The inaugural season for Formula E has by and large been a big success so far – but the series did itself no favours by visiting Monaco, argues Jamie Klein.
It would be fair to say that when the organisers of Formula E reflect on the first season of their new all-electric championship, last weekend’s visit to Monaco won’t be considered a highlight.
Not because of the huge pile-up that occurred as the pack attempted to negotiate the extremely tight modified version of Sainte Devote for the first time, which decimated the field at the very start.
Not because, unlike just about every previous race, the battle for the win wasn’t especially close, as Lucas di Grassi prioritised locking down second from bitter arch-rival Nelson Piquet Jr. over chasing down eventual winner Sebastien Buemi.
Although both of the above didn’t exactly help, the real reason the trip to the ultra glamourous principality can be judged to have been mistaken is because Formula E needlessly invited comparisons with Formula 1 by moving in on the latter’s home turf.
Formula E tried to differentiate itself by making use of an abridged version of the famous 3.3km Monaco Grand Prix layout, but it was still the only time all season that the championship will have utilised an identical piece of tarmac to that used in the pinnacle of motorsport.
Cars didn't appear quick
Making Formula E an all-street circuit affair was unquestionably a stroke of genius. Not only would it give the series a strong USP and bring the racing to the people, it would also avoid unhelpful direct laptime comparisons with other series and therefore deny its critics useful ammunition.
True enough, no other series uses the 1.76km layout that hosted the Monaco ePrix, making a look at the timesheets redundant – but you didn’t need to crunch the numbers to tell that the battery-powered Spark-Renault machines aren’t especially quick compared to their petrol-driven counterparts.
For viewers used to seeing F1 cars wind their way around the streets of the principality, there was no getting away from the fact the cars looked slow. The effect was worsened by the use of the same TV camera positions used for the Grand Prix, several of which look down on the track from a lofty position, lessening the impression of speed.
The television graphics confirmed that the drivers never got beyond about 175kph approaching Sainte Devote – about 95kph slower than the F1 contingent would reach at the same part of the track.
Trying to move beyond F1
Visiting Monaco also drew attention to the fact that the Formula E field is largely made up of ex-F1 drivers with varying degrees of success, and – for now, at least – lacks star names in its own right.
To describe the series as a scrapheap for F1 hopefuls would be of course to do Formula E a major disservice given the level of talent within its ranks, but the average viewer would be forgiven for looking at the F1 results of drivers like Charles Pic and Jerome D’Ambrosio and judging them accordingly.
Several such drivers will no doubt be looking to carve themselves a niche in Formula E and put their unsuccessful F1 forays firmly behind them in doing so, and there’s no reason why they can’t do just that as the championship grows in stature.
But an annual visit to Monaco, should it become an established fixture on the calendar, would only serve to reinforce the impression held by some sceptics that Formula E is some sort of second-tier series suited to those whose time at the highest level has ran out.
Formula E has already demonstrated it can be so much more than that – and with Paris and Mexico City set to join the schedule next year, there really is no need to return to a place so intrinsically linked with F1 and invite the comparisons that will inevitably arise as a result.