US Poses Unique Challenges to Formula E Schedule Makers

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US Poses Unique Challenges Formula E Isn’t Used ToNurPhoto - Getty Images
  • Multiple stakeholders and a mountain of contract paperwork complicate race-site procurement, says boss Alberto Longo.

  • Drivers enjoy U.S. courses, including Portland’s unique setting.

  • Although DS Penske drivers wish for an additional U.S. event, Formula E re-ups with Oregon facility for lone-U.S. 2024 event.

Because of Netflix’s Drive To Survive series, many Americans have heightened their interest in Formula 1. And at least one ABB FIA Formula E driver—two-time champion Jean-Éric Vergne, of the DS Penske team—knows if personality-driven fans become familiar with him, the global electric-car series can get the same bounce.

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Jean Eric Vergne drives for the DS Penske Formula E team.ATPImages - Getty Images

“Help me be big in America, and they would love me,” Vergne, affectionately known as “JEV,” said playfully as Formula E prepared to visit Oregon for the Southwire Portland E-Prix this Saturday. “They just need to see more of me.


“Look at how Formula 1 is at the moment. I think Americans started to love Formula 1, thanks to Netflix. It’s important to go and race on American soil,” he said. “We've been racing in New York City for many years now. We're going to race in Portland, and I hope that next year we can race also in a bigger city such as Los Angeles, where it's quite a big city for electric cars.”

That won’t happen in 2024. The series announced Tuesday that it will return to Portland for its only U.S. appearance. Formula E previously came to Brooklyn, Miami, and Long Beach, Calif.

Alberto Longo, series co-founder and chief championship officer, said bringing the nine-year-old series to America is easier decided than done.

“It is a big challenge, because you have to sign a contract with them [city officials].” For example, at Miami, he said, “The parking lot where we had the garages, there were five different owners of the parking lot. So then you need to agree with all of them,” Longo said. “There is no other country in the world that the public space is actually not that public. The streets, the road itself, is obviously something that you need to deal with a politician, but then as soon as you go on the sidewalk, there are 20 different stakeholders you need to deal with. And that makes it more challenging.

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Long Beach hosted Formula E races 2015 and 2016.Handout - Getty Images

“It's a fantastic venue. We had a big impact on that city. It was one of the first events that we did in our history, and it was massive, amazing. But I remember I signed 139 contracts with different stakeholders to get all the permits. So that's how challenging it is. And obviously we are used to it. We have a fantastic team that is capable of doing it. But I had a very good relationship with the (Miami) mayor. He was telling us, ‘Listen, I 'm totally in favor. Let's do it. But I warn you: it's not going to be easy. You guys need to basically move to Miami for three months to make this happen.’”

Formula E’s Long Beach experience was positive, because, as Longo said, it is “a well-established motorsport event for many, many years. So when you go there, everything is easy. They know. They understand. We have Jim Michaelian there. He’s the promoter of that event, and he knows everything. So it is way easier to go that route. But at the same time, we don't really like to become kind of a secondary event of the main event, and that's why we're not racing in Long Beach, because we were not offered a different time of the year to be racing in that location. I think it's so important that If we are to race in a venue where we share the venue with another property, and especially if that property has been there for 25 to 30 years, then it's challenging for us in terms of sales, in terms of marketing, in terms of brand awareness, everything.”

So then we decided not to go back to Long Beach. But again, operationally speaking, it was way easier than any other thing. that we can think of. Then the other experience that we have is Miami and New York, but Miami is the opposite.

New York welcomed Formula E for six years. And Longo said, “New York was a little bit easier, because we had only one big stakeholder, which was the cruise terminal. But then the neighborhood, we had a lot of other stakeholders. We didn't sign so many contracts, but we signed quite a few.”

He said New York mayor Eric Adams, who was Brooklyn Borough president when Formula E raced through the streets, is “really passionate about wanting us to come back. The problem about the venue is that we are becoming bigger and bigger and bigger every year. And that venue was shrinking every year because of different works that they were doing. It doesn't work if we're becoming bigger and they're becoming smaller. We got to a point in which basically we don't fit there.”

Longo was careful not to be overly concerned with U.S. venues. He said, “What is important is to state is that we are a global championship. So we cannot be so focused only in one region. And we are already doing quite fantastic races in Europe. So we are covering the European market. I have another priority at the moment: to come back to China. For me, China is obviously not only for Formula E but also for the different stakeholders like teams, partners and manufacturers is such a key market that we cannot allow ourselves not to be there.”

With other Asian races in the Middle East and India and in Africa at Cape Town, the only continent missing from its portfolio is Australia/New Zealand. But Longo said logistics and costs of visiting there have tabled any serious discussions about adding a race Down Under.

Right now, the focus is on Portland, Ore., where DS Penske racer and reigning champion Stoffel Vandoorne said before arriving on the West Coast that he was unsure what to expect of the Portland International Raceway surface and environment of the course that’s a departure from the city-street format that defines Formula E. For his DS Penske team, and California-based co-owner Jay Penske, this is a “home race.” The same could be said for the Michael Andretti’s Avalanche Andretti team, although it, too, has foreign drivers. All any of the racers had seen of PIR before coming there this week was on their simulators.

“It’s always nice to go to new locations. It spices up things a little bit more. No one knows the track. It's new for everybody, so it always brings some extra opportunities. I’m sure Portland will be unique, but in its own way,” Vandoorne said. “Every city has different cultures, different fans, as well. That's kind of the cool thing about it.

“The United States is definitely a market that Formula E wants to be in. I would personally love to have another race in the U.S. One of the big cities, it would be cool to have a race there, and especially with racing with kind of foreign/American team right now with DS Penske, so it would be nice to have another race there.”