Formula E: An Electrifying Race Weekend in London’s ExCeL centre

Sophie Clare reviews her first Formula E race experience, reflects on the racing format and details some of her favourite memories from a busy race day.

It was such a fun (and fairly affordable) way to see the skill of drivers and support a more sustainable mode of racing.

On Saturday 30th July I was excited to attend the Sabic London E-Prix, my first Formula E race weekend.  After an early start and a succession of trains and tubes, Aakash, Marina, and I arrived to the distinctive noise of electric engines, enjoying a glimpse of free practice from the DLR station. 

Our train had slowly but steadily filled with easily recognisable fans, showing support for their teams with baseball caps and polo shirts.  Entering the Allianz E-Village gave an overview of the activities on offer, revealing the true scale of the race site.  The unique track winds around – and through – the ExCeL convention centre and adjacent to the Royal Victoria Dock.  The indoor/outdoor layout poses the challenge of differing light levels and track conditions, it is fascinating to watch during the race and see the drivers negotiating in and out of the indoor track, trying to use the transition to their advantage.

After exploring the site, Marina and Aakash checked out the grandstand and track while I paid a visit to the Media Centre.  This provides working space for the array of team representatives, journalists, photographers, and Formula E officials who bring the racing action to fans via. print and online media.  It was a quiet and focused space, definitely a contrast to the crowds of fans who were attending the race and enjoying the activities on offer in the E-Village.  It’s also where the pre and post-race press conferences and media pens take place, so I enjoyed getting a glimpse behind-the-scenes.  I also took the opportunity to explore the paddock, where I had the chance to chat with Sophie Liger, PR manager for the DS TECHEETAH team.  It was great to see inside the garage as the team, drivers (and indeed the cars!) were getting prepared for qualifying.  Later in the day we also saw Izy Rekiel, who Aakash and I first met at the Extreme E Jurassic X Prix last year.  Izy kindly caught up with us in between providing a musical backdrop to the race weekend as DJ in the BOSS|EMOTION Club.

Qualifying consists of a group stage followed by a series of Duels, where pairs of drivers go head-to-head to decide the qualifying order.  We found that this format – along with the accessible race length of 45 minutes + 1 lap – is a crucial part of Formula E’s growing appeal, particularly to fans who might not have engaged with motorsport before.  For new viewers at home or first-time race attendees, Formula E’s almost bite-sized format provides fast-paced, punchy racing action interspersed with a range of activities, including music performances by Nina Nesbitt and Jax Jones.  Additionally, the race still provides the tension and excitement of strategy calls, overtaking and battles for position, just concentrated into a shorter race time.  With thousands of fans cheering along in the grandstands, waving flags to support their favourite teams, it was a truly unforgettable atmosphere.

Watching the race itself – round 13 of this year’s championship – was an incredible experience.  Almost every lap when the cars whirred down the straight and through turns 1 and 2, we watched a slightly different succession of cars passing by our grandstand.  Lights on the halo of each car indicated whether the driver had initiated Attack Mode, a sort of DRS equivalent for the Formula E cars.  This gives a 6-minute power boost and can be activated twice during the race, with each team and driver working to build a strategy which could best employ the power boost to their advantage.  As the race continued, it was particularly exciting to watch the battle for third place between Nick de Vries and Nick Cassidy, a tight battle which saw de Vries cross the line first but Cassidy taking third position, with de Vries taking a five second penalty post-race.  Perhaps most noteworthy was Jake Dennis’ dominant run to a podium position for the Avalanche Andretti team.

It was close and hard fought, and I really enjoyed the fact that the commentary was broadcast into the crowd.

I asked some of the CUMFS members who attended the race about their experience and their responses were unanimously positive.  It was the first live motorsport event that most of them had attended, with the range of fan entertainment and sustainable racing being big factors behind their enjoyment.  Izzy thought that “it was such a fun (and fairly affordable) way to see the skill of drivers and support a more sustainable mode of racing.”  Several members particularly enjoyed seeing British driver Jake Dennis British top the podium.  Aakash also appreciated the unique track layout, in particular how it “took great advantage of the Formula E cars.”  He reflected my own thoughts on the racing: “it was close and hard fought, and I really enjoyed the fact that the commentary was broadcast into the crowd.”

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of a Formula E race weekend, both in the grandstands and behind-the-scenes. It was great for so many of our members to attend an in-person motorsport event, many of us for the first time!

Has the London E-Prix piqued your interest in the sport?  We’ll be incorporating further coverage of Formula E into our blog and social media, so stay tuned for more articles in the future.  If you’re interested in writing for the blog, please get in touch with Libby, our Social Media officer.