Man, September 2014 seemed like such a long time ago didn’t it? It was the 14th of the month, and I remember waking up at 6 am for the very first Formula E race in China and was intrigued at seeing the potential the series had at the time. It certainly got people talking, especially when Nicolas Prost accidentally but very accurately turned his car into a trebuchet and launched Nico Heidfeld into orbit.
But I’d like to think overall, the first season of Formula E went down rather well as a breath of fresh air into the world of Motorsport. The drivers stood out more in a season where six different drivers won races, in locations where you’d never normally see Motorsport take place and a series that was overall, competitive from the start. Heck, the title even went down to the wire in a park in Central London.
However, it’s been hard to shake off the cracks that for me, are starting to appear in the series. I already wrote about the rather shambolic Mexico City debut in Series 2 and the stewarding no-call that left a bitter taste in the mouth as Sebastian Buemi and Jerome D’Ambrosio replicated an F1 2016 online race. But as Formula E is now deep into its third season, the Buenos Aires ePrix seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of fans who were watching the race live. If the #BAePrix, a race that has had two classics ended up being relatively dull, it’s not a good omen.
The greater issue seems to be that the niggling issues the series has just keep coming. Here’s a few over the last few months:
– The competitive element of the series seems to have faded, as Sebastien Buemi has won three of three to start the season with relative ease. And this is coming from a driver who’s always been a mediocre qualifier. He’s now got a 29 point lead already. eDams have been the landslide best car in the series for a season and a half now, Buemi’s now the all-time wins leader, and it all reeks of it being a tad unfair given that Renault built the base car in the first place. And while the cars are definitely faster than what they were in Season 1, it hasn’t translated to on-track entertainment. In my opinion, all three races so far this season have been relatively tame.
– The week prior, they unveiled the first set of ticket options for the New York round. A basic weekend pass came in at $150. More expensive than about half the current F1 calendar. See, for a series that constantly talks about how much it ISN’T Formula 1, charging F1 prices is a pretty easy way to piss some people off. Speaking of New York, the movement of the GP to earlier in the season, directly clashed with the 6 Hours of Nurburgring over in the World Endurance Championship; directly harming Sebastien Buemi’s title campaign, given he’s a Factory Toyota driver. Sure, the clash has been reduced with only three drivers affected, but it’s another harmful look for the series that they couldn’t get a weekend free like that when you know you have a lot of drivers who race in the WEC part-time.
– When the series debuted in Hong Kong this year, many journalists over there made the point that the city would make a loss on the event itself, and they would have to pick up the tab. When a Hong Kong journalist pointed it out, they were intimidated by Agag and FIA President Jean Todt to try and squash the story because they didn’t want their big debut race to look bad. Given the American political scene right now, the LAST thing I want to read about is members of the press feeling intimidated for asking fair questions as part of their job.
– Three times this season already, races have been moved. Berlin being the latest one. Season 2’s race was a street circuit in the city that went down relatively well. The German government, however, wasn’t keen on running it there for another season, so it was scrapped, and now they have to go back to the Season 1 airport again. They still haven’t found a location for the race in Brussels on July 1st either. This is a series that once claimed they had 170+ cities interested in having a race there because there was “no sanctioning fees”.
– According to many fans and friends who have attended GP’s, many fans have been removed from grandstands to accommodate for VIP’s, even to the point where they’ve been physically manhandled. Not to mention, many GP venues have had said grandstands in awful locations, such as London where the views were terrible.
– The ePrix event in Vegas didn’t go down particularly well either. eSports are on the rise, and I loved the fact that so many sim racers were given a chance to make a massive amount of money in a showcase event, but it came with all the drawbacks of running a relatively new eSport. Confusing rules, big delays on the setup, equipment not working so some of the bigger names like Mitch Evans couldn’t take part, and then a controversial finish as a glitch nearly screwed Bono Huis out of the $200,000 top price because the fan boost winner got 6 laps of boost instead of one.
I point all these things out because if the series still had the buzz, and the gloss it had in Season 1, most of these issues would be pushed under the rug. The problem is, we’re now deep into Season 3, and when the on-track product has worsened, these cracks that appear under the surface are that much greater.
I want Formula E to be a success so bad. We need more alternative forms of Motorsport, and the series has so much going for it. A genuinely great roster. Awesome technology, even if it’s taking longer than expected for it to get here. Unique locations and cool street circuits that have never had Motorsports before. Yet… here we are. A 1,000-word piece on how the series needs the jumper cords already. Shit.