Formula E: The challenges behind making London E-Prix a ‘world first’ in motor racing

·4-min read
 (Simon Galloway / LAT Images)
(Simon Galloway / LAT Images)

Formula E is back in town and it’s a world first at the ExCel London this year, with the street circuit race no longer limited to the outside world.

This time around, 22 drivers will be surging around the track both indoors and outdoors, with the no-emissions nature of the vehicles enabling the organisers to push the boundaries of what is possible - and in front of a sell-out crowd, too.

Damian Norman, Head of Live Events at ExCeL London, explained ahead of the weekend double-header how the concept came about to take a Formula E street race partially inside - and how there’s so much more scope for improvement next season and beyond.

“When we first put this together and met Formula E, they said they wanted to race the track inside and outside the exhibition walls - we sat there thinking, ‘these guys are mad!’ But we liked the idea of doing something never done before,” he told The Independent.

“Doing a world first is hard for a number of reasons. We had finished on the track and were ready to go before Covid, then finally got it done last year - but it was a small audience in 2021 so to see the grandstand built over the last 15 days and knowing what the atmosphere will be like with 13,000 people indoors, we’re super excited to host it.”

Now, as the end point of the planning approaches and the on-track racing is set to begin, it’s worth noting that this has been a long-term and ongoing development.

Formula E was racing in Battersea, around a park, only a few years ago.

Now it’s adding more major cities and race days to the calendar with every passing campaign, is set for a new upgrade of cars for Season 9 in 2023 and London, as a host, is set to become even better for both drivers and spectators alike.

“After the conversation of ‘is it even possible?’, you start breaking down the different elements: gradient of ramps, track surfaces, will it deteriorate if we run 400 events on top of it [afterwards]?” Norman explained. “Then, if it’s possible, are we the type of business who will do it? You need two parties to work closely together and we’re committed to making it happen.

“We’re committed to making it better. We’ll see fans for the first time indoors and out, and the e-village [for fans] is here for the first time too.

“But next year is the Gen3 cars and we have the opportunity to reconfigure the track and make it longer - every year we run a post-event analysis and we’re looking at those plans before and after this year’s races. We anticipate the expansion of the race and we’re developing our fan experience too for 2023.”

More to come next year, then, but what about this weekend?

It’s always about more than just the racing for Formula E, where teams and crew, fans and media alike are repeatedly impressed upon the importance of changes in materials, diet and plenty more besides.

 (Carl Bingham / LAT Images)
(Carl Bingham / LAT Images)

The entire ecosystem is very much about sustainability and - increasingly - social improvement on a local and far wider scale.

It’s not lost on Norman, who says the two organisations have been able to take a huge amount from each other beyond merely arranging a world-class racing environment. “The great thing to come out of the relationship is that we’re now announcing we’re a carbon net zero venue. We’ve learned a huge amount: how we donate, how we treat food waste, how we work with local charities. It’s a genuine partnership.

“We’ve got a great working relationship with Formula E, working on sustainability and our net zero commitment.”

With more than 20,000 fans expected to be in place across the weekend, there’s naturally a huge amount of emphasis on the entertainment aspect too.

Formula E, now the second-biggest motor racing championship in the world, has everything which might be expected at a major sporting event as well as - which Norman pointed out - plenty which might not be usually on offer at a venue more usually renowned for hosting the corporate and comicbook worlds.

“It’s something you can create excitement and pride in, to bring fans back who have never seen an indoor race. I’m really excited to see the atmosphere, to have the sound compressed with the roof on...so yes, it’s very different to a ComicCon or other event! It shows that we at the ExCel can be many things to many people, but it’s certainly the most unique.

“Putting race cars through the exhibition at 175mph is a different fabric of event!”

The 2022 London E-Prix will be broadcast live on terrestrial television on Channel 4 on July 30 & 31. Buy tickets and follow all updates from the race at ExCeL London here.

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