There seemed something almost ill-fated about the 2019-20 Formula E calendar even before it had started in Saudi Arabia last November.
Hong Kong had long since been canned due to escalating social unrest which swept the special administrative region of China.
Then, no sooner had the Riyadh openers been completed, word came from Santiago that it too was under serious doubt because of civil and political incidents.
That race, held at the end of January, occurred without incident thanks to efficient work by Formula E Operations in conjunction with Chilean private security staff.
But almost immediately there were issues around the planned Jakarta ePrix fixture set for June thanks to fraught local political posturing.
The dominoes tumbled and the calendar faced complete ruin.
Then the Sanya round in China was postponed due to the Covid-19 epicentre tragically escalating. It never rains, etc.
By this stage Formula E’s deputy CEO and the man leading Formula E’s calendar assembly, Alberto Longo, must have felt like he was playing one of those fairground games where no matter how many coins you feed in, it never rewards by dropping from the shelf.
Mexico City passed off with its usual energy and pizzazz but then Marrakech, a replacement for the cancelled Hong Kong ePrix, began with a Covid-19 scare for its double champion Jean-Eric Vergne.
Thankfully that proved a false alarm but, on leaving Morocco, talk was of not knowing when the paddock would reconvene, such was the pace with which the virus was casting its wretched shadow over the globe.
When it became inevitable that Formula E would have to cancel the Rome, then Paris, London and New York ePrix, the dominoes tumbled and the calendar faced complete ruin.
Unlike the majority of other series, Formula E was caught amidships by the pandemic but it reacted with acknowledged assurance. While Formula 1 dithered in Melbourne, Formula E set out a clear strategy even using an easily identifiable red, yellow and green flag procedure for status on its racing plans.
The rebuilding of a calendar to finish Formula E’s sixth campaign has been in action since the day it was suspended. Longo and his team, which now includes new CEO Jamie Reigle who has been drafted in from the world of American Football via the Los Angeles Rams, have worked tirelessly.
In a kind of surreal summer camp for motorsport, teams and drivers will compete in six races over just nine days.
These included options of racing in Valencia where the cars were shipped after the last round in Marrakesh at the end of February, Assen in Holland, Silverstone and the Algarve facility in Portugal.
But it was the opportune location of Tempelhof airport in Berlin which will host a unique residency in the first two weeks of August. This will include three double-header events each racing on subtly altered circuits.
In a kind of surreal summer camp for motorsport, teams and drivers will compete in six races, essentially half a regular season, in just nine days.
The planning is intricate, the medical, health and safety protocols almost forensic. Formula E is doing this properly with an exhaustive must-read dossier for every member of the 1,000 maximum personnel on site.
The teams will all stay in the same hotel and then at the track will be split in to pods, or to use the buzzword of the moment – ‘bubbles’.
A ‘hygiene board’ has been created which will implement all of the protocols, a kind of sterile stewarding if you will.
The Formula E Hygiene and Infection Protection (FEHIP) will comprise of a Formula E event organisation representative, a Formula E Health & Safety representative; a specialist in microbiology and / or hygiene and environmental medicine and another medical specialist and/or the medical doctor in charge of validating the polymerase chain reaction PCR swab test results.
It is a level of detail which has impressed but has been absolutely necessary for Formula E to unfold and plan to. They don’t want to be the series which is seen to be a frivolous venture in these extraordinary times and they have been praised for their organisation.
“I think what Formula E has done has shown it is leading in terms of understanding this incredible situation and how to time announcements and plans correctly. They’ve done a mega job really,” Envision Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird told Motor Sport.
“Even though we will race with no fans, which is absolutely correct at the moment, racing will I think be embraced because we are doing it safely
Bird’s boss at the Silverstone based team, Sylvain Filippi believes that the “TV spectacle will be a boost to fans, which Formula E is gaining all the time.”
“Tempelhof is basically more flexible to organise the right paddock with the right Covid measures that are needed,” continued Filippi.
“What is going to be a real challenge for the teams is to get working in different ways using PPE and distancing, all these things.
“But motorsport is the great adaptor right? We know how to work and be innovative, and I personally think Formula E has led the way in doing this over the last few years.”
“Everyone hopes we can go back to more normality… I’d like to think we can get fans back to the tracks.”
The bigger picture for Formula E will start to emerge this Friday when its next calendar, arguably its most important ever as it becomes a pukka World Championship, is announced at the World Motorsport Council.
It will broadly mirror what the 19-20 season should have looked like. The critical question will be if Formula E race in the genuine city centres of Paris, Rome, New York and London in 2021.
With Hong Kong already understood not to be feasible for 2021 and a big question mark of plans to race again in Jakarta, Formula E may need to again call upon tried and trusted Marrakesh and perhaps other substitute permanent venues if needed.
“Going into season seven, I do hope by that stage, that where we are at globally with COVID-19 will be in a much better state,” says Bird.
“Everyone hopes we can go back to more normality or more what we used to consider normality anyway. Racing in the city centres is the heart of Formula E.
“No matter what happens, we’re going to have learned an awful lot from this pandemic and I think things some things will stay in place.
“I think the world won’t go back to what it was previously, completely anyway but I’d like to think we can get fans back to the tracks.”