T​hink you can't get to motorsport? How about it comes to you

16w ago

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I​ live in London's East End, it's famous for eel pie and mash, the final frontline of gentrification, the DLR, amazing curry and West Ham football club. It's not massively famous for motorsport, due to our total lack of any circuit facilities (the nearest is a river and a few boroughs away at Crystal Palace's old track) and if we had a permanent facility, it would definitely have been repurposed into luxury flats.

O​bviously millions of other people live here with me. If we want to go and see some motorsport, it's a two-hour drive to Brands or 45 minutes on the tube, another hour on a train and a taxi fare you try not to think about too hard to Silverstone.

Until this time next year when BOOM or rather 'skkkreeee-clatterclatterclatter' there's a race track on my doorstep. Formula E will be once more in London.

T​he thing about cities, as a venue, is that they let more people attend. The infrastructure of where to stay in London is massively bigger than it is in Banbury, even if you just go by the number of available hotels without looking at public transport options.

B​ut it's not all about picking the race location closest to an east-end boozer. We know motorsport needs to reach a new audience - which is difficult if you tuck it away in places you only even know about if you're already involved.

I​t's an open secret that motorsport across the globe - and spectrum of series - wants to break new ground, get more fans in and try to build the profile. From Netflix documentaries to showcases, single-seaters to touring cars, everyone wants to get seen by new people.

T​o do that, you have to make it easy. And that means putting yourself in front of people and turning up where they already are. Say, a capital city or something.

W​hich sounds so straightforward. Just go to a city! People will be excited by the cars! Brilliant, that's the marketing strategy completely nailed.

E​xcept of course that it's really, really not. Everyone wants to do it, it's just that cities and motorsport are a bit incompatible on a lot of levels – pollution, noise, blocking the roads, needing weeks to build a track, resurfacing, bringing in an entire paddock, building massive infrastructure up to and including permanent pit buildings.

I​t's not the kind of thing that goes down well. Even the most motorsport-mad city doesn't actually want to give up its infrastructure or have construction for weeks on end – and even if they did, it's usually just not possible.

Which is why Formula E going to the places other series can’t is important, not just for electric motorsport.

There hadn’t been a race in New York City since 1916, when Formula E rocked up there in 2017. It wasn’t a going concern that there was likely to be one – where would you put it and how would it even work?

Yes, sure, everyone wants to get that sweet urban population – full of high-earners and young people – to look at their sport but it’s another thing entirely getting it there. And in a world where the margins of event-running are tight and often mathematically impossible, accounting-wise, it’s not worth the bother.

FE doesn’t have the easy out of climbing down from it and going to a traditional circuit; its entire brand is built on street racing. Which is great but means it has no option to take a less fraught route into holding an event, soft options including just giving up and going to a Uruguayan peninsula rather than being able to retreat to the safety of a permanent facility.

It’s a challenge that’s got to be met and met credibly. Formula E couldn’t build a world-class reputation if it took easy outs or somehow fiddled its way round the circuits, they’ve got to be where other series can’t go and Formula E has to find a way to get there.

Next season, the calendar looks set for multiple new challenges.

Formula E could have decided to rest on its laurels at this point. They’ve got a global calendar, they don’t need to expand it any further. Definitely challenges like setting up the first international motorsport in a country or bending a track around a UNESCO World Heritage site alongside pushing forward electric racing might seem like biting off more than could possibly be chewed.

But that’s the whole deal; if you’re going to make it a success, it’s got to be all-in. You’ve got to go to electric vehicle hubs like Korea (Formula E heads to Seoul next May) and pollution hubs like Mexico City or Santiago. No matter how annoying and awkward that makes it all.

It pays off, obviously - while being staggeringly risky as a forced ambition. When people say Formula E should go to ‘proper’ circuits, there’s a belief that’s somehow a bigger challenge than trying to contort a race track round Hong Kong’s crowded real estate, but obviously the opposite is true. And every year, there’s a necessity that that challenge gets bigger, goes bolder, becomes more impressive.

The proof will be in the jet lag. In the meantime, if you’re in London’s docklands then there’s a countdown in the entrance of the ExCel, timing days, hours, minutes and seconds until we go green there - and Formula E’s risk-taking pays off.

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Comments (12)
  • Can’t wait for them to host the race in Tokyo.

    3 months ago
    2 Bumps
    • Funny, while I read this article and it talked about infrastructure I immediately envisioned Japan, and how it will be absolutely not an issue there.

      3 months ago
      1 Bump
    • Believe it or not the government is pretty much open to introducing foreign sport. It's the civilians who are usually against hosting these big events, especially when they...

      Read more
      3 months ago
  • I am very excited for Formula E to return to London since I missed it previously, and haven't had the opportunity to go to Paris yet.

    3 months ago
    2 Bumps
    • I honestly think it's going to be amazing. I'm so so so thrilled my bit of London is getting this I can't describe.

      3 months ago
      3 Bumps
    • The first race at Battersea was crap to watch at the event itself. Too many advertising hoardings around the corners blocked the view of the track for spectators so you couldn't see...

      Read more
      3 months ago

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