Sophie Clare reports on her highlights from an action-packed race day in Berlin.
To kick off the 2023 SABIC Berlin E-Prix race weekend, I was pleased to be invited to Envision Racing’s Race Against Climate Change event. This was hosted at a rooftop venue in City West, which allowed us to enjoy some unexpected Berlin sunshine. We first heard from Claire Williams, who called in over video conference to share her experiences growing up in the Williams motor racing dynasty as well as discussing her own career path: “I still pinch myself today that I had the opportunity to run an F1 team.” She also highlighted the value of Formula E as a platform for change, which “inspires because of its sustainability credentials.”
This importance of sustainability was echoed by the other panellists, including Alice Powell (currently Development and Simulator Driver for Envision Racing), Sophia Flörsch (Formula 3 driver) and Julia Pallé (Formula E’s Sustainability Director). Julia Pallé revealed insights into the sustainability strategy which has ensured Formula E’s net zero carbon footprint since its inception. In particular, she explained the importance of creating a “culture for sustainability” and embedding environmentally friendly practices in every aspect of the series, from manufacture of the GEN3 car to the local projects the series supports at its race locations. Alice Powell echoed the importance of sustainability – and women’s inclusion – highlighting that “it’s not just about the driving… it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, you can go and participate.”
Sophia Flörsch has been racing since she was 4 years old, and during her 18 years since starting with karting, she has noticed that things are changing. At a grassroots level, she explained, it is just as important that parents can see motorsport as an option for their daughters as it is for young girls to see role models in the sport.
Following on from this, the New Scientist’s Alexandra Thompson hosted a panel discussing the intersection of technical roles, sustainability and gender equality. Marija Lazic shared about her role as a sustainability officer in a male-dominated sector. Eva-Maria Hirschieper discussed her role as Public Policy Director for Sustainability at Meta, and both women detailed the importance of normalising female participation in STEM roles. As Claire Williams had mentioned, once she reached a certain level of seniority in motorsports, people suddenly appeared surprised to see her there. It made her wonder why the presence of high-profile female leaders is “[considered by some as] such a different and strange thing.” The biggest learning I found from these panel sessions was the importance of community and purpose-driven, grassroots work to improve access to STEM – and motorsport – for all. Indeed, as Hirschieper stated, “with smaller changes you can make scalable effects.”
After a thought-provoking and fascinating selection of panels during Friday’s event, Saturday brought on a completely different learning experience, with my first full day in the Formula E Media Centre. The race weekend began with a beautiful sunny day, which greatly contrasted my previous Formula E experience at last year’s London E-Prix when most time was spent inside the ExCeL centre!
After familiarising myself with the paddock and finding a desk in the media centre with Gracie Talia Ross from Femmespeed, we watched the second Free Practice session and the Qualifying duels from the pit lane entry. This was an excellent vantage point to admire the new GEN3 design up-close. After this, I enjoyed exploring the paddock and made the most of some time in the pit-lane. There was a very lively atmosphere with many fans coming over for autograph sessions with the drivers and other groups being taken on tours around the paddock. It was lovely to talk with Alexa Rendell, who is a digital presenter and producer who you might recognise from her work with Formula E and Extreme E. Soon she was off again darting in and out of the team garages, finding opportunities for content capture and seeking authentic moments from the race weekend to communicate with fans watching from home.
Later in the afternoon I also enjoyed catching up with Izy Rekiel, a friendly face in many paddocks including Extreme E, Formula E and F1. Not only the resident DJ of Formula E’s BOSS|Emotion Club, Izy is also an impact correspondent, presenter and content creator across a breadth of racing series and other events. It is always interesting to learn about the experiences Izy has gained through her career: particularly the people she meets and stories she gets to share.
Endeavouring to make the most of the sunshine, I then enjoyed watching the race from a great trackside vantage point between turns 4 and 5. With a media pass, you don’t have access to watch the race from the grandstands (which are probably the most comprehensive viewing location – no matter where your grandstand is, you can listen to and watch the curated commentary and live video). Happily, there was a screen opposite us serving the BOSS|Emotion Club VIP lounge and commentary being broadcast behind us, so we could follow the action elsewhere while also watching the cars take the corner right around our position. It is also possible to watch the race directly from the Allianz Fan Village, which has very affordable tickets and contributes to making Formula E more accessible (particularly for new fans or first-time attendees).
Round 7’s race saw a record breaking number of lead changes, with the front-runners all conscious of draining extra energy if they were in first position for too long. The importance of being in the frontrunner’s slipstream combined with the close competition typical of Formula E resulted in a series of dramatic events and two periods under the safety car. The race saw 190 overtakes with a record 20 at-the-line lead changes and eight different race leaders. During lap 20 Dan Ticktum – unsighted – squeezed Stoffel Vandoorne into the wall right opposite our vantage point. Fortunately both were okay, although both drivers had enough damage to result in a DNF. Hearing the crunching of carbon fibre and watching contact between cars as it happened was incredibly surreal, as was observing the marshalls as they cleaned up the track and swept away wayward carbon fibre during the safety car.
After a whirlwind race, which always seems to go by even quicker when you’re watching live, the podium saw a historic 1-2 result for Jaguar TCS Racing’s Mitch Evans and Sam Bird. Maximilian Günther brought home his debut Formula E podium, having raced up the inside past Sébastien Buemi to take 3rd position on the final turn. Not only did he secure the first podium position for Maserati in Formula E, but he became the first driver in Maserati colours to make a single-seater podium since the iconic Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957.
While the whole paddock was processing the incredible race (and counting up the record-breaking number of overtakes!) we headed back to the Media Centre where the post-race press conference took place. Once the champagne has been sprayed this gives the podium finishers a chance to share their thoughts on the race. Shortly after is the media pen, where most of the drivers will speak with the media in a merry-go-round situation, with journalists making their way around and drivers accompanied by an array of PR and communications staff. If you end up watching an interview filmed in the media pen, you may notice other drivers or journalists in the background. There is a great hustle and bustle as everyone seeks out the on-demand drivers, especially those who had a major role in the day’s racing action!
With the last official proceedings of the day concluded, all that remained was another exploration through the Allianz Fan Village before heading home and getting ready for more exhilarating racing on Sunday!