Should Formula E go to more purpose built race circuits?
Is there something to be gained from diversifying their calendar?
Since its inception back in 2014, Formula E has raced wholly on tight, winding city streets, which have given us our fair share of action over the years. So, with the series going to its first permanent track in just over a week, is this a time to gradually increase its share of the calendar? Or keep it is an odd event?
The reasons for Formula E to start up on solely street circuits in built up areas, was clear to see, as firstly it makes it easier for fans to come and see the event. Compared to a race circuit out in the middle of nowhere, like Silverstone, having it in London, means that people from all of the UK and the world, can easily get not only to the city, but then take the tube right to where the event is. This is a similar case for most of the big cities around the world, where Formula E travelled to early on. This can be crucial when trying to attract new fans, as they will not be as willing to make big sacrifices to see the race.
Possibly as big a reason, is the comparisons that can be made to other race series, if the sport raced on any well known tracks. Take for example, when IndyCar did its first and only race at COTA, there was all this intrigue about the time delta between F1 and IndyCar, which ended up being as we expected really. Given that even the Gen2 cars do not have a high top speed, and do not create masses of downforce, they would likely not come off well, even when compared with junior single seater formulas. Which would do nothing for their image.
Another major factor, is that racing in a city, enabled them to highlight the relevance of the series and electric cars in general, as they do not pollute the cities they are in, unlike petrol and diesel cars. Finally, with the tracks being tight, and walls ready to bite with any driver’s wrong move, the racing was likely improved by them having to create a race, around all the buildings and street furniture they found.
Despite all the positives that have just been mentioned, there are good reasons to move away from them, towards purpose built tracks. Infrastructure is probably the biggest one, as putting together a track just for one weekend in a city must be costly, even before you consider the disruption it must cause to those who live and work there. Also, the drivers must be bored by now, of endless 90 degree bends, as they go from street to street, so the idea of sweeping bends and other features that cannot be reproduced in a city, must be mouth-watering for them.
Safety must not be forgotten either in this, with each new generation of Formula E car, they are speeding up and producing more downforce, continuing to race between two concrete barriers could soon end in disaster if they are not careful. Whereas permanent circuits have over half a century’s worth of safety innovations behind them, with gravel traps and Techpro barriers as far as the eye can see.
Considering both sides of the argument, there is clearly a balance to be struck, both have their place in the series I feel, especially once electric technologies have furthered. For the foreseeable future, favouring street tracks is the most logical course of action, given the accessibility and action it creates, there is the risk that the field could get more spread out, on a high speed permanent track. It would take a lot for the series to switch to only purpose built tracks, as that appeals to so many people, and seems to be the way that the world is heading at the moment.
Assuming that Formula E will eventually get to be nearly as fast as F1, maybe even faster, that would be the time to really ramp up the use of permanent tracks, as you will have a product which can compete with F1, otherwise it could hurt their own image. The most likely scenario is that Formula E will stay mostly on city streets, and F1 mostly on purpose built circuits, although F1 seems to be following the money currently!