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FE seeks new London venue

Battersea Park dropped, so race begins to find an alternative | By Gary Watkins

Formula E could still have a race in London in its third season, even with the demise of the Battersea Park fixture following this year’s series finale in June. The championship has revealed that it is working on several options for a fixture in the UK capital to fill one of the two vacant spots on its 2016/17 calendar. 

Championship founder Alejandro Agag described a new event in London as “definitely on the cards” and that it was still “viable” to clear the necessary hurdles in time for the third season of the electric-vehicle series in 2016-17.

“If we were starting to work now, it would be very tight,” he said, “but we have done a lot of groundwork already for a couple of options. I am not going to say that it will happen for sure, because we know how long planning permission takes, but we now have a lot of experience in that area.”

Agag stressed that an immediate return of the London ePrix to the calendar was realistic because the event had the backing of new London mayor Sadiq Khan. Agag is known to have met with representatives from the mayor’s office over the course of the Battersea weekend. 

Formula E is targeting a move towards the centre of London after its experiences of the Paris and Berlin rounds in 2015/16. They respectively took place around the Les Invalides museum complex, less than a mile from Place de la Concorde, and adjacent to Alexanderplatz in the downtown area of the German capital.

“Landmarks are important,” explained Agag. “We want TV viewers to know that we are racing in London when they see a shot from the helicopter.”

Agag has raised the possibility of a race centred on Victoria Embankment, which runs on the north bank of the River Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges. 

“My dream would be to do it on the Mall with a race in front of Buckingham Palace, but there are some other really good possibilities like the Embankment or around the O2 Arena [formerly the Millennium Dome],” he said. “There are a few options close to the river Thames that we like.

He added that there were “two or three options, and two are really preferred”. Agag described an event in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as “a compromise that could work because it ticks the landmark box”. 

Agag suggested that the ExCeL exhibition centre is no longer in the frame, even though the venue adjacent to London City Airport is still pushing to hold the event. A race at Crystal Palace, which was evaluated as a fall-back when this year’s Battersea fixture looked in doubt, is also off the agenda. 

The proposed London race could take either the April 22 or June 24 date. Agag said there was another candidate for the June slot. 

Battersea has disappeared from the season three calendar in 2016/17 after facing a legal challenge from a local lobby group. Formula E reached agreement with Wandsworth Borough Council and the Battersea Park Action Group for the race to go ahead this year, on the condition that it would be the last in the riverside park.  

Sébastien Buemi became the second Formula E champion by virtue of claiming fastest race lap in the second of the two races in Battersea. The Renault e.dams driver was hit from behind by championship leader Lucas di Grassi’s Abt entry on the opening lap, but the title race remained open because both drivers were able to return to the pits in their damaged machinery and bid for fastest lap in their second cars.

Because di Grassi’s lead was only one point, the two points available for best race lap ultimately proved decisive when Buemi eclipsed his rival to move ahead in the standings. 

MAJOR CITIES ADDED

The calendar for the third season of Formula E includes new races in New York, Hong Kong, Brussels, Marrakech and Montréal. Agag refused to put emphasis on the championship’s new US fixture in a city previously targeted by Formula 1. 

“The F1 comparison is not valid, because our footprint is much smaller,” he said. “If they could go as small as us, F1 would probably be in New York.”

Formula E has yet to reveal the exact location of the New York event, but Agag said that “everything was pretty much agreed, but we need to go through the last administrative permits”.

The other new events are of equal importance with New York, according to Agag. He pointed out that the race in Morocco, which will be held on a version of the street circuit used by the World Touring Car Championship, will take place during an important climate change conference. The track in Brussels will be laid out in the shadow of the Atomium, which was built for the Expo 58 World Fair. 

GOING THE DISTANCE 

Formula E is still on target to end the practice of drivers swapping cars mid-race by 2018/19. The tenders for a new battery and a new one-make chassis, due to come on stream for its fifth season, have been written to achieve the goal of one-car races. 

“That is 100 per cent happening; from season five one car will go the whole race,” said Agag. 

Multiple tenders are known to have been received for both the battery and the chassis supply deals currently held by Williams Advanced Engineering and Spark Racing Technology respectively. The winning bids were due to be announced in June, but the FIA has opted to take more time making its decisions.

Agag expects more manufacturers to join Renault, Citroën brand DS, Mahindra and Venturi on the grid in the coming seasons. Jaguar, which announced its Formula E entry for season three last December, will not be the only new car maker for 2016/17. Faraday Future, a California-based start-up EV manufacturer, has partnered with the US Dragon Racing team and will badge its cars as Penskes in deference to team co-owner Jay Penske, son of Roger. 

BMW, which has provided course vehicles for Formula E since the inception of the series, is understood to have forged links with the Andretti team. The German manufacturer is expected to place DTM driver Antonio Felix da Costa as a first step towards a more overt involvement. 

“Without mentioning specific names, I definitely expect to see more manufacturers getting involved,” said Agag. “They are definitely seeing Formula E as the place where they can showcase their technology.”