at least made good progress with rickshaws: 80 per cent of the country’s approximately 1.5 million motorised three-wheeled vehicles now have electric motors. In addition, by 2020, the number of electric cars in India, the fourth-largest car market in the world, is planned to increase to seven million.

Indoor plants

His visit to the Paharpur Business Centre in New Delhi, the ‘healthiest’ building in the metropolis, also gives Lucas di Grassi rise to hope. Three types of indoor plants supply the office complex with fresh air. The principle: the outside air is conducted into a so-called ‘green room’ on the roof, where the plants filter out the pollutants by means of photosynthesis. Afterwards, the air that has been purified strictly by the plants is distributed throughout the entire building via a duct system.

Lucas di Grassi

“I feel that it’s a moral duty to apply one’s professional knowledge to somehow making society better,” says Lucas di Grassi after his return to Monaco, particularly with his son, Leonardo, who was born in 2018, in mind. The film ‘The Race for Clean Air’ documents Lucas di Grassi’s trip to India, while the eco-conscious Formula E star has already set his sights on other targets for his global e-mission: In October 2020, di Grassi will be organising the first Latin American climate conference with a focus on new technologies for a CO 2-neutral future.

Race for
clean air

Lucas di Grassi
Lucas di Grassi
Lucas di Grassi

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