The streets of London are a standard feature of fantasy circuits designed by fans and video game publishers, but in the past few decades Formula E is the only series to pull off a real race on the capital’s roads.
Kevin Still, operations director for Formula E, is the man in charge of the project. He says: “The UK is the home of Formula E and London is one of a handful of truly international cities. It was unthinkable that we would not come to London.”
Several high-profile venues were considered, but only Battersea ticked all the boxes. “We needed to find a location that would provide a spectacular location for the race, be practical to achieve in our first year and fit with our core values of sustainability,” says Mr Still. “Battersea Park lends itself to the event perfectly. Also, we wanted to find a location which would not cause too many disruptions to city life.”
Lengthy discussions took place before the local Wandsworth Council gave the green light, and the race only got final approval and planning permission in early-2015. The first step was to upgrade existing roads and car parks which, Mr Still says, “will be a lasting legacy for the park users for years to come”.
We needed to find a location that would provide a spectacular location for the race, be practical to achieve in our first year and fit with our core values of sustainability
Temporary structures started construction on June 15, with working schedules carefully planned to minimise disruption to local residents. “We aim to have everything ready for the Thursday before the race,” Mr Still explains. “On Friday afternoon we will run a short event when the cars will be on track behind the safety vehicle to test all our systems are in place and in order.”
Making sure that the local community isn’t disadvantaged by the race was a prime concern. “There are many interested parties with legitimate concerns about an international motor race in the park,” he says. “We have a regular community meeting to discuss the event and to develop plans to mitigate the residents’ concerns.”
For this reason, many of the changes will be temporary, although some more permanent work was needed. Some areas of Carriageway Drive needed minor modifications in order for the circuit to achieve an FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) grade III race licence, including replacing traffic barriers and relaying the track surface.
Organising the race is an incredibly complex operation. Mr Still highlights a long list of challenges including traffic management, crowd safety, logistics, moving in the physical facilities of concrete blocks, safety fencing and all the temporary structures, telecommunications networks, catering and facilities for the fans during the event. “Finally, we need to remove the entire facility and leave the park as if we had never been there – in a matter of days,” he says.
But Battersea will benefit. “Formula E brings millions of global viewers to London’s doorstep and represents a vision of the future for sustainable transportation in a historical location synonymous with conservation,” Mr Still says. “It seals the UK as the major centre of international motorsport and adds a great event to London, bringing nearly 30,000 spectators to the area each day. On top of that, we’ve given the council £1 million.”