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Too Early or a Welcome Change? Our Writers on Formula E's First Visit to a Permanent Circuit

Written by Sean McKean, Dan Jones, Archie O'Reilly, and Vyas Ponnuri

Formula E's first visit to Portland was certainly a thrilling one. Credit - FIA Formula E

Street Courses: An Element Overstaying its Welcome

Sean McKean

I think it’s time for Formula E to leave the street courses in its past. While the move to take to the streets was a move understandable for the time, a transition to permanent facilities has to happen in the near future for the sake of the sport’s image.

When the calendar for Season 1 was first announced in 2014, my interest was piqued for the debut season of this all-electric series. Now, nine years later, seeing them continue to race at these windy courses downtown in any given city, it just displays the impression of stubbornness and an unwillingness to change.

In the beginning, going to street circuits was understandable. When you have a brand new sport, it’s only right to take it to the downtown of major cities to broadcast it to the best possible audience. However, with how big Formula E is now, there is no longer a need to be going to these windy, narrow street courses.

This point is especially highlighted following the recent round in Portland, a permanent facility that brought amazing racing. Upon the drop of the checkered flag to Nick Cassidy in Oregon, it was clear to me - and quite frankly: everyone else too - that it is time to move away from the street circuits of the past, and say hello to allowing Formula E to become a “real motorsport” (to the more cynical) by taking them to permanent courses.

Credit - FIA Formula E

Dan Jones Controlled Chaos but Formula E isn’t fully ready yet

I’ve long requested that the transition to permanent, established circuits is an avenue that Formula E should exploit. Formula E’s ‘mickey-mouse’ style of racing has never catered for such circuits to be facilitated, with chicanes and narrow corners essential for energy recovery and in some cases, time wasting. The promises brought in with Gen3 regarding energy recovery and speeds gave the hope that the transition would be possible, first shown at Portland.

And don’t get me wrong, Portland was absolutely sensational, almost reminiscent of some pack-racing, only found in the upper echelons of oval racing in IndyCar and NASCAR, it effectively being a lottery in the Top 15 places until it was really time to crank it up to the next level. But was the racing serious? Not really. The mickey-mouse racing, seen at wider tracks this year, such as Berlin had been taken to a new extreme. Drivers desperate to save energy, and stay in the slipstream wasn’t thrilling to watch, and branded ‘dangerous’ by Dan Ticktum.

Portland showed encouraging signs that Formula E could make the transition to established race circuits, the racing was superb and passing was excellent, on a track that IndyCar traditionally hasn’t found it easy. But the current design of the car makes it unfeasible short-term at least. Pack racing isn’t particularly appropriate on single-seater road courses, and the high energy recovery needed on a faster circuit such as Portland was particularly noticeable and took away from the racing.

But what can Formula E do? The signs are certainly encouraging, and should continue to move away from randomly drawn circuits, which can be inaccessible and random. Permanent road circuits are the way to go, but as long as Gen3 is around, Formula E should be searching for narrower, slower tracks to suit it’s style of racing more, and build a Gen4 car that are comparable to the likes of IndyCar and Formula Two.

The scenes from the Portland E Prix. Credit - Sam Bagnall

Archie O’Reilly

Diversification of circuits is necessary to move forward

Formula E has continually risen in popularity since its inaugural season commenced in 2014, however in order to continue these positive strides in terms of showcasing themselves as the premium electric racing series, broadening the type of circuit that they race on is a necessity.

Street circuits are an essential part of motorsport - they bring with them masses of jeopardy with the walls so close. But, at the same time, Formula E is guilty of having too many street tracks on the calendar, with many of those almost too similar to the rest. This isn't an effective way to test the drivers’ skill sets to the greatest degree.

Look at IndyCar, for instance, where there is a balance between street courses and more conventional road courses, challenging the drivers and teams in many different ways. It gives variation to the spectacle too, which is necessary to keep fans engaged.

Incidentally, the maiden Portland E-Prix used the same track that is used in IndyCar, and it resulted in one of the better Formula E races. The racing was closely-contested and the eventual winner unknown until the climax, with masses of overtaking and scope for drivers to make their way through the field.

Permanent circuits evidently work and are necessary among the present litany of street tracks, both to challenge the drivers and maintain the series’ growing popularity. Maybe adaptations need to be made to future generations of cars to suit this type of track given they can presently still be quite cumbersome, but Portland was a blueprint and a step in the right direction.

Credit - Handout/Jaguar Racing via Getty Images

Vyas Ponnuri

Permanent Circuits are a New Avenue for Formula E to spread its wings into, and grow

Formula E has been largely billed as a street circuit series. From Beijing, Hong Kong, Santiago, Long Beach in the early days of the series, to the locales of Jakarta, Rome, London, and New York, all the tracks Formula E has raced on have one thing in common: The track layouts have been brought about using streets from host cities.

To break the deadlock of street circuits, Formula E visited the famous Ricardo Tormo circuit, Valencia, in 2021. The first race of the weekend saw a strange miscalculation from most of the drivers, as they headed onto the last lap with almost no energy. In addition, the Gen2 cars had lower top speeds, and the races didn't prove to be as much of an encouraging sign. In my opinion, I'd call the race a false dawn for Formula E switching to permanent road courses.

However, the Portland E Prix certainly changed my perception of Formula E on road courses. Like many others, I absolutely enjoyed last weekend's racing action, having been treated to plenty of overtaking and battles on track. The winner of the race was undecided right until the chequered flag.

The Gen3 era of Formula E has delivered big time, and we've seen a staggering number of overtakes every race. But to see 403 overtakes in a single race? It was certainly a win-win for everyone. The characteristics of the Gen3 car means it can go well even around permanent road courses, and I believe this step is a step forward in the right direction, and a new avenue for Formula E, indeed.

Formula E first visited a permanent road course for the Valencia E Prix in 2021; Credit - Jaguar Racing via Getty Images


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