After only announcing the season five calendar at the end of June, Formula E has already lost a host city and is desperately trying to find a replacement. Could this very public situation have been avoided?
The Zurich E-Prix has been cancelled, forcing Formula E to find an alternative venue in Switzerland. Motorsport.com reports that another Swiss city, Bern, is currently being evaluated as a potential replacement.
This situation has come about due to the Zurich Pride Festival, (Specifically Pride week from the 8th-16th of June) which clashes with the 9th June slot for the Zurich E-Prix as well as the Zuri-Fascht festival. a triennial event which takes place at the start of July, added to which the government claims the E-Prix would be “Too great a burden for the population.” So why put Zurich on the season five calendar for June 9th in the first place when it was clearly unfeasible this season for the city to host the race?
It’s not the first time that something like this has happened. The Brussels E-Prix was announced for season three, initially at a street venue overlooking the European Parliament. But when that clashed with a music festival, the potential venue was moved to Elizabeth Park, and then ultimately cancelled altogether when the local Government refused to invest in the project amidst logistical issues and local protests against the use of the park. Jaguar’s reserve driver Ho-Pin Tung was sent to test out the proposed circuit and slightly embarrassingly ended up praising a track which would never see any racing action. Formula E may have secured an agreement “In Principle” for the Brussels E-Prix, but as we saw this can be very easily be rendered null and void unless followed up with a watertight contract and final approval.
In both cases, it begs the question: Why did Formula E announce both these races onto their respective calendars? In the case of Zurich, it’s been removed a mere three weeks after it was published in the season five schedule. It is seemingly absurd that Formula E hadn’t foreseen such an obvious and mundane problem like a local festival, scheduled long in advance, and which uses the same streets as the race circuit.
Sure, if issues arise then it is sometimes possible to move to another nearby venue: For instance, when Templehof airport was unavailable to host the Berlin E-Prix due to its use as accommodation during the refugee crisis in 2016, a new venue in Karl Marx Allee was organised in just six months. But this should be the exception, not the rule. The following year early-bird tickets had already gone on sale for a return to Karl Marx Allee in 2017 when the race was voted out by the Senate following local elections, leading the Berlin E-Prix to return to Templehof. Replacement tickets and other compensations had to be sent out to fans who had already purchased tickets that were now invalid. This situation was not really of Formula E’s own making but is a good example of the issues that such a volatile calendar can create.
Formula E can’t predict everything; for instance changes in government or mayoral leadership following an election can often prove decisive towards a race’s future. (In the case of Montreal it resulted in a cancelled season finale and a messy lawsuit from Formula E) But surely looking ahead for every and any potential issue before announcing a venue onto the calendar, rather than afterwards, is the most sensible and practical solution. This makes life much easier for fans, organisers and promoters alike; in this instance making Zurich an anonymous TBA date for 2019, sorting out these issues in private and then announcing the replacement venue later on, would have avoided this entire situation.