Me and my glasses
British Formula E racing driver, Alexander Sims, speaks to OT about his new partnership with sustainable brand Coral Eyewear and the need for his frames to be kid-proof
When did you start wearing spectacles and what prompted you to go for a sight test?I have been wearing glasses for four, nearly five, years. I was prompted to go for a sight test as I was experiencing slightly blurred vision, particularly at night. I remember on journeys coming back from trips where inevitably I would be tired as well, I’d notice the brake lights double up or find I was squinting a bit.
It would get better and get worse some days, but on balance after some time I felt that something had changed with my eyesight.
It was lovely to get glasses actually. I think my eyesight had probably been getting a bit worse over time and you just don’t notice because it is so gradual, but I remember when I first put my glasses on, it was like everything was in high definition.
I tried contacts but didn’t really like the feeling of having something on my eye. I was aware of the potential difficulties of racing with glasses, having not done it before, but I needed glasses to pass my medical so that was a clear decision.
The practicalities of wearing glasses for me are fine because the benefits outweigh any issues. The biggest challenge has been trying to get the kids to not steal them off my head, which they seem to really enjoy.
How many pairs of spectacles and sunglasses do you own?I have quite a few broken pairs from the kids. I must have gone through 10 sets of glasses I think, either through being scratched in racing or the kids breaking them, over the last four or five years. I really only have my one pair of normal glasses, in the one style anyway. I have several sets so that I have a spare pair with me when I race in case I drop them or have a problem with them. And now I have a pair of lovely sunglasses as well, through Coral Eyewear.
What is your eyewear style?It is purely function over form. They are bendy glasses where the frame and arms can bend almost 180 degrees; they are super flexible. I needed them to firstly be kid-proof. Secondly, when I’m racing, the arms need to bend slightly and shape around my head a bit when they’re inside my helmet, because the fit of the helmet is quite tight to your head. To not have anything that is solid or rigid felt slightly more comfortable when I was trying them out.
Could you tell us about your recent partnership with Coral Eyewear?Now that I’m in Formula E, there is a bit more of a platform for a brand who would be open to partnering with me. Everything that Coral stands for and is doing really paired with my own personal priorities in life in terms of sustainability.
Wearing glasses was not something I had factored into the sustainability equation too much. I think it’s understandable that I hadn’t thought about it as it doesn’t seem to be something that has been done by anyone in terms of making sustainable sunglasses and glasses frames.
We saw what Coral was starting up and heard the story of how they make the glasses; recovering fishing nets and using recycled plastic and themselves being fully recyclable in the future, and it seemed like a really nice fit. The guys at Coral seemed enthusiastic as well.
How do the sustainable goals of Coral Eyewear reflect your own aims?Although I’ve been a racing driver for many years, in my personal life for probably the last 10–12 years I’ve been getting more interested and passionate about sustainability, renewable energy and electric cars. To the point of trying to convert my home to be as eco-friendly as I can, such as with solar panels. I’ve also owned an electric car since 2012, which I drive day-t-day.
I’m the chairman and trustee of the charity, Zero Carbon World. It is just me and two other people and we run it on a part-time basis. We raise money to buy charging stations through key partners, which we donate to small businesses so that they can install them and give more options for electric car drivers to charge from. Places like bed and breakfasts, small tourist attractions, cafes and pubs.
I go to eco-trade shows and look at new products coming out for all sorts of new sectors, just because I’m genuinely interested in how the world is going to face the challenges that are ahead. I like to see who is coming up with interesting ideas to sort out the issues. The new partnership with Coral definitely chimes with a genuine passion of mine.
What is important to you about the eyewear you choose?I see sunglasses around that some people wear that are super flashy and make a statement and that’s really not me. I think I just quite like a simple, fairly understated design of glasses and sunglasses.
My eyewear has got to work with my lifestyle in terms of having kids. They need to be durable because inevitably playing with the kids, there is scope for them to get damaged.
This is exactly the same for racing as well, but for different reasons. You want something you can put down on the side and it doesn’t matter if they get a bit scratched. They’re there to serve a purpose when I’m racing. Those are probably the two main priorities.
How important is it to you that your eyewear reflects or suits your lifestyle?From a fundamental point of view, I need the glasses to be able to race and see clearly and if there is a problem with them for whatever reason that becomes a lot harder. From the functional side of things its super important for me to be able to do my job, but also the partnership with Coral raises my awareness to now wanting to have my glasses be sustainable as well.
During COVID-19 you ran a donation drive to source surplus personal protective equipment (PPE) from motorsports team for the NHS. Could you tell us about this project?It was an idea my race engineer, Andrea, had to contact motorsport teams around the UK for their surplus PPE to donate to the NHS. A lot of teams stock PPE for use in their motorsport work and because of lockdown, nobody was using their stocks.
I helped out and used my contacts to speak to as many UK teams as I could. We had a fantastic response, from single mechanics who just do weekend work in their spare time, to the top Formula One teams and everyone in between. They all came forward and were happy to donate a decent amount of kit. Then I took my van and drove around the UK for a day doing lots of collections. We had a full van-load to donate to the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust and to the Milton Keynes Trust as well.
We were able to provide almost 40,000 pairs of gloves, 1,900 masks, 150 Tyvek suits, and lots of hand gel bottles. It was a nice thing to do and really nice to see everyone pulling together to help out how they could in a small way.