With last month’s announcement that the Santiago E-Prix has been postponed, it’s starting to look like the upcoming calendar for the 2021 Formula E season could be forced to undergo significant changes.
When Formula E announced their calendar in August last year, COVID-19 was seemingly starting to disappear and the optimism was there that we would be back to street racing soon. The Diriyah E-Prix, which is set to open every season for the remainder of its contract, was pushed back to late February in the hope of being able to host a full crowd for Formula E’s first ever night races, while Formula E’s South and Central American tour would open the first full season as an FIA World Championship.
However the virus mutated, putting the United Kingdom, where Formula E and most of its teams are based, back into lockdown; the opening leg was postponed along with Round 5’s visit to Sanya in China.
Formula E have committed to Diriyah opening the season on the 26th and 27th of February despite the delays. Now it’s being heavily mooted that Formula E will race on a majority of permanent race tracks for the very first time.
If this virus remains for a substantial period of time, Formula E could be restricted to Europe again, so we’ve taken a look at circuits that Formula E could try to race at for this season. All of Formula E’s tracks have to be FIA Grade 3 or higher, and we’ve taken into account the countries that Formula E were either supposed to be going to, have been to or would produce a following in that country.
We’ve also noted that the longest Formula E track to date is still the Beijing Olympic Park Circuit that opened the first and second seasons of Formula E, at 3.5 kilometres, we believe that with Gen2, anything up to five kilometres would be fine. There is another track Formula E have driven on that is longer, but we’ll get to that shortly. We’ve also decided that there will be only one track per country. Countries may have multiple racetracks that could be good for Formula E, but it is only fair that one country gets one race each.
Valencia – Spain
Is this a surprise to anyone? Formula E’s current testing ground at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia is naturally the first pick for Formula E to stage a race on a permanent circuit.
Formula E’s home from home, Valencia has been very good for Formula E as it was there where all the cars were stored during the Mexico City race as the Berlin season finale last year during the pandemic.
With an FIA Grade 3 license, it makes it feasible for the track to host the race, but I’d personally like to see Formula E do the complete 4.005km layout rather than go straight on at Turn 8 and re-join at the penultimate corner.
There have been rumours that a provisional deal has already been signed between the circuit and Formula E to stage a race there this season, so it’s looking on the cards.
From Formula E’s home from home, to Formula E’s true home, Donington Park which was the HQ for Formula E for a number of years and was where all 10 teams were based in the opening Formula E season.
Donington was also Valencia’s predecessor for pre-season testing, and hosted testing until the fourth season. As the calendar started to shift from an Autumn start to beginning in the middle of Winter, Donington was no longer viable for pre-season testing as temperatures would have been too low for Michelin’s tyres, and the higher likelihood of bad weather would have limited running. But this would be avoided if FE held a race during the Spring or Summer.
At 4.020km, this would be one of the longest circuits on the calendar, and with the fastest time being a 1:28.910 in Season 3 testing, this is where we deemed it appropriate for Formula E to race on tracks up to 5km in lap length.
The UK is currently under strict COVID-19 restrictions, with London being declared a ‘major incident’ by the city’s mayor and the ExCel exhibition centre becoming a vaccination centre, Formula E might need an alternative venue for it’s British race, since it seems highly unlikely that the UK government will make an exception for the series.
The HQ remains at Donington, and the remaining teams have now extended into their competitors’ former buildings as others have relocated over the years, but it was ahead of the inaugural Formula E season where the first ever test race took place at Donington. It seems fitting in a way for the sport to return to its roots.
Vallelunga – Italy
The 4.085km track is just shy of an hours drive from Rome, where the sixth round was supposed to take place in April, and therefore would serve as an adequate replacement.
Vallelunga has hosted the original Formula 2 series, as well as World Superbikes and ELMS. For Formula E, they may be forced into using the chicane at Turn 1, before the long sweeping Turns 2 and 3, but it’s tight, twisty end to the lap bringing a challenge to the Formula E cars.
Estoril – Portugal
Oh, and the reigning Formula E champion, Antonio Felix da Costa, was born in Cascais, the same region as the legendary Estoril circuit.
Portugal is absolutely the place to be right now, and Estoril is the track for Formula E. The circuit is located on the outskirt’s of the country’s capital, Lisbon and at 4.182km, the track is substantially shorter than Portimao.
This is also the first of the FIA Grade 1 facilities on this list, and it shows; the track has two long straights which would be hard on energy consumption, which makes lifting and coasting even more of a challenge for the drivers. However, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City showed that using a fairly lengthy start/finish straight without any chicanes was viable with the Gen 2 car.
Le Mans – France
The Bugatti layout diverges from the full La Sarthe layout after the Dunlop chicane, and rejoins at the final corner of the Ford chicanes. The two big overtaking zones would be into the Garage Vert hairpin, and then at the end of the proceeding straight into the chicane of Turns 7 and 8. The other obvious overtaking zone is down into the first braking zone of the lap at the Dunlop bridge.
No, it doesn’t have the Eiffel Tower in the background, and it’ll be nowhere near as prestigious as the 24 hour race that uses the full circuit, but the venue still drips with atmosphere: it’s a layout that F1 used back in 1967, and MotoGP still uses it today. Speaking of which…
At 3.645km, the Sachsenring in Saxony is the shortest full circuit on this list. The track is tight and twisty, and of all the candidates featured here is the one that most closely resembles a typical Formula E circuit.
The likelihood is that Berlin would be fine to hold the race, as we saw last year with the six-race showdown to complete the season. However, from a purely passional point of view, there would be something special about seeing a Formula E car power through the long left handers and down the waterfall.
Like Le Mans, there is also a town attached to it. Although not as well-known as Le Mans, Hohenstein-Ernstthal would be a more than adequate province to host the championship, albeit a bit of a mouthful of a race title for English speakers if we stick ‘E-Prix’ onto the end of it.
Assen is the third MotoGP track in a row, and the longest track on the list. At 4.555km, the legendary TT Circuit has hosted DTM in past, as well as being home to the historic Dutch TT.
Assen is understandably a motorbike circuit first and foremost. The closest and most recent open wheel car race to compare it to was when the W Series visited in 2019. The track proved difficult for overtaking, as was proved in a non-championship reverse grid race when the pole sitter won, and only the top drivers were able to make any progress through the field.
The Netherlands has been mooted to host a Formula E, whether it be in Eindhoven or Maastricht, and the support Robin Frijns and Nyck De Vries have would considerably help towards a race happening there in the future.
Zolder – Belgium
The circuit has a noise limit of 96 DBA, (Air-Weighted Decibels) which makes it an ideal circuit for Formula E to race on as the powertrains only reach between 80 to 90 DBA whilst racing.
Belgium was supposed to join the calendar back in Season 3, however talks between Formula E and Brussels stalled, and it was replaced with an extra round at the Berlin E-Prix. It would also be the perfect opportunity for the series’ latest race winner, Stoffel Vandoorne, to strut his stuff in front of his home fans. It’s clear Vandoorne has a lot of fans after winning FanBoost in almost every single Formula E race he’s competed in.
Our second FIA Grade 1 circuit is The Dubai Autodrome Circuit. Formula E would best suit the National Course layout, which takes a right halfway down the back straight and goes into a Singapore-Sling style chicane section before rejoining the track at the third to last corner.
With the cut off in place the track is reduced to FIA Grade 3 and 3.58km, the shortest track on this list, and like Estoril, would still have a long main straight to contend with which would make energy consumption interesting.
The main reason stumbling block for Dubai hosting a round of Formula E is Saudi Arabia’s 10 year exclusivity deal in the Middle East, meaning that no other nation in the region can host a Formula E race without the explicit permission of the Saudi government. Politically this could be an insurmountable hurdle, as Riyadh are very keen to be the only show in town, and willing to pay a substantial sum of money for the privilege. Therefore, without being able to top Saudi Arabia’s vast expenditure, Dubai’s Formula E hopes seem very remote.
Igora Drive – Russia
Formula E may well be eyeing up this circuit: The lack of long straights, the long twisting corners, and a fairly ideal lap length at only 4.086km makes it an attractive prospect.
Russia have held a Formula E race in the past, in Moscow during the inaugural season. However, relationships between the promoters and Formula E broke down as Kremlin politicians were not enamoured by the event blocking their route to work, the second race was never contested.
Russia has barely been scarcely mentioned since in a Formula E capacity, but the way the track flows, it could be ideal for a Formula E car and has the ability to produce good racing.
Anderstorp – Sweden
However, this is still an interesting choice; the airport runway back straight at Anderstorp Raceway could make a really unique Attack Mode activation zone, while it also could be a hindrance due to the ‘flight straight’ being one kilometre long, there might be means to put a quick chicane to give a chance for drivers to regen.
It’s a shame that Felix Rosenqvist is no longer in the sport though, as he was born just a 30-minute drive away in Värnamo.
Formula E has largely avoided permanent tracks for so long now, and at the time it made sense to plan a normal calendar, unlike other world championships who announced their calendars much later. If Formula E gets to a state where the series cannot host a number of street races, then Formula E need to look at venues similar to these 11 options if they want a full calendar.
The series has come under fire from fans for racing on “mickey mouse tracks” and not proper circuits, so this could be a chance to either prove them wrong, or gain new fans for future seasons. (Although arguably some of these critics were never going to be won over by Formula E regardless of where it races) I feel that the advantages of Formula E finally taking to traditional race tracks outweigh the negatives, especially in the situation that the world is in right now, and if they do it and it turns out to be a success, that doesn’t mean we bin the street tracks; a mix of them would make for a balanced calendar which challenges the teams and drivers.
It only seems appropriate that in its first season an FIA World Championship, Formula E steps into the unknown, and races on permanent tracks for the first time.