March 21, 2023

How Formula E brought racing back to London after 40 years – Autosport

Motor race proper — as opposed to short-oval competition, that is : had been absent from London since the Crystal Palace circuit shut its doors almost exactly 50 years ago. It would take until 2015 to return when the maiden season of Formula Electronic climaxed with a thrilling double-header in Battersea Park.

Yet to get to the first E-Prix in London, the net had been cast far and wide, and was again twice over: once whenever the Thames-side venue was in peril ahead of year two of the British FE fixture; and then right after its enforced disappearance from the schedule after that second edition.

The trawl for potential venues went all the particular way in order to south London and Amazingly Palace. The venue that held non-championship Formula 1 events plus rounds of the European Formula 2 Championship in the post-war incarnation was on the initial long list. And it was definitely a long list. Oli McCrudden, who ran the Battersea races as FE’s senior event manager, reckons there have been as many 14 locations considered for the particular London fixture down the years.

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The O2 Arena – formerly the Millennium Dome – in Greenwich, Alexandra Palace within north Greater london, Wembley Stadium and a venue right in the heart of the particular city incorporating sections of the Mall were all upon the preliminary list. That’s not to forget ExCeL, Crystal Palace, and, associated with course, Battersea.

Then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson had thrown his weight behind FE, which announced London as one of the particular first tranche of eight host cities in March 2013. The particular future prime minister described FE as a “scintillating prospect” for the city, pointing out that will he was “hugely keen that Greater london be involved in the birth of FE”.

Despite this political will at London City Hall, FE founder and now chairman Alejandro Agag always knew there would be significant hurdles in order to be cleared in Greater london, probably more so than in other towns around the particular world.

Then Mayor of London Boris Johnson described FE as a “scintillating prospect” for the city

Then Mayor associated with London Boris Johnson explained FE like a “scintillating prospect” for the city

Photo by: FIA Formula E

“London was a primary objective through the beginning because we wanted to go to all the world’s major cities, ” says Agag, who experienced launched their plans for FE within August 2012. “London and New York were right up there at the particular top of the list, plus also the places where we looked at the most potential venues. London was the big prize, but it wasn’t easy. ”

All the locations listed above initially fell behind another option. Heading the pecking order because FE began planning for its inaugural season in 2014/15 was a track laid out in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park within Stratford, east London. The problem was the park was in the process of being remodelled within the wake of the particular 2012 London Olympic Games.

“There had been going to be changes to the roads so it was a kind of moving target, ” recalls Agag. “We didn’t really know where we could have the track, so we had to discard that option. ”

Battersea emerged as plan B at this stage, though Stand out and the indoors-and-out track layout has been definitely in the mix to host the Greater london FE round on the particular inaugural schedule. News that will the 200-acre park in London was the venue being most hotly pursued by FE had been broken by Autosport within March 2014. The site within the London Borough associated with Wandsworth was subsequently announced as the “chosen option” in order to take London’s place on the 2014/15 FE calendar at the official launch of season 1 that June.

“London was a primary objective from the beginning because we desired to go to all of the world’s major cities”  Alejandro Agag

“I always had Battersea Park in my mind, because I used to run upon that loop of highways, ” explains Agag, a long-time resident from the capital who describes himself since very much the Londoner. “I always thought that if the cars could handle the particular camber —  and I was sure they could —  it would be the perfect signal. ”

A top-secret test by Lucas di Grassi in a single of the particular first-generation FE racers within the small hours of an August morning in 2014 showed that it was feasible, the final sign-off by the local authority in February 2015 made it possible. And then the events of what had become a double-header in June 2015 proved Agag right once again: the 1 . 818-mile layout on the park’s perimeter roads did make for a decent routine.

Decent, but definitely not perfect: the particular inaugural Greater london E-Prix wasn’t without its problems. The circuit has been viewed simply by some as too tight and narrow, and Turn 1 was temporarily re-profiled with regard to the first of the 2 races. Surface repairs in order to remove the bump allowed it to come back to the original design for day two of the meeting.

The particular Battersea venue undoubtedly played host to some exciting racing as Nelson Piquet Jr became the very first FE champion with the China Racing/NEXTEV squad now known as NIO. It was the particular most dramatic championship finale on which usually this writer has ever had the joy to report.

Nelson Piquet Jr became the first FE champion with the China Racing/NEXTEV squad at the Battersea venue

Nelson Piquet Junior became the first FE champ with the particular China Racing/NEXTEV squad at the Battersea venue

Picture by: FIA Formula Electronic

But there were bigger bumps in the road – metaphorical ones — looming regarding FE within London. A group of local residents set out to stop the second edition associated with the race under the banner of the Battersea Park Action Group.

They argued against the continuation from the event on the grounds it turned out limiting access by the particular public in order to the park for an extended period, as well as damaging its fabric: “Car-racing in London should take place in an appropriate place, and not in a green public park, ” insisted the group, that claimed that the council within Wandsworth got exceeded its powers in allowing the particular staging the event.

The activists forced the judicial review of the local council’s decision to give the go-ahead to the E-Prix. The problem intended for FE had been that the hearing date fell just five weeks before the particular series was due to return to Battersea.

FE acquired its back to the wall, doubly therefore because there were problems brewing to get the Moscow E-Prix, the penultimate weekend of the particular championship scheduled for the start of 06. It might eventually be cancelled in early May.

Battersea’s issues sent FE in search of a good alternative in the 11th hour. Crystal Structure re-entered the fray, albeit briefly, along with other potential stand-in venues because diverse since RAF Northolt and Brands Hatch. (Northolt lies within the M25 motorway, Brands outside, but the particular Kentish monitor did sponsor the 2003 Champ Car fixture under the ‘London Trophy’ banner. )

“We went to Crystal Palace and had a good look at the place, ” says McCrudden, whose late father Stuart had raced on the old 2. 24-mile circuit. “My idea was in order to try to somehow in order to get returning to that classic layout my father raced on —  I have photos associated with him crashing a [Ford] Escort Mexico there. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to bring it back to life and create a kind of electric motorsport centre that brought in other electrical stuff, too. ”

The reasons why Crystal Structure never managed to get beyond the particular long listing first time around also resulted in this being discarded as the viable fall-back option in the 2nd time of asking. Much of the main straight has been grassed more than, while the expansion associated with National Sports Centre, which incorporates an athletics track, within the mid-1970s had encroached upon the particular circuit layout.

Crystal Palace was a popular venue for Formula 2 races in which the likes of F1 ace Jochen Rindt turned out, before its closure in 1972

Crystal Palace was a popular venue pertaining to Formula two races within which the likes of F1 ace Jochen Rindt turned out, before its closure in 1972

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“The problem was that the particular amount associated with work required was a lot more than substantial because of changes in order to the recreation area and the development that has gone on since the 1970s, ” says McCrudden. “There was not the will certainly at FE to invest the kind of money that would have been required. ”

The lack of a credible alternative to Battersea forced FE, in Agag’s words, to “cut a deal” with the protesters: “We said, ‘let the particular event go ahead, let us race this particular year and we will part as friends’.

“The judicial review could possess gone either way; all of us felt it was 50-50. It had been a compromise but a good compromise due to the fact we wished to keep the Battersea competitions around the routine. ”

The end associated with Battersea Park as a good FE venue was the begin of exactly what turned out to be a four-season hiatus for that series from your town in which the FE organisation is based. But it wasn’t meant for want of trying. Post-Battersea, Agag targeted running the real street event, something that has been made a realistic prospect from the Deregulation Act of 2015.

Agag talked openly at the time of his aspirations to web host FE to a track including sections associated with the Mall, Horse Guards Parade and a link through St James’s Recreation area

Previously the particular suspension of the Road Traffic Act —  and the speed limits that come with it —  designed for a particular venue needed their own piece of legislation. That explained the long gestation time period of the particular Birmingham SuperPrix of 1986-90, the only previous road event upon the British mainland.

Agag had designs on a race within the coronary heart of London, conceding in the summer of 2016 that ExCeL was “a bit too far out” just for him as he hinted that he hadn’t given up on FE’s home city finding a place on the following season’s calendar. He talked openly during the time of his aspirations in order to host FE to a track including sections of the Mall, Horse Guards Parade and the link through St James’s Park.

Half a dozen years upon Agag, whose focus these days has turned from FE towards the Extreme E off-road electric powered series, admits that he “walked close to the Shopping mall again plus again thinking how we all could make a race possible there”. It wasn’t the particular only option considered: there was also the track schemed incorporating the Embankment on the north side from the Thames in the vicinity of the City of Greater london.

ExCeL was announced in March 2019 as the second home of FE in London on a long-term deal

ExCeL had been announced in March 2019 since the second home of FE within London on a long-term deal

Photo simply by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images

There were, however, any number of problems with the Mall. One, which usually sounds prescient today, concerned the scenario to be unplaned in the event of the particular death associated with Queen Elizabeth II.

“One of the reasons why we were told we couldn’t do it was that we would have to vacate the premises in the case of the particular passing from the Queen, ” explains Agag. “That would be one of the restrictions on using the Mall and we couldn’t dismantle the walls in 24 hours. As much as I would have liked to have got gone to the Mall, this was as well difficult. ”

ExCeL never disappeared being a potential location, however, though it remained potential not only as a result associated with Agag’s desire for the city-centre place. A visit to the proposed venue because early since July 2014 with the FIA, on the same day time because the governing body took its first look from the Battersea site, highlighted the work and costs necessary to turn FE’s vision of a circuit that will took the particular cars into and via ExCeL’s exhibition halls into a reality.

Agag insists today that it was a question of money  that kept ExCeL away of the equation for so long. It is worth pointing out there that the particular London FE fixture gets none of the public subsidies of other host metropolitan areas.

“We realised it was likely to become so expensive to competition on the Exceed, ” this individual explains. “We basically did not have the money; when we came a bit more financially solid then we proceeded to go there. ”

One of the problems with ExCeL was your shiny low-grip concrete surface of the particular exhibition halls, which made it unsuitable for race and left it outside of the FIA’s technical requirements. That forced FE to come up along with an imaginative but permanent solution involving the removal of a shallow layer of the concrete and then bonding on the new polymer surface to create the required level of grip for your indoors section of the track that initially measured one 398 miles.

“The truth has been that the amount of science that was needed in order to make the monitor happen with ExCeL had been going to be substantial, ” describes McCrudden. “Certainly the idea of going around a building plus into this – which is what we thought all of us wanted in order to do — was some thing we probably weren’t well placed to get the FIA to agree in order to initially.

“It took the lot associated with hard graft over lengthy period of time on the part of people like our track designer Simon Gibbons to work out how we can do it, even before we’re able to go back to the particular FIA. ”

Brands Hatch was considered as a venue during the COVID pandemic in a bid to get racing restarted behind closed doors

Brands Hatch was considered as a location during the COVID pandemic in a bid to get racing restarted at the rear of closed doors

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Pictures

ExCeL was announced within March 2019 as the 2nd home associated with FE in London on a long-term offer, now known to be five many years. It has been because of close out the particular 2019/20 time of year in July 2020, yet the ravages that COVID played within the international motorsport calendar meant the 1st edition of the London E-Prix within east Greater london wouldn’t take place until This summer 2021. ExCeL had turn into a ‘Nightingale’ or temporary overflow hospital to deal with the outbreak and would remain as one until 03 2021.

That will created an additional twist in the ‘London’ story. As FE tried in order to come up with ideas on how to near out period six, Manufacturers Hatch pinged back onto the radar. The Kentish venue —  22 miles over the A20 from central London —  is owned by Motor Sport Vision, whose race arm MSVR has run all four London FE contests so far.

“During COVID we were looking at Brands Hatch as a way of doing things behind closed doors and to get things up and running, ” says McCrudden, now cities development director at FE. “Brands Emerge was certainly looked on, but in the end we all decided do everything over those nine days in August at Berlin [on the site of Templehof Airport] on three different monitor configurations. ”

“During COVID i was looking at Brand names Hatch as a way of doing things behind closed doorways and to obtain things up plus running”  Oli McCrudden

Crystal Palace hasn’t entirely disappeared through the agenda, either. Major works planned for the park announced within 2020 piqued McCrudden’s interest.

“I heard about a significant investment strategy in the particular park, ” he says McCrudden. “I had been trying to get the bit more information associated with see what it could mean for us.

“We don’t have an indefinite contract with ExCeL, although there’s the desire to extend it. But you have to look at your options for the future. ”

The first edition of the London E-Prix in east London took place in July 2021

The very first edition of the Greater london E-Prix in east London took location in Come july 1st 2021

Photograph by: Sam Bagnall or Motorsport Images



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