Monday , 26 June 2017

The Formula E Fan Experience: London – Battersea Park

For the second and final time, Formula E headed to Battersea Park in London to determine the eventual championship winners. On this occasion, Team StatBlog were out in force as they were at the 6 Hours of Silverstone earlier this year. How good was Battersea as a venue? What was the impression left by Formula E? Was the Formula E fan experience worth the trip? All this, and much more, was answered during the weekend in London.

For those who missed the event, the double-header event had former Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi playing catch up to former Virgin Racing driver Lucas di Grassi with one point separating the two. Rain compromised both title contenders in the first race, whilst Nico Prost led Bruno Senna home ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne. Having two Prosts and a Senna on the Saturday podium was a pretty special moment. As Buemi and di Grassi lined up on the grid on Sunday, they were absolutely level on points, with the Brazilian ahead on countback. It happened immediately into the first braking zone, or so we thought. The race to decide the title became in effect a qualifying session, with Buemi coming out on top, taking the two points for fastest lap, and with it, the title. Unfortunately not the epic wheel-to-wheel duel between the two to determine the title – and a bit underwhelming, but still a dramatic decider regardless.

The idea of being able to head into a metropolis such as London to go and watch motor racing was always a strange one, but somehow Formula E managed to pull it off. Battersea was hardly the most iconic, attractive or exciting venue possible for Formula E to go to within London but whilst it did not prove particularly popular with everybody (most notably the locals), it turned out to be a decent venue considering. By no means was it as good as say Silverstone in terms of being able to have excellent vantage points at many places around the circuit, but it is worth bearing in mind that this circuit is by no means a permanent circuit.

What Battersea did provide however was a few nice spots to watch drivers properly attacking the circuit, plenty of shaded areas, and more than enough giant TV screens to watch all of the action from. In addition, the world feed commentary with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti (a pairing which goes as well as crackers and cheese) was available via radios, which were frequently handed out for free. Not every vantage point (bear in mind we were in only as general admission) was particularly great, especially for those who are not particularly tall. Despite all that, generally it was not bad in terms of viewing.

Facilities were there in abundance and with attendance a little bit down on the 2015 edition, queues for the likes of food and toilets were minimal. The variety of food was nice and vast, somewhat reflecting what we saw at Silverstone. The prices were very typical of London, although some stands charged similar to what we saw back in April. Then again, with plenty of pre-planning or in the case of this writer – a trip to a corner shop on the way, there would be no need for spending such excessive amounts of money on those things.

One of the things Formula E is able to boast which other series arguably cannot is the experience for the fans, especially at the eVillage. It was very much friendly for people of all ages, with plenty of activities for children. The chairs (again, plenty of them) turned out to be comfortable enough to sleep on and there was plenty going on. There was music from up-and-coming artists, which gave the place a bit of a festival vibe. However a festival vibe was not really what was expected from a motor race, and just felt a little bit unnecessary. Notable car manufacturers had displays, and there was plenty to try out, including simulators and VR headsets. Yes, the eVillage was a little bit of a walk from much of the circuit, but it is a shorter distance than it would be at a more open purpose-built circuit.

The centrepiece however had to be the podium, which was in the eVillage. The atmosphere there as the podium finishers and the championship winners headed onto the podium was phenomenal, and is something you very rarely see at circuits. In that respect, Formula E does a job far and beyond other categories. It’s a pretty cool feeling to get champagne sprayed onto you by a newly-crowned champion. The race was shown on the giant TVs by the podium, with the Formula EJ playing music in the background. Having music on in the background to a race is something not usually associated with motorsport, but in this case it simply added even more to an already tense atmosphere.

If there was one major concern to be had with Formula E, it is the overly excessive gap between qualifying and the race itself. Yes, drivers participate in eSports and in a track parade prior to the race, but a lack of real track action for such a long period of time was somewhat disappointing. This was a more serious issue on the Sunday, as ironically a power cut left us without a second practice session, and hence a big gap between practice and qualifying.

Ultimately a really positive impression was left by Formula E on what was a phenomenal weekend. With exception of the heavy shower which jumbled the grid for the Saturday race, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. It’s the end of Formula E’s time at Battersea Park, but hopefully not the final London ePrix. There is still a possibility to see Formula E at a different venue within London for next season, which would be fantastic – especially on a true street circuit. Would it be worth heading to another venue as well to see Formula E such as Brussels or Monaco? Absolutely.

About Craig Woollard

Craig Woollard is a maths graduate-turned-writer for multiple websites. Not afraid to share his opinions on all motorsports, within a year he has learnt a lot about writing. In his spare time, he likes to play games, sim race, drink cranberry juice, listen to music and wear hats.

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