until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Can Formula E survive the coronavirus crisis?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The pause button has been hit on sport right now. Amid the great shock and confusion, one event after another has fallen or been suspended in an almost cryogenic state.

Motorsport, like every other industry, has been caught in a largely uncontrollable tailspin thanks to COVID-19.

While many commentators and custodians of motorsport rightly articulated opinions on the priority implications of humanity over industry, it cannot be ignored that the motorsport business has a global market worth well in excess of $6billion.

As a young and thrusting new kid on the block, Formula E faces an uncertain future because it is nowhere near maturity nor has it been branded into the motorsport landscape as deeply as Formula 1 or other established and fully formed series just yet.

Almost exactly five years on from the Miami E-Prix where then-CEO Alejandro Agag almost saw his salvage operation via Liberty collapse, Formula E is facing a second dark night of the soul.

Its cars now sit untouched by teams in a hangar at Valencia, the location of what was about to be confirmed as the last-minute replacement for the recently postponed Rome EPrix on the first Saturday of April.

So, can Formula E survive a long period of inactivity?

In these circumstances, yes it can, despite still growing foundations. In its five-and-a-half-year history it has gone from nervous upstart to a bold and fearless leader in several key areas.

Spacesuit Media Shivraj Gohil 107216

One of the most respected commercial and industry figures who has frequented the Formula E paddock since it was established agrees that it can weather formidable storms.

After an 18-year-long F1 stint with Williams, Toro Rosso and Virgin Racing, Jim Wright has held senior Formula E positions with Venturi, Mahindra and now Andretti. He is also well placed for reasoned comment due to his long-held role with the Formula E Teams and Manufacturers Association.

“We are at the beginning of what is going to be a very difficult period, no doubt,” Wright tells The Race.

“It’s three months [until Berlin, the next date on the 2019-20 calendar], but it seems to me that anything other than that kind of timeframe might be too soon.

“Bearing in mind the virus hasn’t even peaked yet in Italy, and countries are going to be several weeks behind, a lot of things are unanswered. Formula E in my mind has shown great leadership with the way it has dealt with the initial shock of this situation.”

Formula E, from a commercial point of view, is now going into a period of strategic management.

This is likely to include the fundamental question of how it can limit disruption to its business model and ultimately the balance sheets.Formula E Marrakesh E Prix 2020

Firstly, Formula E needs to keep financial outlay down, so it is not incurring costs. Obvious.

Secondly, can some of the races that were going to pay an attractive price (such as Seoul and Jakarta) be held or rescheduled for later in the year to limit a damaging income hole?

The Race understands that some manufacturers and partners just want to put on a couple of races, get to the absolute minimum and largely forget about the 2019/20 season and move onto season seven in 2020/21.

Most of these are undoubtedly teams that are not performing too well this season, so this notion needs more than fair pinches of salt. That may sound trite in the circumstances but it is within the thinking of some movers and players in the championship right now.

Liberty Global, the majority shareholder in Formula E, just can’t afford to have a disastrous season six and be forced to write too much off.

That is why there is said to be a strong desire amid board members to now focus on how many races can be resurrected in addition to Berlin, New York and London – should these venues be able to host events and the paddock be able to travel once again.

If possible, Seoul will be one of their main priorities to try to reorganise, while Sanya could also still be achievable to resurrect if conditions allow, although the Chinese holiday season will mostly form any reality around a possible reallocated date.

Jakarta, which was paying good money too, faced political problems and is likely to take cover for a while and be pushed back until season seven, with a likely date for an inaugural race in early June 2021.

In Europe, Paris and Rome could be rescheduled – but an opportunity to do so before the end of July looks highly unlikely in the present climate.Spacesuit Media Lou Johnson 147048

So unless the 2019-20 calendar can be elongated to the end of September – which has been discussed – the most that Formula E can hope for in the present conditions would appear to potentially be three double-header events at Berlin, New York and London.

The major partners that have signed up to Formula E for the long haul have, on the face of it, ensured complete support through these troubled times.

They understand and respect the devastation to the championship caused by the COVID-19 virus, so the strong, sensible and responsible decision-making by Formula E so far has been well-communicated.

“I would see everybody standing by their partnerships, yes, I don’t see that being an issue,” says Wright.

“Formula E has always had a strong cooperative element to it and I think this will continue because the investment in it is multi-faceted, meaning from the technical, sporting and commercial standpoints.

“The manufacturers are in it to sell to consumers and to evidence new technology, so the relevancy is there. This is not racing for the absolute sake of it. If it was, then there might be a different image associated to its future prospects and frankly that is not what anyone is seeing right now.”

But what if those prospects got really grim because manufacturers either had to be bailed out through their respective governments or simply had to cut marketing costs and reappraise their forecasts/future strategies because of social change brought about by the crisis?

This is where we get into the realms of speculation, but it doesn’t take that much imagination at present to envisage just how low down the decision-making process a marketing campaign would be should an entire business monolith such as VW or Renault Nissan have to go through considerable restructuring.

That scenario might not be far away but the hope and will at present is to restart the current season at Tempelhof in three months’ time.Spacesuit Media Lou Johnson 150138

“In my own mind, I think Berlin is probably going to be the starting point for part two of the championship and that seems to me like a sensible aspiration,” opines Wright.

“It’s a good few months away and hopefully we can get on top of it throughout Europe, then Berlin could be the restart.”

That is one version of events that everyone in Formula E will be hoping comes to pass, so that the pause button can disengaged and the series can press play again.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks