Street circuits are the key to Formula E’s success – 4 challenges
Formula E succeeded in creating a popular racing series with electric cars. eGPs also owe their success to their circuits, exclusively based in the heart of cities. These tracks meet a set of precise specifications, as Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag explains.
1-The cities chosen to showcase Formula E
Formula E’s success was far from certain, with many doubts about the project before its launch in 2014. To give the series the best chance, organisers decided to race entirely on street circuits, placed in the middle of the world’s greatest cities. The goal was simple – convince people by bringing the action to them, and the 2015-16 season features races in Beijing, Mexico City, Paris, Moscow and London.
Alejandro Agag’s view: “Staging races in globally important cities helps to reinforce our message and distribute it better. They want to identify with our values: clean transport and electric cars. That’s why they were our priority. Clearly, there are other cities, but we have to make sure it is feasible – for example some are difficult to access and the streets are too narrow.”
2 – Successful negotiation with cities
Thanks to its electric cars, Formula E succeeds where F1 has often failed. The cars do not pollute and there is less noise. But there are other hurdles, such as the timing. Dates are set by the organising committee and subject to FIA approval. Next, the event needs to gain permission from cities especially to close roads around the circuit. Anyone who has seen the traffic in Paris, for example, can imagine the challenges of staging an ePrix.
Alejandro Agag’s view: “Despite what you might think, the Paris ePrix was no harder than the others to organise. That’s for a simple reason: in France, as in other countries, we have been lucky to get incredible support from the city, from Mayor Anne Hidalgo and her team. We work together and gained permission to run fast enough. In general, negotiations last a year. The real difficulties are logistical and organisational.”
3 – Setting up the track
This is where things get complicated. Developing a circuit in the city centre throws up many obstacles, including those related to security – clearly a key point in motor racing. Urban tracks are generally short on clear spaces, cars skirt the walls – and nothing is modifiable.
Alejandro Agag’s view: “We look at all these elements locally. If we don’t find a flat area large enough to install the paddock, we can’t organise an ePrix. From a technical point of view, we also try to find the most ‘beautiful’ corners possible. Then you have the logistics of delivering structures, walls and security barriers – in Paris we had to bring them to the river Seine. You also need a track surface stable enough to cover the cobbles, but also easy to remove later.”
4 – Showcase for Formula E... and constructors
A spectacle at the heart of the world’s largest cities inevitably attracts crowds. Thousands of tickets sell easily, and new races such as Paris this year arouse curiosity. This is particularly important for the Formula E constructors (Renault, Audi, DS etc.) who are fighting for the title.
Alejandro Agag’s view: “Clearly, we take the size of the market into account when we choose the cities, but it’s not the most important criterion. We know very well that opportunities to install a lot of seating and large terraces are restricted. If we try to attract people, it’s above all for our partners. Because as well as winning races and fighting a technical battle, the manufacturers are here to sell cars.”
And although he admits the Paris ePrix is its best showcase, the Formula E boss is not yet satisfied. When we contacted him for this interview he was in New York, looking for a new playground for electric cars.