HONG KONG—Hong Kong hosted its inaugural ePrix along the spectacular harbour front on Hong Kong Island. This was the opening event to the 3rd ePrix season, and the first time, Hong Kong is a host city.
It was a weekend of ‘electric car’ entertainment culminating with the ePrix Sunday afternoon.
The course was a tight, twisty 1.8km circuit, winding around the Hong Kong waterfront providing plenty of turns, chicanes and enough straight track to test the driver’s ability to manage speed, braking and power management of the cars.
This is not Formula 1: there is no noise, no roar of the engines as they blister down the straight, no smell of petrol, nor the clockwork precision of a pit change. Formula E is silent, odourless and the pit change or car change, tests the agility of the driver to rapidly ‘hop out’ of one and ‘hop in’ to another as they change cars to ensure sufficient power to complete the course.
There is speed; the cars reach over 225km per hour, accelerate from 0-100kph in less than 3 seconds, and yet make less than 80 decibels of noise: it’s like listening to a domestic appliance.
There is a smattering of the glitz and glam with Formula E, so much in evidence in Formula 1. This was a ‘weekend catwalk’ for Hong Kong’s finest to be seen and photographed.
On the track, where the real action took place, the drivers had pedigree. Many had raced in Formula 1, Formula 3, Le Mans or Touring car events, and at least two have car racing lineage to be rightly proud of (Piquet and Prost).
The front row of the starting grid had Nelson Piquet Jnr on pole and Oliver Turvey 2nd, (both from the Nextev team); and Sam Bird and Jose Maria Lopez (both Virgin Racing) lined-up behind them.
There is no warm-up: it’s an immediate start once the lights turn green, and the cars hurtle to the first corner of the 45 lap race.
The Hong Kong track proved a challenge. Drivers struggled with the track tightness and the need to brake sharply. It created an exciting race where the lead changed and pole position meant little to the final outcome.
Piquet led to start with, although Turvey was eventually caught by Bird after 12 laps. But a second crash by Lopez (he also crashed on lap one) on lap17, changed the race, as the safety car came out for the middle section of the race benefitting those drivers who had switched to their second cars.
Sebastian Buemi (Renault e.dams), last season’s champion, who was fifth on the grid benefitted the most; and with his race-savvy strategy managing power, went into the lead, and stayed there to win Hong Kong’s inaugural ePrix in 53m13.298s, ahead of Lucas Di Grassi (ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport) by 2.477s with Nick Heidfeld (Mahindra racing) 3rd (5.522s) and Nicolas Prost (Renault e.dams), 4th (7.360s)
Di Grassi had an impressive race. He crashed in qualifying and started from the back of the grid and worked his way to second by the chequered flag. Interestingly, none of the leading pole position cars made it to the podium.
It was good to see Hong Kong (at long last) make use of the iconic waterfront for a global showcase event. Let’s hope the contract with Formula E encourages the City to become more of an ‘ecopolis’ than ‘petrolopolis’ in promoting electric cars and greater common-sense sustainability in the City. This should not just be an event for publicity only, but an opportunity to make a difference in the City. And next year, embrace the public; don’t shun them with screening that denies people a glimpse of what the future could look like; and have a longer track to accommodate more spectators to enjoy the spectacle.
Hong Kong needs more of these events (many more), that go beyond ‘yet another firework display’ with creative use of the waterfront. Formula E is a step in the right direction, in both sport and social responsibility, and along with the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, should become an annual landmark event on the City’s calendar. Roll on 2017.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and now resident in Hong Kong.