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Moscow trials: the rumours meet the facts

A possible cancellation of the Moscow ePrix has been the talk of the town among Formula E media lately. e-racing.net editor-in-chief Antonia Grzelak and her deputy Topher Smith take a look at was has been reported and but the rumours into perspective.

Discussion point #1

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Moscow ePrix looks set to be officially cancelled due to disagreements in the administration of the event from various Russian agencies.[/pullquote]

Topher: It is currently unclear who these Russian agencies are, but one thing that always needs to be taken into consideration with Formula E is logistics, as the city centre-nature of the championship can no doubt be tricky to realise given the local disruption caused.

Promoting the championship is key to the survival of the series, as the ever-growing fan base will only help the its popularity and encourage new cities to apply to host an ePrix. At the end of S1, the number of cities that had shown an interest in hosting an ePrix was as high as 180, so even if Moscow was to fall off the calendar, potentially for good, there will be no shortage of new venues to take its slot.

Antonia: I agree. The interest in Formula E is at its peak but the series is facing an important issue which is that fans are slowly getting annoyed with the issues that naturally arise when a series has a city centre approach to its tracks. The people I talked to seem to be more and more interested in moving the ePrix to real race tracks as the recent organisational issues have shown that their city centre approach is not working out as well as they hoped to. We don’t only have this problem with Moscow – we are facing more issues with the race in Battersea Park and the new Berlin ePrix track was also anything but easy to set up.

While there is no shortage of new venues that could take over Moscow’s slot in the calendar, the pressing issue is that the event not taking place is going to massively affect the outcome of this season’s title fight between Lucas and Sebastien. Seeing that the series waited as long as possible to give Moscow a chance to still host the event, we are now facing the problem that any possible replacement – seeing Prince Albert’s interest we’re mainly talking Monte Carlo here – is very unlikely at this stage due to logistic conflicts.

Topher: Considering that Monaco has the Grand Prix and Masters Historic this year, adding another event to its calendar will no doubt be problematic for the locals and the authorities. Even if the Principality is used to having their roads blocked off annually there will no doubt be some disgruntled residents when they find out that they will be restricted for a further weekend.

Discussion point #2

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Formula E has done everything they need to do in order to host the ePrix, but the local authorities seem to be standing in the way of the event happening.[/pullquote]

Topher: The problem with the administration of an ePrix falls to each Government that agrees to host an event. Formula E Holdings does an exceptional job of organising the calendar, but without the compliance of each city hosting an ePrix would be nigh on impossible. The fact that there seem to be administrative issues with the Moscow ePrix shows something of an unwillingness of the local authorities to host the race for a second year running, and Formula E Holdings can only do so much towards making an event happen.

Antonia: I fully agree. The problem is that it is hard for Formula E to use this argumentation strategy. While I think nobody is ever really publicly blaming Formula 1 if one of their scheduled events fall through, Formula E is in a really different situation due to its very limited heritage in comparison. I think the main problem is not really within an event getting cancelled – I personally think this is something you kind of have to expect when you try to organise a huge event in a city centre – the problem is that people are still very fast to blame Formula E for it.

Discussion point #3

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]With virtual gaming becoming a more regular feature within Formula E, rumours have circulated about a virtual race acting as a stand-in for Moscow.[/pullquote]

Topher: While virtual gaming is becoming a much more popular pastime in the last few years, I can’t help but feel that adding a virtual race as a round of the championship would be unfair to a few drivers on the grid. I am a simulation racer myself and love the opportunity to drive different makes of car around a multitude of tracks from the comfort of my own home, but there are many pitfalls to using a virtual race in a fully-fledged FIA championship. The first of these is the capabilities of the technology. While the rFactor races have added to the entertainment value of the championship as the drivers face each other on a level playing field, you only need to take one look at these events to realise why this wouldn’t be fair in a points-scoring round.

First of all, the game physics are not fully up to scratch as far as realism goes. In real life, two drivers could rub wheels and continue racing, while on a video game rubbing wheels could cause one drivers to clip into the other car and fly into the air. While this would be exciting to watch it wouldn’t be the most realistic experience. Another example would be if and when one of the stations glitches. We saw with Jean-Eric Vergne in Mexico City that his game randomly stopped on him and he was unable to continue. I would love to see more of the virtual racing between drivers at each ePrix, but I believe that this should be kept under the entertainment category and not used as a points-scoring round when there is a championship title at stake.

Antonia: I personally think the VR races are a good way to pass the time between qualifying and the race but I am not really a big fan of it. Therefore I am really not sure replacing the Moscow ePrix with a VR race would actually benefit anybody. Also, there would be so many organisational questions arising in consequence: Where to hold it? Do you do all sessions to at least make it look like a full race day? Does Formula E have the material to let all 18 drivers take part? Also, as you said, in the end these VR races are a game and can’t really replace a sporting event in my opinion.

Discussion point #4

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If not in a virtual guise, there are plenty of potential replacements, but not in time for this season.[/pullquote]

Topher: With only a short amount of time before the Moscow ePrix is due to happen, it will be exceptionally difficult for an apt replacement to be found. Having said that, it won’t stop the gurus at Formula E from trying. Formula E Zone recently reported that Monaco is being lined up as the alternative should the Russian round indeed be axed. Given the success of the 2015 Monaco ePrix one wouldn’t be faulted for wanting to happen, but with the busy nature of the small nation organising such an event would be a big ask.

Another rumoured alternative is to host a points-scoring round at Donington Park, the headquarters for all the Formula E teams and circuit of choice for testing. Personally I believe this would be a much more viable option given the accessibility of the circuit, only one field away from the East Midlands International Airport. The drivers know and enjoy the circuit, and I doubt there would be much argument to hosting a replacement ePrix there.The only problem that would potentially go against Donington would be the access for the fans. The circuit only has one grandstand overlooking the pit straight, with the remainder of the circuit being standing-only. With much being made of the viewing areas at Battersea Park last season and more recently in Paris, this is something that should be addressed by Formula E Holdings before considering a round at Donington Park.

Antonia: A replacement in Donington Park does not work at all because there is another event taking place on the track the weekend of the Moscow ePrix. People are always really quick to suggest alternatives without actually taking a look at the real possibilities of which quite frankly Donington Park isn’t one. Monaco is really the only real alternative the series has but it is more and more unlikely that it is seriously going to replace Moscow. While the Monte Carlo race track would be free that weekend, it may be the case that Formula E simply waited too long to make it happen. They wanted to give Moscow enough time to sort out their issues and now a possible Monte Carlo ePrix faces huge logistic problems that the series will most likely not be able to resolve.

Topher: Could it be possible for a Donington ePrix to happen on a different weekend?

Antonia: I don’t know. The track is tightly booked in May and June so it is highly unlikely that Formula E could race there.

Topher: In that case it’s most likely that there will simply be one round less this season.

Antonia: I guess so. The problem is that the Berlin ePrix had to be moved. If it would have been possible to hold the ePrix in Tempelhof once again, they could have made the Berlin ePrix a double header just like London. Sadly that’s not possible as they have a one-day only permit to race on Karl-Marx-Allee. I think this season Alejandro & Co have just been really unlucky with their organisation.

Discussion point #5

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Without a replacement for Moscow found, there are now 30 less points up for grabs in the championship hunt.[/pullquote]

Topher: The only driver who would be happy to have one less round in the championship would be Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian driver enjoys an 11 point lead in the table, despite having lost 25 points following his disqualification from Mexico. di Grassi is no doubt the man in form at present, but the cancellation of the Moscow ePrix without a replacement would mean one less race in which Sebastien Buemi or Sam Bird could catch him.

Antonia: I seriously think Sam is out of the race for the title anyway seeing his recent performance. But yes, the cancellation of the Moscow ePrix would play into Lucas’ hands but I don’t think it would actually make a huge difference. I am convinced that the possible loss of reputation is the biggest issue we’re facing when the Moscow ePrix falls through. We have to remember that Formula E is only in its second season but it already developed such a huge following and the world’s media have their eyes on the series so any organisation problems become huge talking points, no matter if it is really the series’ fault or not.

Topher: On the flip side, having these organisation problems could be a good thing for the series. Formula E is still very young and has many years ahead of it, so it may be best to get problems such as these ironed out now so that the series can only improve as we look towards future seasons.

Antonia: That’s true but at the same time problems in the beginning have often resulted in a racing series being cancelled after a few years. I don’t think that’s anything we really have to worry about but I think it is something we have to keep in mind. At the moment, these problems might not seem like a big issue to us but they might quickly become a hurdle the series can’t take anymore.

Topher: Of course it’s something that should be kept in mind, but don’t forget that Formula E has what other series before it lacked, which is a clear vision of its future. This doesn’t just apply to the series, but also to the global effect with the greener electric technology that Formula E is currently showcasing.

Antonia: I fully agree. Also, there are so many companies that are interested in being involved in the series that I think the series’ future is pretty much safe. Formula E is still the “hot new kid on the block” so we have nothing to worry about…yet.

Topher Smith and Antonia Grzelak | e-racing.net

Image courtesy of FIA Formula E Media