Analysis | A day at the races in Hong Kong Formula E fails to convince petrol head fans (that’s us)
While the Macau Grand Prix is a well-established and prestigious race, the so-called “Hong Kong ePrix” is taking its first steps. But Macau must be well aware of the potential of the neighboring race, which attracted a large crowd on Sunday (around 20,000 spectators) and perhaps more media attention than the Guia race (the number of journalists – real ones! – accredited to the Hong Kong event was far higher than in Macau).
The Times was in Hong Kong to cover the race won by Swiss driver Sebastian Buemi (see next page). Compared to its Macau counterpart, the Hong Kong ePrix brought some innovations, while lagging behind in other aspects.
One of the impressive features from which the local GP organizers could learn are the support facilities for spectators. Instead of Macau’s tasteless booths set up to sell merchandises close to a parking lot, in Hong Kong they created large VIP zones and an impressive “eVillage” located in Tamar Pak, close to the river and the government headquarters. In that large green space, car brands set up their booths along with restaurants, places to sell merchandise and even a great virtual racing space, where spectators could actually compete against the real drivers. Comfortable seats were installed for the public to relax on while watching the race on big screens (there was a ticket granting access only to that fan zone) and sellers walked the green venue offering drinks and snacks. The environment was very pleasant, promoting electric transportation and environmental sustainability.
Like in Macau, race commentary was made in a professional way, although with much more pedagogical concern “for the guys who may have not been in a motorsport event before,” according to race speakers. This is logical, since Hong Kong is not used to hosting motorsports events.
On the downside, when compared to Macau the visibility of the circuit for the central stands was not great and the giant screen which serviced those stands was located in between trees.
Then there is the circuit itself. The street circuits included in the FIA Formula E championship (and not only the Hong Kong one) don’t seem to be technically demanding. They consist mainly of long straights that end in hairpins and sharp bends. At the end of the race, several drivers had pointed out that the Hong Kong circuit was “too short” and should be reformulated.
The program of events offered in Hong Kong is also far inferior to the one in Macau, centered almost on one single race and one single day (the main events, namely qualifying and the Formula E race, were all on Sunday).
It is noticeable that world’s first all-electric motor race series is drawing public attention. But, for the petrol head motorsports fans, the almost silent and relatively slow Formula E cars are still far from spectacular. The argument that “we are racing with clean, sustainable technology,” mentioned many times by the race speakers, is not enough to make the show.
Electric car racing is still not very exciting to see. The element of danger – which is, let us face it, essential to motorsports – is absent. When the cars crash, they seem to slide gently into the walls. Go to Youtube and check last season’s crashes to see how boring it can be…
Overtaking often does not seem to be a product of brave driving, but results of the quantity of battery available. “Piquet Jr. has 42 percent of the battery available while Sam Bird has made a better management of the battery and has 46 percent of battery available,” announced the speaker. The cars don’t race as conventional cars do… Brazilian driver Lucas Di Grassi drove several laps with a broken car nose and didn’t lose a place. Something unthinkable in F1, where speed and aerodynamics go to another level.
Formula E introduced a new lingo to racing. Terms like “energy management” are being heard for the first time. “Energy is quite complicated… they way you utilize to optimize lap time,” Grassi said at the winners’ press conference.
It seems like the drivers are racing like I try to manage the battery of my cellphone.
The interesting bilingual race comments (Cantonese and English) were broadcast along with loud and techno music, perhaps to compensate for the almost noiseless race. Did I say noiseless race? Is that even possible? Yes.
The cars pass by with an almost silent wizzz. People can chat in the stands without raising their voices. It is not needed. It doesn’t seem like racing.
Electric car racing is not the same as conventional racing. Both things are so far away as the resurging vinyl is from CDs, or a digital photographic camera is from the good old film camera.
It is still difficult to know where the future lies in terms of motor racing. Are electric cars meant to be fast or sustainable (and slow)? Can they be both things?
Overall the Formula E circuit still has a long way to go in order to become comparable to the Formula 1 series. But good steps have been taken. Major cities aiming to promote sustainable transport – such as Hong Kong, New York and Paris – have adhered to the electric motor racing concept.
One of the relevant aspects of this racing series is the galloping technical evolution, with many of the innovations being introduced to street cars.
FIA’s president Jean Todt, who is a big fan of the series, already stated that it is expected that battery autonomy will double in the next two years. That would make it possible for drivers to make the race using just one car, instead of the two currently needed to complete a race, with drivers changing cars halfway. Paulo Barbosa, Hong Kong