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Formula E

Five greatest lost Formula E tracks

by Sam Smith
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E is heading into exciting uncharted territory again with three new venues next up on the calendar.

Hyderabad next Saturday, Cape Town a fortnight later and Sao Paulo in late March give FE its debuts in India, South Africa and Brazil respectively – a great haul of new markets for the first season of the Gen3 era.

As usual with Formula E, relatively little is known about the temporary tracks until teams explore them for the first time.

Will any of the trio become FE classics? And if so, can the series keep them for the long term?

Ahead of Formula E’s trips into the unknown, here’s our pick of the five best circuits from its history that aren’t on the calendar anymore plus our assessment of whether they’ll ever return.

Bern (2019)

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While the event itself turned into a logistical nightmare for Formula E, one in which it felt the wrath of local citizens who didn’t like their beautiful city being turned into a racetrack, Bern was a sensational circuit.

It had elements of Pau and the old Rouen about it. Undulating through the historic Bern city streets, it felt like it might be the out-and-out most Formula E of Formula E tracks ever devised.

In that summer of 2019, the Gen2 car was still in its early phase of development, so honing the cars was still ongoing and that made for some lairy moments behind the wheel.

The local populace’s lack of enthusiasm was evidenced on the night before the race when around 500 cyclists, ringing bells and twirling banners, slalomed their way through the city centre in objection to the disruption and what they saw as the hypocrisy of a sustainable sport building giant VIP areas.

They had a point. But let’s look at the positive aspects of the event. The start of the lap was phenomenal with a plunge downhill and then back up, all with a backdrop of the Swiss plateaued glacial Aare river.

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The beauty of the environs was deceptive, though. The track was incredibly bumpy and was 90% finished when the first free practice session kicked off. The travails of trying to pull off the race in the middle of the city were bravely taken on but everyone knew it would only happen once.

The race was a potboiler with Jean-Eric Vergne having to defend from a relentless Mitch Evans in the final stages when a few drops of rain dampened the scenery.

Prior to that, Sam Bird put a magical pass on Max Guenther’s Dragon at the teasing right-hand kink before Turn 6. But before the sublime came the ridiculous when a multi-car shunt red-flagged proceedings at the first chicane on the opening lap.

The incident triggered not only an overall eradication of most ‘artificial’ chicanes for Formula E thereafter but also a heated debate via Lucas di Grassi, Felipe Massa and others about where cars should grid up for the restarted race.

It seemed somehow ironic that such drama and conflict should take place at one of the most tranquil and beautiful places the championship had ever congregated at.

Location rating: 10/10
Track challenge: 9/10
Chances of happening again: Zero

Buenos Aires (2015-17)

One of the world’s most beautiful cities delivered some unforgettable FE races between 2015 and 2017 at the Puerto Madero parkland setting close to the mouth of the mighty River Plate.

It was a lovely place to have a race and ideal for Formula E in that it was a green and pleasant land, albeit within a stone’s throw of the central business district.

The track didn’t look much on paper. A kind of South American Snetterton at a glance. But its qualities were deceptive.

The pit straight was followed by a hairpin so overtaking was never going to be a problem. Flat-out sweeps at Turns 2 and 3 hastened tight sectors two and three. But it flowed and the drivers loved it. Perhaps it was evidence that not all street circuits need to be over-complicated.

Stand-out memories of the place really centre around Antonio Felix da Costa’s surprise win in January 2015 and then Sebastien Buemi’s outrageously good drive a year later when he was forced to start from the rear.

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That was because he seemingly spun away all hope in qualifying. It was later found that this was because a subtle corrosion of his brakes had occurred in freight. It was therefore even more remarkable that he embarked on a spectacular drive through the field to harry the ultimately victorious DS Virgin car of Bird all the way.

At the gate, there was an impressive bust of racing royalty with the great Juan Manuel Fangio on celebratory show. One wondered what he would have made of this 21st-century electric showpiece, although it’s tempting to hope that as long as it was competitive he would have approved.

Certainly, when Bird and Buemi embraced in parc ferme the maestro would have applauded loudly.

Location rating: 8/10
Track challenge: 8/10
Chances of happening again: Unlikely

Montreal (2017)

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Now there was a track!

Possibly the one of this five that has a claim to have been the best lost FE circuit out there.

This was a real rollercoaster of a place. Not quite as breathtaking as the current Rome circuit but not far off.

It definitely had some of the old-school Long Beach about it or maybe the streets of San Francisco with bumpy braking areas and some gentle undulation.

The drivers loved it and this was a true downtown track where the local populace was literally overlooking the circuit from their homes.

Perhaps it is also remembered from its one and only slot on the calendar in July 2017 for being one of the series’ most outstandingly dramatic weekends.

Famously Buemi was in the centre of it, cutting a troubled and under-pressure presence despite going into the double-header finale leading the championship by 10 points over arch-rival di Grassi.

Then came the practice shunt, the rebuild and a brilliant drive to fourth on the Saturday. That was diluted by a remarkable walk of anger from parc ferme to his own box that took in arguments with three different drivers.

It was all filmed and in truth, Buemi looked a bit daft as his white-hot racing passion burned uncontrolled.

The anger was piqued a few hours later when Buemi’s car was found to be underweight, a legacy of the rebuild.

While he fumed, di Grassi took the title, taking advantage of Buemi’s two no-shows in New York when a controversial calendar clash between the World Endurance Championship and Formula E so infuriated Renault e.dams and Buemi even further.

Montreal’s fall from grace, and expulsion the following season’s calendar, was due to political changes in the city. It all ended up in court from which Formula E emerged the victor. But the big loss was everyone’s as one of the world’s greatest cities became lost to all racing other than Formula 1.

Location rating: 10/10
Track challenge: 8/10
Chances of happening again: Whither the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve?

Punta del Este (2014-18)

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A race on the Uruguayan coast was certainly leftfield when it was announced as the third-ever Formula E event in December 2014.

That event was a great success despite its backdrop being Alejandro Agag’s temporary firing and the championship secretly faltering to the point where its next race at Buenos Aires was doubtful to take place at all.

Punta del Este had held national level racing before and that circuit was extended and modified for the 2014 race which was Buemi and Renault e.dams’ first victory.

The site of the race was part Monaco and part Zandvoort. Chintzy wealth and sand dunes mixed in the brilliant UAV-rich southern hemisphere summer to dramatic effect.

The track itself was nothing special. Quite flat and formulaic it ticked all the street racing boxes such as hairpin, quick chicane and a reasonably long back straight.

Jean Eric Vergne (fra), Techeetah, Renault Z.e. 17, Celebrates On The Beach

The races were generally good but none was better than the final event in March 2018. That was when Vergne and di Grassi fought tooth-and-nail for pretty much the entire event, with the Techeetah Renault winning out by just 0.4s after a tense and exhilarating race.

It was the surreal setting that really sold the place, from stepping out the back of the teams’ pits directly onto the beach to the giant marble hand that became a kind of emblem of the place.

But perhaps the most memorable was the test session after the first race in 2014 when this writer and a colleague spent most of the session rather unprofessionally playing beach football. When a tantalising volley presented itself the resulting Hough almost cleared the debris fence to Turn 1. I was an inch away from red-flagging an international series test session!

Location rating: 9/10
Track challenge: 7/10
Chances of happening again: Unlikely but a good last-minute alternative if needed

Santiago (2018)

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The mere mention of the first Santiago event in January 2018 can be enough for some Formula E management to break out in hives, such was the problematic build-up to the race just in order to get it on!

The track went through the scenic Parc Forestal area in the city centre and ran through several different municipalities. This caused untold red tape issues for the race-makers, who faced almost intolerable pressure and also great hostility towards the build.

Several faced unacceptable physical confrontations and in two incidents assault over the perceived disruption in 2018.

As ever the track and infrastructure was made ready and the event didn’t disappoint with Vergne and Andre Lotterer dominating proceedings for Techeetah Renault.

But it came with a thick slice of contention as Lotterer twice nudged his team-mate while running 1-2. In the second incident, he momentarily interlocked nose to rear wing on his startled team-mate.

There was also more controversy after the race when the two Techeetahs were placed under investigation for their mid-race pitstops. That was cleared and the team celebrated a first-ever Formula E 1-2 wildly.

The track was superb with every dramatic ingredient needed for a quick street circuit. It delivered some excellent racing despite the bone-jarring bumps and an initial surface that would have made Torvill and Dean feel skittish.

It was clear to everyone that, for everyone’s security and safety, the race had to be moved and it did so to the Parc O’Higgins circuit slightly outside the centre of the Chilean capital for 2019 and 2020.

A combination of political upheaval in the country (you could taste the tear-gas in 2020) and the pandemic have probably scuppered any return to Chile for the foreseeable future.

Location rating: 9/10
Track challenge: 8/10
Chances of happening again: More chance of seeing someone dressed as Andrea de Cesaris waiting at a Santiago bus stop! Hang on… see below 🙂

De Cesaris Bus Stop

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