Formula E 2021 London ePrix report: Gladiators, ready

Published: 27 July 2021

► Formula E returns to London
► And the Excel centre
► The view from the ground

There was something unshakably 90’s television about Formula E’s latest visit to London and the Docklands-based Excel centre. Perhaps it was the laser lights, the smoke machines or the unique indoor-outdoor format – but it felt like Craig Charles, Wolf or Stone Cold Steve Austin would appear at any time. As it happens, the second race involved takedowns the latter would be proud of, but we’ll get to that later. 

Formula E continues to push new ideas – whether more traditional motorsport fans like it or not – and this London double-header was full of them. It played host to the first ever indoor-outdoor race (the cars dove in and out of the Excel centre during the 22-corner lap) and there were also inclines and declines built in the track too. Add some changeable British weather, and high and low-grip surfaces to the mix, and London’s Formula E round was full of game changing variables. 

The venue 

Formula E is designed cram lots of action into a small space, and it means circuits can look and feel a little disjointed. Take a Taycan-powered hot-lap around the London track and it’s actually powerful blitz of straights, tricky-double apex bends and intricate switchbacks. Watch from a grandstand, and it’s a bit of a car park/kart track. 

But if watching in person is one thing, then viewing online is quite another. The indoor aspect legitimately adds a new layer of polish and slickness to mix – even if it’s not apparent in real life.

The race(s)

Race 1 wasn’t a classic but was at least won by Brit Jake Dennis in the Andretti BMW. Alex Lynn took victory in the second race for Mahindra, but things were far less straightforward.

Race 2, however, was one of the most ‘Formula E’ events you’ll ever see. Full of strange ‘illegal but also legal’ strategies, locked-up torpedoes and other questionable driving, it’s a race that’ll be referenced for years by the sport’s fans and critics alike. 

Contenders seemed to be taken out every few laps: Antonio Di Costa was smeared on to the ePrix’s Heineken hoardings. Oliver Rowland massively misjudged braking and took out a very competitive Stoffel Vandoorne. And Sebastien Buemi and Rene Rast seemed to have an automotive scuffle at the chaotic double hairpin. So slapstick was some of the driving, that when Sam Bird was slammed into the wall later on in the race, nobody batted an eyelid.

And while this was all going on, Lucas Di Grassi overtook the entire safety-car led grid in the pitlane, and ended up in the lead. 

After an obvious drive through, and some great sprinting footage of Audi team boss Allan McNish sprinting to the stewards, the Audi driver ended up with a black flag and a hefty fine. A loophole did allow drivers to pit and overtake the safety car – only Di Grassi didn’t come to a complete stop.

Verdict

The Excel centre makes for a significantly better venue than the sport’s original Battersea Park home. The track itself is more demanding, but the location itself feels far more part of London than the previous circuit ever did. Crowds watched from double-deckers and DLR platforms, because this was in the actual capital – not a bubble of greenery.

And the negatives? Drama wasn’t in short supply, but one could argue that the London ePrix undermined Formula E as much as it championed it. People criticize sports such as F1 for being sanitized and policed by stewards, but Sunday’s Formula E race felt like a dystopian scenario in where things went the other way.  

Collisions and drama are part of motorsport, but the number and type of incidents all made everything seem a bit random. And with the drivers’ championship still wide open, some of the incidents served to cheapen the title fight, rather than spice it up. 

Throw in Audi’s Wacky Races tactics – just short of painting a tunnel on the wall and driving through it – and you also had a feeling of uncertainty about the rules too. The question after the race seemed to be ‘what have I just watched,’ and not necessarily in a good way… 

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes.

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