This weekend’s Valencia races will make history for Formula E as the series races on a full permanent track for the first time.
The championship’s list of venues includes the crumbling parkland asphalt in central Santiago, the shortlived Alexanderplatz track in Berlin, the industrial hothouse of Red Hook, New York and the surreal beauty of the windswept Atlantic coast in Uruguay, at the Punta del Este resort.
Formula E usually deals in a variety of pop-up racetracks but with the continued struggle against COVID-19 still causing havoc to sporting calendars around the world, needs must.
Valencia’s proven, through four previous pre-season tests, and slightly pliable Circuit Ricardo Tormo layout will offer a very different challenge this weekend as teams and drivers grapple for high energy runs and laps of tow-alicious sailing as they use their cars as motorised masts.
Not every past FE track has been a pure street circuit, and it of course races at the same Mexico City venue that hosts Formula 1’s Mexican Grand Prix – but on a very different ‘Formula E-ified’ layout.
Even the adjusted version of Valencia being used this weekend is far closer to a ‘normal’ racetrack than anything Formula E has raced on before. And probably closer than what will be created at stand-in venue Puebla – another permanent circuit – in June too.
But, what if, in a worst case scenario Formula E had had to use more permanent circuits to ensure it got enough races in the can in 2021?
It got us thinking about which other permanent racetracks would tick the box of simple-ish plug-and-play for a Formula E race.
We studied many but ultimately chose five. Then asked Audi team principal Allan McNish for his opinions on their viability and suitability.
We hesitantly declined to include, despite McNish’s initial vehement insistence, the Ingliston track in Edinburgh, which officially closed in 1994 but is still used for filming and track testing purposes to this day.
Brands Hatch Indy
“There goes Rene Rast through Druids, looking for all the world like a big red Van Diemen!”
The already much missed voice of Brands and the Formula Ford Festival Brian Jones would probably not have ‘got’ Formula E. But hell, they are racing cars in the Kent countryside and on the natural bowl of the ‘kidney’ circuit even purists might have their natural competitive appetites moistened by a full grid of electric racers.
One bonus would be that you’d be able to hear the tweeting of the starlings and sparrows in the natural wonder of one of the UK’s greatest racetracks, so what’s not to like?
The tiny 1.2-mile circuit would work for Formula E with an attack zone on the outside of Druids and natural overtaking at pretty much every corner.
The facility has genuinely been looked at by Formula E in the recent past and as a potential London E-Prix venue it has many merits.
Formula E could also redress the balance of the turgid Champ Car one-off there 18 years ago when a grid of emasculated Reynards and Lolas sent 35,000 people to sleep for the afternoon.
Bigger isn’t always better!
McNish says: “I think I like this idea in principle but the inner driver in me still has a flashback to it being such a ballache to pass there in a Formula Ford 1600! I can’t imagine that it’s going to be very easy to get by but it would be fun.
“It’s close to London and it would have something that from a visual spectator point of view would be impressive.
“Overtaking has always been hard around the circuit, but actually you’d get some big-time action over 45-minutes and a lap for sure.
“I reckon the ‘kidney’ section could be flat too… yeah it would be flat!”
Red Bull Ring short track
The 1.45-mile Sudschleife track at the Red Bull Ring is a kind of runty, forgotten offspring of the 2.68-mile Grand Prix track and a totally ostracised and wimpy grandchild of the splendorous old Osterreichring.
It really hasn’t got much going for it, except that for Formula E it could be the slipstreaming Monza surrogate that it’s never had, yet!
The FIA European Truck Racing Championship is the only major international series to have used the configuration. Apart from the obligatory real estate damage, it also provided some epic battles for the monsters of motorsport in 2016 and 2017.
The track uses a right hairpin that follows down the hill from the opening Niki Lauda Kurve, just before the old Hella Licht corner. It then connects to the Wurth left before the rights at Rindtkurve and Red Bull, and… well, that’s it!
It’s basically a mini oval with a thumb print squashed into the top. It’s not clever or complicated but it could be a surprising hit for Formula E as the flat-out nature could trigger, like Valencia is likely to this weekend, a sailing contest and major complications for engineers on strategy.
McNish says: “Short circuit? I don’t know where that is, is there one?
(Lengthy explanation ensues)
“Oh OK, but I don’t think so, no. Too big, wide and open there for me, sorry.”
This one isn’t just for Lucas di Grassi, who learned his karting craft there!
The more you think about it the more a Formula E race at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, the more it could work.
Tight, narrow, undulating and with some bumpy areas within its close city confines, it would in all intents and purposes be a street track in all but name.
There are plenty of options for attack zone placement and there would be some interesting drafting going on up and down the undulating main straight.
The presence of di Grassi would be enough for sizeable number of ‘Fas de corrida’ to pack out the legendary grandstands that almost overhang the start/finish line.
Formula E has been close to a Brazilian E-Prix on several occasions. The Piquet family are behind a plan to bring the series to Rio but with a country ravaged by the pandemic and with an unpredictable president running amok, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
McNish says: “I like the track, I think it’s a really good challenge. I enjoyed racing on it [in F1 and the WEC] but the issue I see is with the pace and length of track we’d only do probably 20 laps or so. It probably a little too long [at 2.67 miles].
“I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad but there would be less laps.
“From the make-up of the corners and the fact it’s got that slightly enclosed feeling then it would be fun and I think a reasonable shout for a race if we needed to, or had to go to a permanent circuit. Thumbs up.”
The ‘Dry Lagoon’ will never have seen anything like it. No shudders of pistons hammering out of the Corkscrew, nor whizz-pop of turbos on the approach to the Andretti hairpin.
But in California, anything goes, so in that respect Formula E is merely returning to a natural base it first visited at Long Beach in April 2015.
Narrow, technical and rolling through Monterey county, Laguna would make Formula E cars feel right at home on another street track without streets.
The 2.23-mile layout is not a stretch for the Gen2s and the quick but slightly contracted nature of the topography would be just right for the TV guys and their ‘make ‘em look quicker than they are’ philosophy.
It would even go down well with the race director Scot Elkins, who could get home for supper on race day for a change!
McNish says: “Yep, rock n roll. This would work great.
“California is a big EV market with loads of manufacturer relevancy and Laguna is one of the legendary tracks of North America, so it’s a great suggestion.
“It’s difficult, it’s narrow, the grip level changes a lot. So, therefore, it’s not going to be too much of a difference to what we’re used to now and I think the drivers would love it.
“I’ve just watched Kenny Roberts being a genius around there on YouTube actually, so I’m right with this one right now!”
Nurburgring Short Circuit
It’s the Nurburgring. But not as we know it!
The short sprint track has been used for a variety of series and for a variety of reasons, including by the DTM package. The ETRC used it because the bottom loop was used for a massive party; beer, mullets, country and western stage, the lot!
At 2.5 miles the length is ideal for Formula E with a right-hand hairpin called the Valvoline-Kurve – pictured above in Formula 3 Euro Series use in 2007 – taking cars off the modern F1 layout between the opening ‘arena’ complex and the Turn 5 left-hander, and bringing them back onto the straight leading to the Grand Prix circuit’s Turn 10 left.
The opening sector would be tight and technical while the rest of the lap would open up slightly for Formula E cars and offer some good regen possibilities if the tighter version of the chicane was used.
It would also be a godsend for the current quartet of German manufacturers in the championship, many of whom have private operations at the track and a multitude of suppliers close by.
The Nurburgring has a few drawbacks though. The most obvious of which is its remoteness. The nearest major city is Bonn 30-odd miles away. But let’s turn a blind eye to that because Formula E would bring the city to Nurburgring, have some fun with a one-off cameo and annoy the hell out of thousands of diehards (ie: dinosaurs!).
It is after all supposed to be ‘The Green Hell’. So let one of racing’s greatest theatres live up to a different interpretation of its own legend just for one day.
McNish says: “For sure it would have a lot of overtaking opportunities as a grade 1 track, because remember we mainly race on grade 3. So I would say that like Red Bull Ring it’s too wide, in fact it’s wider than the Clyde!
“But having said that it would work a bit better than the Red Bull Ring with the tight first sector now. But I’m not sure it could sustain the intensity for a whole race at all.
“I’m not sure it would be great for fans because the track is quite spread out – even the small track – so it’s not like Brands where there is a natural amphitheatre where you can see most of it.”