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Formula E Hits The Streets Of Monaco And F1 Snores In Spain +VIDEO

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A Green-vehicle story for car shoppers concerned with fuel economy, hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and gasoline and diesel exhaust emissions

By Nicholas Frankl
Senior Editor and Motorsports Correspondent

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OK – I’ll say it – I’m impressed. I know, you won’t believe an ?old’ petrol head like me who has, since the birth of the electric race series, been a ?non-believer,’ but I’m impressed. With what? You might ask.

Well, let’s be fair, we are, in my opinion, starting from quite a low base. The first ?races’ I experienced, at Monaco and Long Beach in 2014, were pretty pathetic affairs. The cars were small, slow, (I mean really slow) had to stop for the driver to leap into another fully-charged car half-way through the 45-minute race (a bit like swapping your iPhone after 30 minutes into a conference call…oh wait, that still happens… but I digress!), then wait for 60 seconds and dash back to the track. They couldn’t finish a full race distance and even now are down to just 1% battery life as they cross the line, which strangely enough makes it all the more exciting - talk about range anxiety!

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Begs the question - why can’t we know how much fuel the leading Mercedes (because today they are the only ones allowed to lead F1 races) have on the last two laps? Maybe this could add a morsel of excitement to the two hour plus snooze fest that even Dr. Z, the retiring boss of Mercedes, called by the first corner “over in six seconds”. At least, unlike Ferrari and everyone else, he gets to stand on the podium!

Hobnobbing at the exclusive Automobile Club tower I was happy to run into Belgium racing legend and family friend Jackie Ickx. He told me precisely what Mario Andretti told me at Long Beach a few years ago – this isn’t for me, this isn’t my generation, the world and youth move on and this is for them. They are both right and, despite losing considerable amounts of money (the figure of $450m is bandied about) Formula E has survived and is thriving as a cost-efficient series, thanks in large part to Jean Todt and the efforts of the FIA to encourage manufacturers to ditch other racing in favor of electric and, with Jaguar, Porsche, Audi, Renault, Nissan and more lining up on the grid, it’s clearly working. The last remaining issue is getting TV companies and promotors (countries) to pay for the circus to perform in their inner cities. This was Ecclestone’s forte: he spotted that TV and tobacco money was drying up and switched to countries that would pay upwards of $40m for the prestige of hosting an F1 championship race., Goodbye bankrupt European circuits, hello Middle East and Asia.

Formula E has the same expert team of sales, media and marketing execs who structured those deals but, so far, only China and - somewhat controversially - Saudi Arabia are paying any real money. I did run into two promoters from Melbourne, Australia in the lively and welcoming paddock, so don’t be too surprised to see a new continent added to the schedule for 2019/2020.

Back in 2014 the paddock was sterile, cost lots of money for fans to enter and wasn’t worth it. Now it’s sponsored by Allianz, features live music, demos, bars, racing games and autograph sessions – basically a fun fan zone to bring the kids and family and learn about all things electric.

Chatting with another Monaco-based ex-F1 racer, he told me he wouldn’t attend out of principle and the cars are too slow. Which they may well be, for him! But for most of us driving mortals the cars are fast enough to make a cool swoosh noise and race all bunched up together. Remember when that happened in F1? Nope, neither do I. The last lap starts after 45 minutes and features a final flurry of excitement as the drivers burn the batteries down to zero and fight for the flag. Even old timers who have seen fifty or more F1 races were riveted, and the fans who packed the grandstands and stayed till the end all seemed to enjoy the show, which is the whole point of going anyway. The top three included Monaco resident and F1 legend Felipe Massa in 3rd with the Monaco-based Venturi team (which was a crowd pleaser), Brit Oliver Rowland 2nd in the Nissan, and Jean-Eric Vergne atop the podium with Citroen Techeetah.

I’m looking forward to seeing the next race live and watching the progress as this is now an inevitable competitor for F1 fans, not just sponsors, many of which have switched to burnish their green credentials. All the elements and the momentum are with Formula E.

Back in Barcelona, the F1 show stumbled along with Mercedes completing another clean sweep for the first five races of the year, and Ferrari unable to get anywhere near in qualifying or race performance, even with the ?new’ updates for Europe. It seems pretty clear that the Silver Arrows will cruise to another championship, maybe even surpassing McLaren’s dominance of 15 wins out of 16 races with Senna and Prost in 1988. The issue is there was a lot less competition for eye balls back then and already Germany’s RTL TV is reporting a loss of more than 1 million viewers over last year’s Spanish GP. I think the TV commentators deserve points and medals for keeping the jazz going: it’s not easy or healthy to work yourself into a frenzy for two hours every Sunday as Lewis takes another leisurely drive to the super market.

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My first Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort
One piece of great news is the return to Zandvoort in 2020. Now that will be fantastic for all the right reasons! Expect a sea of orange shirts, plus plenty of beer and chips (French fries) with ample mayonnaise all around. I remember being there in 1977 to watch JPS Lotus with Hunt and Andretti battling away and look forward to a family reunion at this great track. Well done Liberty for making it happen and keeping at least some of the destinations fresh, including the addition of Hanoi as another new and unique setting for fans to experience what we can only hope will be some actual racing action.

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Me being held by Maria Helena Fittipaldi
As for the championship, I suggest picking some top 15 driver battles and watching the rivalry and team tactics and drama unfold. Haas has some aggro going on, Williams, G-d bless them, may not see out the season as a family enterprise, Renault are in crisis, and Honda is on the up n up!

Who said it’s boring!

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My sister Annabelle riding with Dutch policeman in Zandfoort