Nothing conjures up images of east London quite like the warm Mediterranean and a plethora of casinos, right? Because that’s where Formula E’s sporting director Frederic Espinos believes organisers of the London E-Prix should set their sights.
Alright, the Swiss bigwig isn’t actually suggesting that Formula E turn the banks of the Thames adjacent to the Excel Centre into a metropolis of gambling and sunshine. But he does insist the capital can be to his racing series what Monaco is to Formula 1.
You don’t need to be an F1 fanatic to understand the aura that Monaco race weekend has – for high society as much as petrolheads – and it’s that sense of occasion Espinos wants to emulate at the London E-Prix, which returns this weekend.
Speaking ahead of the Saturday-Sunday double header, Espinos underlined his intention to make London the electric series’s flagship race.
‘Why can’t it be?’
“Why can’t it be?” said 11-time E-Prix winner Sam Bird in response. “There would need to be some changes – Formula E knows the circuit layout may not be the best solution moving forwards and I know they’re working hard to secure a future in London. Whether that’s Excel or somewhere else, I don’t know.”
Espinos, however, insists the future is at the east London exhibition centre. “To answer to him [Bird], it’s clear for us that the future of the race in London is in the Excel,” he told City A.M.
“There is [expansion] work that will happen to make the venue bigger and there’s a wish to carry on there, make it bigger. The new structure will take into account the track.
“We have a project to make the track longer but it is important for us to be there.
“Last year was the first one and this year is the next step – there’s some changes but it’s [mostly] the same – and from there we can carry on and [develop] a better track.”
London has been on the Formula E circuit in three seasons since the sport’s inception in 2014-15 but had its residence in south London, in Battersea Park.
Now, though, the sport looks to develop a permanent home in the east of the city, in a part of the capital heavily regenerated since the London Olympic Games a decade ago.
That area now plays host to the new City Hall as well as City Airport and a number of developments.
“This is why I am super optimistic,” Espinos added. The Excel is an area under development. The more this area develops, the more Formula E will grow in this area.
“The big difference with Formula E compared to other sports is that we are going to race where the fans are. When you go to Silverstone it is far away but if the race is close by you may go.
“It will bring something to motorsport because that’s not common in the sport.
“There is also a legacy programme – wherever we race we are helping to develop the area.
“The renewal of this area started with the Olympic Games and its carrying on with us bringing a new event there.”
So in reality when Espinos likened his vision for Formula E in London to the sun-kissed microstate of Monaco, he didn’t necessarily mean the slot machines, awkward location and pomp.
But instead the ability to develop an event around a single, little-changing location with a long-term vision.
With the indoor-outdoor track a first for the sport, the innovation is there. And despite some qualms from some of the sport’s longstanding drivers, it looks as though Project Excel will power on, sustainably of course, regardless.
The 2022 London E-Prix will be broadcast live on terrestrial television on Channel 4 on July 30 & 31. Buy tickets and follow all updates from the race at ExCeL London here