Helena Hicks and the nontroversy of “cleavage-gate”

Oh God, here we go; F1 Twitter ‘drama’. I realise I am probably in the minority here, and as a man maybe it’s not really my place to comment on a controversy surrounding a female writer over her body/appearance, but I think things have gone a bit too far and I want to voice my concerns. Naturally, I will ramble on far too much, as always.

Helena Hicks is a university student and journalist who writes about Motorsport. Periodically, Helena likes to post selfies to Twitter, and after a year in which Helena (a member of Susie Wolff and the MSA’s Dare to be Different scheme) has risen her profile by interviewing the likes of Tatiana Calderon, Danny Watts and Lee McKenzie, she has come under fire for this tweet in particular:

The criticism started off reasonably enough:

https://twitter.com/AaronGillard_17/status/946107753751302145

Granted if you’ve followed Helena for a while you’ll know by now she does this from time to time. I know for a fact that she is not the only one, but Aaron’s bemusement is understandable. Is it a bit vain? Yeah, in a way it’s always vain to post selfies in a tweet about racing, but the truth is, somewhere down the line in our lives we have all indulged in it, hell, I’m a big stick in the mud and yet I’m no exception. (Although in my case I do it only because the NEXTEV NIO Formula E team asks us to before the start of every FE race)

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious Media Studies teacher, my argument is that she is talking about how she wishes there was some motorsport to watch already, so the post is about her feelings towards the absence of Motorsport over the winter; the inclusion of a selfie to emote that to emphasise her point makes sense to me, although personally I think she doesn’t quite pull off the excited look that she was going for. It is fair to say that she completely misjudged how people would receive the tweet, but honestly I don’t blame her for that at all; I’ve taken far more embarrassing ones and nobody’s batted an eyelid…

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Anyway, the next day, Helena was mocked by figures in the F1 fan community, in a few tweets that come across to me as being mean spirited and demeaning. Judge for yourself: (These are probably the worst of the bunch)

Kate Hewitt went on to describe Helena as ‘unprofessional’ and suggested that she has had a damaging effect on women in the motorsport industry at large by perpetuating stereotypes about them… Might be a small exaggeration.

Unsurprisingly “Wishing race cars would make a quick return” is also now a (forced) meme amongst the F1 twitter community. Because of course, everything is a meme now.

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Ben Daly has since deleted this tweet.

Making fun of someone’s actions I don’t have a problem with; we all do stupid things after all. Making fun of someone for their appearance though is very hurtful, and in this case unnecessary.

There are two common themes in these critiques: Helena posted a tweet about race cars with a picture of herself instead of anything more directly related to race cars, and also she posted a tweet about race cars with a picture of herself wearing a low crop top which shows off her cleavage. So there’s the vanity/irrelevance argument, then there’s a second argument which sounds worrying close to slut shaming. Perhaps I’m naive here but I don’t believe that most of the people writing these are intentionally slut shaming her; in a lot of their minds it’s all just a bit of fun. But that doesn’t excuse some of these comments, and I don’t think people would have pounced on this in the same way if she was wearing a sweater or something. So to me that comes over as much too creepy and controlling. I have heard some go as far to call Helena a hypocrite for promoting the work of Dare to be Different whilst posting her selfies, but why should a few pictures undermine her actual views?

There is a difference between mockery and bullying, but it is a very thin one. And to be honest when Helena says she’s being bullied I don’t think that’s an exaggeration, because things have gone much too far.

I can understand why people mock her; it’s cathartic to take the piss, the same way it was cathartic to take the piss out of Lewis Hamilton and put him to rights the day before, for the admittedly much more controversial action of posting a video where he made fun of his nephew for wearing a princess dress. That was pretty indefensible, which is why Lewis ended up retracting the video and his comments. But at a certain point it’s not about whether Lewis or Helena did anything wrong anymore; it becomes a spectacle, an interactive entertainment. After Hamilton apologised, people were bored already, looking for the next outrage to bandwagon on, no matter how pedantic. It’s strange because I think Helena is a completely different personality to Hamilton, (She even called him out over ‘dress-gate’) yet the reaction she has received, even on this smaller scale, has been similarly disproportionate, I’d argue even more so seeing as no-one is calling for Hamilton to lose his involvement in the sport as a result.

First off let me clarify that I don’t know Helena personally, although I have interacted with her a few times. I first found out about her at the end of last year through a guild of motoring journalism competition called the Williams Lyons award, I spent ages on a rubbish video entry and rushed the essay part in, but Helena clearly took a bit more time and care with her work because she won. So I wished her congratulations, and checked out her blog. A lot of her motorsport articles are well worth reading, but I also like how she branches off into other subjects; for example she was one of very few people talking about the abject poverty and oppressive regime in Azerbaijan, a subject most F1 journos won’t go near with a 10 ft. pole. At one point Helena was even kind enough to give me some feedback on an article I was writing, which is something that I appreciate.

Does Helena deserve being made a laughing stock, or being put under the microscope to be judged by her peers, for what? Her dress sense? The amount of cleavage she’s showing? In my opinion, no. Should she have perhaps posted the picture on her private Twitter account? Given the reaction, maybe, but I don’t think we should create a community where someone is excluded for something so small and normally inconsequential. I don’t think people necessarily have to understand or appreciate Helena’s selfies; if you think she bares a bit too much flesh, that’s fine. But they should never ostracise her for it. Criticism is fine, but what happened here went beyond that; people didn’t know when to stop.

At the end of the day Twitter is Twitter, and Twitter is cancer, where mob mentality spreads and a simple picture of a girl with an slightly unfitting caption causes a shitstorm. I think it’s a bit sad really how Helena gets more notice from the outrage about her choice of top than she does from her articles.

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Helena Hicks and the nontroversy of “cleavage-gate”

Why Channel 5 took an unpopular risk in Paris; and why I think it paid off

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On lap 34/49 of the Paris ePrix Jean Eric Vergne’s steering failed, sending him straight into the wall. Once the safety car was called out a lap later and a replay of the crash had been shown, Channel 5 opted to go to an advert break during this safety car, with presenter Andy Jaye interrupting the action with 15 laps to go and promising us that we’d be back after a quick commercial break and we “won’t miss a thing.”

Suffice to say, this immediately went down pretty badly…

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Understandably, people weren’t happy.

Obviously there is a huge risk in doing this: For instance what if someone drops out of the race during the safety car? (It’s rare but we did actually see it happen rather cruelly to Daniel Abt during the 3rd safety car on the very final lap of the race) There was also the chance for the commentary team to interview one of the drivers by contacting their incar radio during the safety car period, as they did for example with Antonio Felix Da Costa at the Saturday London ePrix last year.

But because all the drivers had already pit during/after the first safety car there was really no pitstops left to happen aside from Lucas Di Grassi, Jerome D’Ambrosio and Sam Bird waiting in the pitlane for the safety car period to end so they could try and salvage the fastest lap from their ruined races. So as it happens Channel 5 had taken a calculated risk and Jaye’s promise of not missing anything important was kept, although returning just before the¬†start of lap 38 from the advert break at the same moment as the safety car was pulling in was¬†cutting it fine, and the transitions from live commentary to studio and back again were quite poor; clearly the vision mixer had a small technical issue or was overwhelmed as temporarily Jack Nichols was being intermittently cut out during his commentary.

Now when this happened although I shared everyone’s frustration I did have a hunch that rather than immediately cutting to adverts after the race we’d get more of the post-race reaction that we in the UK never get to see anymore due to Channel 5 having to fulfil their ad quota. (Channel 5 sacked their in-house team and¬†outsourced their advertising sales to Sky and unsurprisingly this is where they make the vast majority of their profits)

For once my hunch was correct (Remember pre-season when I thought no-one would want to pick up Formula E at all after ITV dropped it?) and we got to see everyone cross the finish line, including the aforementioned Daniel Abt incident which we probably would have missed otherwise. We got to see the Renault e.Dams and Mahindra teams celebrate strong results in their team garages. We also got to hear Buemi talk to Jack Nichols about his win over his in-car¬†radio, as well as to Nicki Shields once out of the car. Later we got an interview with a disappointed Di Grassi on his crash with Da Costa; this is all valuable dynamite stuff which we usually aren’t privy to anymore and it was refreshing to have that immediate reaction rather than finding out about it purely through articles or via the wrap up video that Formula E publishes the day after the race.

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Yeah, I made a cheap joke ribbing Channel 5 a bit and exaggerating the situation… I’m not a hypocrite, not at all… ūüėČ

There was another (shorter) ad break before the podium of course but as they were cutting it fine so we didn’t miss any action during the race¬†there may have been¬†a few that they skipped and¬†were obligated to show instead, although this is purely speculation on my part. The final thing that bugged me was the on-demand service (My5) not having the coverage available until the day¬†after the race, but this is a complaint expressed to me by others and I thought I’d include it here simply to cover the whole picture.

In conclusion I believe Channel 5 were presented with a unique opportunity to address fans complaints about cutting to advert breaks immediately after the finish due to the timing of the second safety car, and the decision they made was very pragmatic and justified because of the extra reaction they managed to put into the programme as a result. No-one likes having advert breaks but at the same time Channel 5 has got to pay the bills in this way like every TV broadcaster in the UK save for the BBC. The main¬†problem for me is their messy vision mix but we don’t know whether that’s a technical issue they’re struggling to get on top of or simply incompetence on Channel 5’s part, so I will reserve judgement on that.

I think Channel 5 get a lot more flak for their ad breaks than they deserve, and also I have to praise Channel 5 for letting Formula E use their presenter Sian Welby to host their magazine show Street Racers, which is produced by Formula E, shown on C5’s sub-channel Spike along with qualifying, and all the better for it. ITV went the other way with their own produced show “Sound of the Future” and well, we all know how that turned out…

What do you think? Did C5 make the right call in Paris? What do you think they need to improve on in the future? Let me know by contacting me however you like. (Preferably don’t shout answers to me in the street though, that would be very embarrassing for both of us)

 

Why Channel 5 took an unpopular risk in Paris; and why I think it paid off

Why the Formula E calendar seems to be self-destructing, and some possible solutions

Let me start this post with a list of abandoned and changed Formula E venues:

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Jean Eric Vergne leads the field at the start of Miami’s only ever ePrix

Miami, Biscayne Bay– Held one ePrix during the first season in 2015 on the streets of Biscayne Bay, before never appearing on the calendar again. There are two possible reasons for this: Firstly Andretti Sports Marketing, who promoted the race, entered a messy lawsuit between themselves and the Andretti Autosport team which rendered them unable to promote any future events. Secondly, environmentalists called out the event on it’s disruption as well as it’s use of pavement on Parcel B, land which was promised in a 1996 referendum¬†to be turned into a green park. Alejando Agag has made brief reference to the fact that Miami required several different permits and was “very difficult” to run.

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Local residents protest against the Battersea Park race outside the town hall in Wandsworth

London, Battersea Park– Held two ePrixs on the ring road at Battersea Park, but there was always a local campaign against the event due to it’s disruption and the absence of any proper consultation process, during which they protested in front of the Wandsworth town hall ahead of a review and services committee voting on the future of the event. Eventually they threatened legal action against the local council and Formula E came to an out of court settlement with them; one final race in 2016 in exchange for a restoration of the park to it’s pre-Formula E state. (Before tarmac runoff areas were added and tree roots were filled in with concrete) I have talked about this controversy before in more detail for those interested.

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Marco Borradori discusses the failing Lugano ePrix bid with other politicians

LuganoРA lift on the ban against motorsport in Switzerland raised hopes of a race here, but the city needed to raise approximately 12.7 Million Swiss Francs in 2015 to secure a slot on the calendar the following year; unfortunately for the organisers this money failed to materialise and a local campaign put pressure on the government to prevent the race happening in their city. As a result the bid moved to Zurich instead and has since gone pretty quiet.

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The Formulaec prototype car on display during a demo run in Rome, 2012.

Rome– Rome was a big announcement on the calendar for the inaugural Formula E season, but a change in government scuppered the plans. In June 2016, Virginia Raggi came to office as mayor and announced her intention to bring Formula E to the Italian capital, specifically in the EUR district; this was locally a deeply unpopular move back in 2014, and if anything over the following two years it had become even more unpopular, with residents stating in an open letter that they were “completely ignored” and going on to organise flashmobs and a demonstration in the Capitol Square. It was also felt that the EUR is one of the most troubled areas of Rome with deep social issues such as rampant prostitution. “The fact that Raggi wants to demonstrate the glamor of Formula E here makes us speechless.”, the residents’ petition states.

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I share your frustration Daniel, but calling people stupid only strengthens their resolve to vote against you. All the same, I do appreciate your honesty and outspokenness.

Berlin, Karl Marx AlleeРOriginally Templehoff Airport was the venue used for Berlin in 2015, but during the refugee crisis the site was used to accommodate them, so in 2016 a new venue was agreed upon in Karl Marx Allee in the city centre. Although the race at the new venue seemed to be a decent success, after a local election which benefitted the Alliance 90 Green party, the Berlin senate was successfully lobbied by both the party and the mayor to remove the race from the city centre and are now attempting to return it to Templehoff Airport, which is currently in the process of removing the Refugees who previously lived there. Many of the Greens have cited the disruption and noise pollution caused by construction, as well as unreasonable road closures as reasons for their vote, as they felt that they affected all residents.

The thing that makes the change of the Berlin venue particularly annoying is that Formula E started selling tickets for the Karl Marx Allee event as early as December, and now no-one is really sure if their tickets are worth anything or if they should cancel their travel arrangements. It seems clear to me that many people were unhappy with the Karl Marx Allee race and felt it had been forced upon them, so they voted for a party that they knew they could rely upon to get rid of the race. The sad irony of course is that the Greens are an environment party, exactly the kind of people you’d think would be supporting Formula E in a city centre. But that’s democracy; you’re free to choose as you see fit.

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Local residents celebrate a successful campaign to stop Formula E from using Elizabeth Park

Brussels, Elizabeth Park– After initial plans to use the Haysel area near¬†the European Parliament fell through due to clashing with the¬†‘Couleur Caf√©’ music festival, promoters decided to use the nearby Elizabeth Park instead, and everyone assumed that things would work out due to an agreement “in principle” made with Brussels’ minister for Mobility Pascal Smet. Smet then joined forced with, among others, the Secretary of State for Road Safety¬†Bianca Debaets and convinced the government that the road adaptations for the event would cost too much money and cause too much disruption to traffic on a holiday weekend, (He summarised on Twitter that it would have been “Too complicated”) and the vote¬†unanimously went against providing the needed subsidy or giving regional authorisation to hold the race at the park. Although Smet and others in the local government insist that they are still committed to their agreement, with two venues now chewed up and spat back out it now seems unlikely that an ePrix in Brussels will take place this season. In addition, 750 residents signed a petition against the use of the park for the race.

Seeing a pattern here?

That’s six instances where Formula E really ticked people off; half of which are venues that I’m doubtful will ever even hold one race, such is the force and effectiveness of this opposition. Granted you can’t win all these battles, and we should remember that Formula E have done a great job to secure new races in Hong Kong, Marrakesh, and (hopefully) New York and Montreal on this season’s calendar. But still, I can’t be the only one who thinks that having six whole races scrubbed off the calendar, and all for essentially the same reasons, is incredibly concerning.

Keep in mind I didn’t include races like Rio De Janeiro or Moscow, which from what I can tell were cancelled more for organisational reasons, or¬†events like Paris, which have not been cancelled but take place in spite of vocal political¬†opposition. Make no mistake; this is a calendar that is haemorrhaging potential races.

Let’s be honest, this isn’t something that can be dismissed as “NIMBY’s” anymore; we’re seeing an uncannily similar scenario repeating itself¬†across Formula E’s European venues. As fans of the sport we can’t simply reject these people’s arguments any longer and hope that they’ll go away; because if you don’t engage with the debate, then you effectively lose it.

So, where is Formula E going wrong here, and how can Agag and Formula E Holdings change their tact to prevent these embarrassing and disastrous scenarios from repeating themselves? Let’s face it, if things don’t change then we’re gonna be left with¬†a pretty small calendar.

I’m not gonna pretend I have all the answers here; these are just a few ideas based upon my opinion, mixed in with a few ideas suggested by some friends. If it sounds stupid or ill-informed though then feel free to call me out on it.

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The CleanSpace phone app

The Environmental angle isn’t pushed strongly enough

Generally, I feel that most people don’t know enough about Formula E before being told that the series has an eye on their area and they have to decide whether they want the race (And all the comes with it) to go ahead or not. Formula E does a decent¬†amount for the environment (I.E. promotion of Electric Vehicles, the Project Ice video/documentary, etc.) but I almost feel like that’s not going to mean anything to the men and women on the street who are worried about huge amounts of disruption and HGV’s creating pollution rather than solving it. It’s no good saying that it’s justified because, like the Olympics, Formula E is a world class event that will bring publicity and exposure to their areas; bottom line is (And I know this is true for the UK at least) not enough people watch it for it for that argument to hold water, and we just have to accept that. Formula E is not simply attractive to people by the mere virtue of it’s existence; it constantly has to prove itself in a way other motorsports don’t have to due to their locations predominantly being on purpose built tracks in contrast to FE.

This may sound pessimistic, but how about instead of doing a deal somewhere and expecting locals to all be onboard with it, how about assuming that everyone is predisposed to hate you, and work to win them over beforehand rather than worrying about it later?

In 2015 Formula E announced a partnership with CleanSpace, an app developed by Drayson Technologies which is all about tracking air quality; there is even an electronic tag you can order which allows you to “see the air you breathe”, which we know is getting significantly worse in large cities. Infact, if we look at London alone 9,500 Londoners are killed by air pollution each year, and the pollution alert levels in London are now even worse than those of Beijing. (Ironically enough, both are ex-Formula E venues) I hate to rely on anecdotes but I have friends who use the CleanSpace app and tag frequently whilst cycling and they rave about how useful and eye-opening it is. So, why doesn’t Formula E make more use of this App and technology?

For example, at Battersea Park instead of just announcing the race and doing some cycling around the place in the buildup, why didn’t Agag send free tags to each household and local school in the area around the park, and open up a conversation about air quality? That would have been a brilliant way to win over hearts and minds and associate an FIA championship with clean air in a way that is demonstrable and means something to the public. Maybe it wouldn’t have completely allayed the concerns about the race, but he could have asked residents to monitor the air during the set-up; and even if it wasn’t great, he could have committed to improve it year on year, compared it to the high street using data and facts to win the argument rather than just dismissing them¬†with “They’re in the minority so we don’t have to listen to them”¬†and then eventually having to back down in private.

In terms of securing races in the heart of cities, the commitment to the environment is one of ¬†FE’s strongest asset, and it is so much more than just: “The cars are quiet so they won’t disturb you.” So whether it’s CleanSpace or one of the several other environmentally-focused companies FE partner with/are involved in, a greater emphasis could be put on it.

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Stephane Sarrazin driving in Battersea Park during qualifying for the 2016 London ePrix

Stop trying to hold races in public parks

I thought we had all learnt our lesson with Battersea, but this time Formula E tried the same thing with Elizabeth park in Brussels, and predictably it created a campaign movement against the race which politicians seized upon and used to help justify the decision not to grant the subsidy or permission to use it. If anything the example of Battersea hindered rather than helped the ePrix in Brussels, because politicians were wondering why they had to pay up for the race whereas their counterparts in London had not. (Wandsworth Council were infact paid to host the race in Battersea)

The negatives far outweigh the positives of racing in a park; the racing suffers because the tracks are restricted heavily by being in a park, (There are no alternate streets to use on a ring-road) leaving you with a very narrow layout not conducive to overtaking, and minor alterations to add run-off tarmac/chicanes will greatly displease residents and park users, especially if they’re not told what’s going on. The fans suffer because the trees and foliage obscure views of the track. You’re also unlikely to get any of the iconic backdrop landmarks of the city into shot which likely leaves the track feeling generic from TV shots. The only positive is that organisationally you don’t have to close down as¬†many¬†roads to setup and host the race. But even with Elizabeth park there was a tunnel and a major road link they were reluctant to shut down¬†for the event.

Maybe one day we will find a park that works as a race venue for everyone; but for now I feel we need to be more pragmatic and focus elsewhere.

Don’t align the sport¬†with toxic politicians

This is quite a subjective one, and of all my suggestions here probably the most controversial, but I feel it has to be said; Formula E is too eager to get into bed with political parties and individuals who don’t have their best interests at heart, and who couldn’t give a stuff about motorsport or even the environment. I know, needs must, palms must be greased, deals with the devil must be signed in order for the show to go on, but this is the kind of thing that people pick up on; and it smears by association.

I’ve criticised their dealings¬†with Boris Johnson and the UK Conservative Party in the past, but more specifically I am referring to Agag’s comments about the President of the United States, and how he believes he can change his mind about climate change being a hoax if he¬†attends the New York ePrix.

“I think if we bring President Trump to a Formula E race he will completely change his mind about sustainability,” Agag told Autosport.

“I will absolutely extend an invite to the US race.

“Formula E can change Trump’s mind, things like Formula E are the things that can.

“The president of the United States is an important position, but I’m optimistic I don’t think everything will be as catastrophic as some are predicting.

“His first statements have been quite full of common sense so we hope for the sustainability area that’s also the case.”

It’s a nice idea, I suppose, that even a staunch climate denier (Or to be honest,¬†a reality denier) like Trump can, in true Blues Brothers fashion, “see the light.” But that’s all it is; an idea. I don’t think Agag is naive enough to believe that he can actually change someone as set in his ways as Trump; it’s far more likely in my view that he just said this to make a few quick topical headlines during a gap in the calendar, and in the small hope of attracting further publicity if Trump responded.

Incidentally, I wonder if Agag has been watching the huge protest marches on the news recently (specifically the Women’s marches) with the strong message: “Resist Trump”. If Trump by some astonishing turn of events takes notice of and attends the race in New York, (Remember, Red Hook is not one of the wealthy NY neighbourhoods owned by Trump) then forget what we saw in London, Rome and Brussels, because they’re going to look like girl scout parades compared to the shitstorm this will attract. Sure, Formula E¬†needs publicity but¬†I’m certain it does not need to make itself a political target. Imagine for example the PR disaster if anti-Trump protestors offered to FanBoost en masse any driver brave enough to speak out against Trump?

Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:¬†Formula E should not be made the plaything of power-hungry politicians desperate to add to a fake ‚Äėgreen‚Äô portfolio. The less we see or hear from them the better; if they have to be on the podium, fair enough, but don’t be surprised when the public boos them.

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The Mexico ePrix last season proved that FE can work on a more conventional circuit.

Does the focus on city centre street circuits need a rethink?

Now, it’s not that I don’t like the idea of going to street circuits in the middle of city centres. I think it’s a fantastic idea that keeps Formula E unique from all other motorsport championships, however time and time again opponents state their belief that motor racing should be kept out of the streets and public property and back¬†on a race track; we can only do so much to try and change that view, and if Formula E has races at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the same purpose built venue used by F1 for the Mexican Grand Prix, then it undermines the argument that Formula E is a street circuit exclusive series. Obviously so far it’s the exception to the rule, but it is still an exception. Also we have venues like Templehoff, which is a disused airport runway; not that I think it’s a bad venue or a bad track, but it’s more like a slower and more technical German version of Silverstone than a street circuit in all honesty.

From what I can tell the main stumbling blocks to using traditional racing circuits are that they will look slower compared to how they would look on street tracks, there might not be quite the same crowd as a city centre race would pull in, it might be harder to sell to sponsors, and also you may run into gradients and hills that the FE cars might struggle with. (I.E. Eau Rouge at Spa, Paddock Hill bend at Brands Hatch, or even Saint D√©vote/Beau Rivage as we’ve seen with the abridged Monaco layout)

Of course racing on temporary street circuits will always be a compromise, but I think we have to ask whether it’s a compromise that’s worth taking if the race is only going to be cancelled/moved after one event. Ambition must be reconciled with reality.

Finally, communicate more closely with the general public

Now I know this is gonna sound a bit rich coming from me; I don’t really enjoy dealing with the public. But how else do you accurately gauge what people think? Sure Formula E has been known to do small one-off consultation meetings, but if we’re to win hearts and minds we may need something bigger.

I’m not talking about social media or news presence; Formula E on the whole does a brilliant job with that. But the trouble is, all that’s mostly impersonal. How many of the six examples I listed at the start could have been helped if the campaigners had a representative from Formula E there to answer their questions and concerns? I remember sitting in a Save Battersea Park meeting once where there was one guy who was concerned about the FE batteries catching fire from a health and safety standpoint; now I personally didn’t have the technical knowledge at the time to address these concerns, but that’s where FE could have stepped in and used a statistic of how many miles the battery has done without blowing up in testing, how it’s cooled by the radiators, etc. Indeed, the controversy¬†at Battersea only ended when a deal was made between the locals and Formula E, and I think it shows that the most important thing is to make sure that there is a back-and-forth dialogue so that people don’t feel like they’re being ignored or screwed over.

Maybe Formula E needs someone in an ambassadorial role to act as an intermediary between the sport and the people; cutting out the political middlemen and giving the discontent a direct channel through which to voice their concerns. Or alternatively, it might be worth acquiring the services of advisors who are in tune with or at least up to date with the political situation in each city that FE opts to visit; that way we can prevent what happened in Berlin where tickets went on sale before the senate voted against the use of Karl Marx Allee; a little knowledge for example about the result of the Berlin elections in September 2016 and the pre-existing opposition to the race could have been taken into account before making the decision in December to sell tickets. Obviously we can’t predict the future but we can anticipate and prepare for it.

 

Anyway, those are my thoughts; sorry if they were a bit negative but I wanted to focus more on the solutions rather than just moaning about the problems. Fingers crossed we don’t lose anymore races or venues from the calendar this season. I am definitely looking forwards to Buenos Aires on February 18th; the wait is almost over.

Why the Formula E calendar seems to be self-destructing, and some possible solutions

Why Road to Vegas was a missed opportunity

I was watching a video by Shaun Cole for the Sim Pit YouTube channel, talking about the Vegas eRace. He raised a great point; given that it’s such a big deal, especially for the sim-racing community with the vast amounts of money at stake, why has this flown under the radar? Why were the qualifying rounds done in secret?

Well Shaun, the truth is they weren’t done in secret at all. I commentated on them, and not many people watched.

Well okay, in all honesty that’s not telling the full story. For the first qualifier in Long Beach, there was actually a pretty healthy amount of interest. The grid itself was oversubscribed (At least over 100 people set times on the server, probably more than that) and the final was watched live by just approximately 800 people; not amazing and a large percentage left dislikes on the video, but the number was still encouraging and about what you‚Äôd expect for a first round. But then look at the Paris final: 480 viewers. Berlin was a slight improvement with 600, but London was back down to 500; and keep in mind that‚Äôs just the total viewers on the broadcast date. Whenever I looked at the stream we were lucky after Long Beach to break the 200 barrier to be honest; at London the viewing count was consistently stuck at about 60. Not to mention that we went from having to turn away people who didn‚Äôt qualify in the top 80, to by the end in London barely scraping together 37 people and not bothering to even broadcast the semi finals due to the low turnout and the prospect of there just being 6 cars on track; granted by this point only 13 or so were realistically in the hunt for Vegas, but it‚Äôs still disappointing although it didn‚Äôt affect the finals all that much. It’s a far cry from the 200 Million people¬†that CEO Alejandro¬†Agag cites as watching the real life races.

So back to Shaun’s question: Why didn’t the Road to Vegas attract the attention that it perhaps should have?

1)   The fans didn’t like what they saw

This should be a great story and a boost to the sim-racing community, but from what I heard there was a lot of antipathy and dislike expressed towards the mod and to RFactor 2. It’s no secret that the mod had to be made quickly, but still the mod did what it needed to, including as many Formula E rules as possible; even the car swaps were done fairly well. The lack of slipstream made many races slow-burners, but there was still enough action somewhere in the field to keep things engaging. Naturally a lot of the drivers competing and the sim-racing fans watching were really into iRacing and some of them were a bit over-zealous about how inferior they feel RFactor 2 is by comparison. Not only is that a bit unfair, but it also ignores the fact that iRacing would have probably needed an exclusive license and a lot more time to model the car. The RFactor 2 mod I felt was impressive given the brief timescale that it had, and the Cloud Sport guys really took it seriously, staying up long into the night watching race replays and working out any incidents and penalties that needed to be resolved. Sometimes I felt there were communication issues between the Spanish Cloud Sport team and the largely English-speaking player base, but to their credit as the series went on most of these were resolved.

Finally on this first point, I think an age limit of 18 (enforced, perhaps quite sensibly given the reputation of Las Vegas, by Formula E’s lawyers) was perhaps a bit excluding of FE’s potential target audience; even 17 year old Lando Norris, who has had an extremely successful year in real life motor racing topped off by winning the McLaren Autosport Young Driver award, qualified for the semi-finals in Long Beach but was not allowed to take part on account of his age. Saying that, with a lot of money up for grabs I don’t think Cloud Sport/FE should push for a u-turn and invite pre-adolescents in. Personally I would go for 15/16 for the cut-off point as those are the ages at which kart racers in the UK are allowed to make the step into cars via categories like Formula 4.

(Incidentally this video doesn’t explain the¬†sign up process at all; but at least it’s publicity)

2)   Formula E began their big promotional push too late

The first qualifier was on the 15/16th of October, a week after Hong Kong, but Formula E didn’t really start putting much emphasis on Road to Vegas until after the real life race in Marrakesh, by which time half the qualifying races were done with already.

To be fair, when Formula E finally started advertising and focusing on Road to Vegas and the Vegas eRace they did a very good job: They posted articles within a few days after the finals, they got Sian Welby to talk about it in Channel 5’s FE Magazine show Street Racers and they plugged it on social media, Road to Vegas points leader Graham Carroll got a run in the real life Formula E car in Marrakesh which generated a healthy few column inches, and finally their eSports Twitter account started tweeting more about it, which was good as it had been up to then very under-utilised. I appreciated the effort but at the same time, I can’t help escape the feeling that it was too little, too late and people would only have found out about it after Paris, by which time it would be pointless to enter as you’d already be too many points behind, even with the dropped score rule.

Why¬†didn‚Äôt they push it earlier then? Perhaps¬†because they felt they didn‚Äôt need to; after all, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it‚Äôs only really Vegas that matters, right? Well, personally it just seems like a missed opportunity to me; people will watch Vegas online (And I believe they will attract a decent audience, not as big as for an actual race but nothing near as bad as the qualifiers) and they will ask themselves who on earth these sim-racers are; if they had been building a narrative right from the start and giving it proper attention then Formula E fans¬†might be more familiar with the likes of Graham Carroll, Greger Huttu, Olli Pahkala, etc. They do a great job building narratives for the real championship (I.E. Buemi vs. Di Grassi) so it baffles me that Formula E seemed not to think it was necessary here; and the tragedy is that those that made it through to Vegas are really interesting, highly motivated and passionate characters with some fascinating¬†stories to tell, and I worry that not much of that will come across during the actual event itself. If they‚Äôre spending so much money on the prizes why not go all-out on promotion? What‚Äôs the point of broadcasting it if nobody beyond a small core of sim-racers is watching or at all invested?

Of course it didn‚Äôt really help that races were broadcast on Cloud Sport‚Äôs own YouTube channel rather than Formula E‚Äôs. Admittedly had they done this then I would never have been allowed to commentate on the action, but it would have been far better for the sport and would have helped to build up interest ahead of Vegas. And for those wondering, I don‚Äôt really mind that Formula E retroactively replaced my commentary with Jack Nichols‚Äô. Sure, it would have been nice to be an official part of Formula E history but it wasn‚Äôt a personal slight against me; it was just business and I understand and accept that. Plus, I actually find it flattering in a way that I got to do the same job as someone of Jack’s high calibre, even if hardly anyone heard it.

3)   Issues with the broadcast

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A Screenshot of Olli Pahkala leading the field during the Berlin Road to Vegas final, showing the graphics used for the series.

I have to accept the possibility that maybe it was me or another commentator who people couldn‚Äôt stand; I‚Äôm extremely reluctant to apportion blame towards any other commentator who I brought in/worked with, because even at the London round when Jack Pickering‚Äôs microphone started feeding back and echoing on stream, that was my fault for not picking up the issue prior to broadcast. (We were in a hurry after I got back from Let’s Race) As for myself I did seek a lot of feedback from professionals, such as Motorsport radio commentator¬†Tom Brooks, to help improve my commentary after Long Beach because I was clutching at straws as to why people were getting upset. I mention Tom because he gave me some great advice and feedback, and I did my best to take it to heart.

On the technical side, I heard a fair few people complaining about the presentation of the stream; cars would occasionally lag and in the last two rounds particularly there were a lot of frame drops. Unfortunately though that’s part and parcel of Sim Racing and of online broadcasting; yes, there’s the argument that maybe Cloud Sport could have sacrificed bitrate quality for smoothness, but that could have left them with a lower picture quality which is not what they or Formula E want either. I know for a fact that the guy from Cloud Sport who was hosting the stream for us worked incredibly hard in the limited time between Semi-finals trying to fix it. But the truth is that in an online race not everyone will have a perfect internet connection; it’s unavoidable.

Overall I can‚Äôt help but feel slightly disappointed by the lack of impact this series had so far, when I think it’s fair to say that I put a fair bit of effort in promoting this thing myself; (Admittedly my FE Addicts group has a limited range of influence though) I¬†love the sport and I love sim-racing and I really wanted to help make it a success, but I don’t think there’s anything more that I alone could have done to encourage more people to watch. Although I wish it had been done sooner, I‚Äôm still grateful that Formula E did eventually put a lot more effort in because it still makes a difference; especially giving Graham the run in the FE car was inspired. So whilst there is a lot to learn from and improve for the qualifiers, Vegas on January 7th can still be a great triumph for FE and for Sim Racing. I’m crossing my fingers.

For those interested I’m working on some interviews I did with all 10 of the Vegas eRace finalists for Cloud Sport. As for this blog, now that he’s retired I think it’s high time I finished the Nico Rosberg evaluation piece I’ve been putting off almost for the whole year now.

Why Road to Vegas was a missed opportunity

Road to Vegas London round-up and Let’s Race to Vegas competition

If that title looks confusing, then there’s a reason for that…

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Taken during a rare moment when I wasn’t driving on track

For the past month me and¬†Charlie Fraser practiced (Well, Charlie 3 times, me just twice) for a competition to go to Las Vegas as a guest of eSports and Cars and to watch the Visa Vegas eRace on January 7th. (The final which follows the series of qualifiers that I commentate on) Let’s Race, the local simulator centre in my home-town, ran this competition on their state of the art motion F1 cockpit simulators, so it seemed a perfect opportunity for me. The track was Donington Park, and naturally we were all using the Formula E car.

I had just about qualified into the top 10, but knew I could do better, and Charlie being 2nd fastest was definitely encouraging. The first session was 30 minutes of free-practice, which were very useful as I improved on my previous best time by about 2 seconds. Others seemed to find more though, and I was mid-table and looking slightly average in this session. I did spend some time practicing my starts though, following Charlie’s advice based on driving Teslas.

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Hehe, nice try Charlie…

Qualifying was a 10 minute session which I found extremely challenging but rewarding. I had meant to exit the pitlane first but two cars came out ahead, and I followed them around most of the lap until they both spun off in unison into the gravel at Coppice ahead of me. That said I missed my braking point for the last corner hairpin and had to go onto the national circuit to start my lap. But it was, right when I needed it, my personal best fastest lap I set throughout the entire competition: 1:34.061. I couldn’t better it but it was enough to start 4th, one place ahead of Charlie who had been faster up to that point. His advice on the telemetry had actually paid off! I felt very satisfied with my performance here and felt I extracted roughly¬†the maximum that I was capable of that day.

And so, on to the race. And what a disaster the start was! Not only did I completely fail the launch, getting bogged down in wheelspin and having to use to wall to straighten up the car, but going into Redgate there was an almighty pile-up ahead of me; I saw one car go up in the air and decided to opt for the grass, where as soon as I made the decision there was a Venturi reversing backwards which I could not avoid. All in all it was a complete mess, and I thought to myself as I spun hopelessly on the grass trying to reach out for some tarmac that I could kiss my Vegas chances bye-bye. Thankfully, someone else had an even worse start than me and had technical issues which stopped them getting away at all, so on top of the first corner kerfuffle this forced a restart, and suddenly I was back in 4th place, given a second chance that I knew I couldn’t afford to waste again.

This time I was much more cautious and infact made a superb getaway from the grid, but it was almost too good and I found myself¬†with two cars either side of me going into the first corner. Sandwiched, I watched on as the guy on the inside seemed to get caught on the curb and touched me on the inside, tapping¬†me into contact with the rear wheel of the Trulli car on my left (Boy, that shows the age of this mod) which I couldn’t really have avoided but still felt bad about as I saw the guy spin off to the right. The good news after all that though was I was in 2nd place, with the leader,¬†Mathieu Gauthier-Thornton¬†right within touching distance. I’d caused less carnage than the first start and I’d gotten away with it, so a bit of aggression and a bit of luck definitely helped out.

I followed the leading Venturi for a few laps, and noticed that there were one or two areas where Matt was vulnerable to me, but I never felt a move was really on anywhere without it being marginal; mindful of the first corner contact I didn’t wanna end up taking Matt out as well so I bided my time. Quite quickly in my wing mirrors¬†Thomas King showed up in the Dragon car. Before I had time to think about how I was going to defend from him, I ran a bit deep into the last corner and Tom was alongside, but I had the inside for turn 1. It should have been a simple case of out-braking him and maintaining position, right?

Wrong! What happened instead was I got on the brakes and entered a lurid slide which I had to correct for turn 1; not really ideal to be turning fully left on a right hand corner, but somehow I stayed on track. Tom told me afterwards that he was very surprised when he saw me lose control, but clearly I didn’t impede him too much as he immediately undercut and was straight through my inside; I had the option of swerving to the right to block/barge him off but I knew I had failed the corner and with less momentum decided to get my head down and focus on shadowing the two cars ahead for the rest of the race. Into the last corner again we went, with me right up Tom’s gearbox, I tried to get on the accelerator as soon as possible…And round I went like a spinning top.

I didn’t lose too much time from that, but once I got going again with 8-10 seconds thrown away I knew I would have to push to have any chance of winning. So push I did, and I made a far more fatal mistake later in the very same lap which let Charlie through. In pushing to stick with Charlie I spun at the Melbourne hairpin and began to feel a bit frustrated as instead of fighting for the lead I was defending 4th from Melyvn Abraham-Hagan, who I believe was in the Trulli I spun out right at the start. I went into safe mode, and aside from one very heart-stopping slide on the brakes and off-track excursion at the old hairpin, from which I somehow kept the car facing towards the track, I was able to manage the gap and hold him at bay by 2 seconds at the end of the 15 minute race. But Charlie was 25 seconds ahead, and the leader almost 44 seconds.

I can’t complain though because it was a really fun race to be a part of; the battle with the leaders was particularly fun early on and it was encouraging that although I’ve been a bit out of practice from sim-racing since going to Uni, I did have the pace to stick with them when I wasn’t stupidly and stubbornly flooring the throttle like my little brother playing…Well, playing any racing game basically. If I had one regret it’s that I chose to try and play the patient long game, and didn’t dive one up the inside at the Melbourne hairpin on Matt when I had half a chance. But in fairness he fully deserved to win and did brilliantly to swap positions with and hold off Tom once I went out of the picture.

Infact, in a rather unusual and unexpected way I will take this opportunity to really¬†thank Matt, Tom and Charlie as it’s because of them beating me that I didn’t have to do an extra race with eSports and Cars’ drivers, and could instead go home in time to commentate on the final Road to Vegas qualifier on Battersea Park, London; the one that decided the last six spots.

There was no coverage to commentate on for Saturday as so few people ended up qualifying for the semi-finals, and even less showed up. Despite that I have to say it was great to see Gian Trovo, who struggled so much and retired from both his previous semi-finals in Paris and Berlin, actually put in a comparatively much stronger performance and finally finished a race with 6th place, meaning he was on the reserves list, but was not called upon for the final. Sure, he was still last, but I felt really happy to see him walk away from the series with a little tiny bit of success, and I was more than happy to let him have it. Meanwhile Olli Pahkala, who qualified for Vegas already after dominating in Berlin, crashed out in his semi-final, whilst Graham Carroll lost a win against Aleksi Ussi-Jaakkola after marginally crossing the white line exiting the pits; but it was good news for Ussi as having crashed in Long Beach he really needed a top 2 finish to get through. Also needing a great result was Enzo Bonito who did the best job of everyone in the semi finals to start on pole from his already qualified teammate Greger Huttu, Ussi, Petar Brljack and Carroll.

The start was exciting as Carroll gained places on first Brljack, and then after Huttu slowed to allow Ussi through into a certain qualifying position the Scotsman took advantage in a very aggressive move, running side-by-side at the Millenium chicane and the final corner at Chelsea gate, forcing his way through into 3rd place on the bumpy, narrow track.

Thereafter the real drama surrounded Aleksi Elomaa who was very much in and out of the qualifying window he needed to be in through the course of the race. He started 6th ahead of Bono Huis, but then had a temporary brake pedal hold on the straight which allowed Huis past, meaning Jakub Brzezinski just behind in 8th was set to beat him. Elomaa then tried to overcut Bono by staying out longest, only pitting on lap 20 of 33 when he came upon the damaged car of Walter Wedgeworth, whom he had no time to avoid and hit on the carriageway drive chicane, losing his front wing and necessitating a replacement. Elomaa emerged narrowly behind Huis but pushed like crazy to get past. Also around this time Patrik Holzmann had a coming together with Brzezinski, putting the German driver out and his qualifying position in potential jeopardy at the mercy of Elomaa and Brzezinski. Aleksi pushed like crazy to pass Huis, and did so with about half a dozen laps left to run with a well-judged move at the chicane; this put him dead level on points with Brzezinski but marginally ahead on countback, whilst both were only 3 points behind the fortunate Holzmann.

Up front though, Enzo Bonito put in a brilliant drive to take the last win of the season and to ensure that each of the 4 Road to Vegas finals¬†would produce a different winner. After horrendous misfortune with disconnection seconds before the start in Berlin, 18 year old Enzo from Italy was understandably very emotional having believed going into the weekend that he might not make it, he had turned things around, as did Aleksi Ussi-Jaakkola behind him. Whilst he was pleased to get through, Aleksi seemed more satisfied and relieved than elated, explaining that this was the only weekend where he hadn’t had bad luck or difficulty, and this was what he was capable of on such days. Graham Carroll in 3rd was in a genuinely good mood despite the earlier setback of the grid penalty and felt buoyed by the fact that he had taken the lead by a point from Pahkala in the overall standings thanks to his 3 podiums to Olli’s 2. The less fortunate, including the cruelly denied Brzezinski, the consistent Nikodem Wisniewski, (Who ended up in the wall after contact with Muhammed Patel, who was penalised) the luckless Wyatt Gooden and the hard charging Patel (Who was disconnected in Paris) all accepted their defeats with good grace, and can hold their heads high after some strong individual performances that bode well for any future Formula E Sim-racing challenges.

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Final standings…All in all I think the 10 who made it through earned it. Lots of hard luck stories lower down though, including our own unofficial FE Addicts team.

It’s also worth mentioning that all 10 finalists have been randomly assigned Formula E teams, so they can be ‘3rd drivers’. I said to Greger Huttu that if he wins this, it will be Jaguar’s first win since the 1990 Le Mans 24 hours. “No pressure then…” was his utterly cool response. Holzmann driving for the German Abt Schaeffler Audi and Carroll driving for the British DS Virgin team is also rather neat. Mahindra though have picked up Olli Pahkala who I think could potentially mount the strongest challenge to¬†Carroll/Huttu. Of the real life guys you’d expect the likes of Daniel Abt, Robin Frijns and Mitch Evans to do pretty well, perhaps challenging any of the sim racers if they hit trouble. Let’s hope we see some good clean racing at Vegas come January.

Visa Vegas eRace – Official entry list

No.        Name                                                    Team

2          Sam Bird (GBR)                           DS Virgin Racing

3          Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA)              NextEV NIO

4          Stephane Sarrazin (FRA)            Venturi Formula E

5          Maro Engel (DEU)                        Venturi Formula E

6          Loic Duval (FRA)                          Faraday Future Dragon Racing

7          Jerome D’Ambrosio (BEL)             Faraday Future Dragon Racing

8          Nico Prost (FRA)                          Renault e.dams

9          Sebastien Buemi (CHE)                Renault e.dams

11         Lucas di Grassi (BRA)                  ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

18         Greger Huttu (FIN)                      Panasonic Jaguar Racing

19         Felix Rosenqvist (SWE)               Mahindra Racing

20         Mitch Evans (NZL)                       Panasonic Jaguar Racing

23         Nick Heidfeld (DEU)                    Mahindra Racing

25         Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA)              TECHEETAH

26         Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (FIN)         Andretti Formula E

27         Robin Frijns (NED)                      Andretti Formula E

28         Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT)     Andretti Formula E

29         Olli Pahkala (FIN)                      Mahindra Racing

33         Ma Qing Hua (CHN)                    TECHEETAH

37         Jose Maria Lopez (ARG)             DS Virgin Racing

38         Enzo Bonito (ITA)                      TECHEETAH

42         David Greco (ITA)                      Renault e.dams

44         Graham Carroll (GBR)                DS Virgin Racing

47         Adam Carroll (GBR)                   Panasonic Jaguar Racing

55         Aleksi Elomaa (FIN)                  Venturi Formula E

66         Daniel Abt (DEU)                       ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

67         Bono Huis (NED)                       Faraday Future Dragon Racing

68         Petar Brljak (CRO)                    NextEV NIO

77         Patrik Holzmann (DEU)            ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport

88         Oliver Turvey (GBR)                 NextEV NIO

Road to Vegas London round-up and Let’s Race to Vegas competition

Road to Vegas Berlin round-up and NEXTEV NIO EP9 launch

Saturday through to Monday was a pretty hectic period for me…

First off, there was the penultimate round of Road to Vegas in Berlin to commentate on. Joining me was my good friend Jack Pickering. I thought things would be a little awkward because I hadn’t heard his voice since he was controversially banned from Formula E Addicts a while back. But I needn’t have worried; our relationship was much the same and he did a very good job adding some excitement which I’d not always gotten across as well I could have last time out in Paris for example. We were helped in the final by Dom Duhan who is effectively the eSports consultant for Formula E and also Team Principle of Team Redline, who were looking to qualify two of their top Finish drivers. My regular co-commentator Alie Tacq should be back for London, but there is also a competition being held the same day as the London final by Let’s Race, (The prize is a trip to see the Grand final in Vegas) so I’ll have to see if I’m still in the top 10¬†for that at the end of the month.

The semi-final winners in Berlin were Graham Carroll, Enzo Bonito, Olli Pahkala and David Greco. Unfortunately for Enzo, despite winning a semi-final for the first time on Saturday his luck would desert him right before the start on Sunday when his game crashed during the server switchover from warmup to the race. With no time/precedent in the rules for a restart, the field set off with a very noticeable gap in 4th place where Enzo was expected to materialise, but sadly was prevented from doing so. Pahkala had an extremely strong semi-final, beating teammate and championship leader Greger Huttu by 10 seconds, so he started on pole from Carroll, Greco and Huttu himself. Further back, Aleksi Ussi was unfortunate to cop a speeding penalty whilst leading Carroll in his semi-final; he still qualified but would start from 17th.

The big drama at the start of the race was caused in the midfield by Nikodem Wisniewski, who lost his front wing making contact with Marc Gassner twice, causing Gassner to go¬†wide at the first turn and creating an hefty pile-up¬†behind him: Petar Brljack lost both front and rear wings after being squeezed into the wall¬†and Wyatt Gooden collected him; Wisniewski was awarded a drive-through penalty as punishment for catalysing the mayhem, but all were able to continue even if Brljack was a sitting duck for much of the first stint. Jesus Sicillia looked to take advantage of Brljack’s misfortune, but the Spaniard instead went too far over the curbing at turn 9 and flipped spectacularly before being righted by the wall. Incredibly he was able to continue but his pace wasn’t the same after.

Through all this, the only order change at the top was that Bono Huis had managed to pass Greger Huttu for 4th place; Huttu was not fighting Bono¬†too hard knowing he did not need a top 4 finish to qualify for Vegas. Ussi had shown great speed to climb up the order, quickly taking care of Brljack after Sicilia’s acrobatics but then getting stuck behind an oversteering Luis Dalmau, who drifted around for several laps holding Ussi up until Dalmau made a fatal error hitting the inside at the chicane, flying up in the air and landing on top of Ussi’s car. Luckily Ussi did not take damage and was able to continue, later taking advantage of an unplanned pitstop for Marc Gassner to get into the top 10.

Up front, Pahkala was building a huge lead, and Graham Carroll decided to pit at the end of lap 26 to try and undercut him. The big battle was between Huis and Greco, with the Dutchman trying to pass the Italian at turns 4 and 5 on the very next lap after Greco got a bad run through the chicane. Briefly, Huis was alongside and slightly ahead but had to back out as he was on the outside for turns 6 and 7, following which Greco pit to undercut him. Huttu pit last and came out just alongside Huis but opted not to make a risky move on his teammate.

A train of cars was building behind Greco from 3rd to 7th, and although no-one made a move in the closing stages Jakub Brzezinski did attempt to set the fastest lap using the pitlane as a run-up (A trick he attempted in qualifying for his semi-final and was penalised 2 places for) and yet again it proved fruitless as it was deleted for him exceeding track limits; mercifully he was allowed to keep his 7th place however.

The race was really all about Olli Pahkala, who dominated, growing his commanding lead to 20 seconds by the chequered flag to easily qualify for the Las Vegas Grand Final in January with the final qualifier in London still to go. Graham Carroll and Greger Huttu did the same finished 2nd and 5th respectively, with David Greco’s podium assuring him of a place too. Bono Huis, 4th in Berlin and 5th in the table still needs a top 8 result to be absolutely certain of making it through. Also impressing and bringing himself back into contention after misfortune in Paris was Muhammed Patel who took his best result yet in 6th. 7th was Brzezinski who is fighting to stay in the lower half of the top 10, 8th was local German driver Patrik Holzmann who is just behind Bono Huis in 6th overall. 9th was Daniel Kiss, who had to pull out all the stops to keep a charging Ussi behind him at the end, .

Below are the scores with each driver’s single worst result (from the 3 rounds so far) dropped. Think of it more as the projected standings rather than the defacto one. With a round to go, many drivers such as Brljack, Patel, Ussi, Bonito and Kiss need a good result in Battersea Park in just under 2 weeks time¬†due to none-scores from earlier in the series which they have to drop. Thankfully this dropped score rule means they are still in the hunt and that their bad luck has not completely ruined their chances; only compromised them.

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Now for the NIO EP9 car launch, which took place the very next day. I had won competition to see the launch of this new car by posting this video:

The Launch was at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London, and NEXTEV even went to the trouble of booking a driver for me to get there. He arrived early which meant I turned up an hour early but¬†that was no problem; a short trip to a local coffee shop more than passed the time; and I didn’t go there empty handed either…

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These driver caps were given to me as compensation for my driver arriving early; I didn’t even know that merited compensation! (But hey, I’m not complaining)

Anyway, I had decided to go with my friend Jack Giordmaina. Initially we weren’t sure what we were getting into as the EP9 had already been launched earlier in the day. It transpired that we were in the evening group; simply a space issue in the gallery meant we couldn’t all see it at the same time I guess. To the credit of Nicki Shields, William Li, and all the other hosts there they still put their all into their lines for the encore, and the fact that we weren’t the very first didn’t really detract from the experience in the end.

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Slightly dodgy ex-Tory Minister and current House of Lords member Greg Barker (Left) chats to NEXTEV Chairman William Li (Right)

We went through 4 gallery rooms before coming to the big reveal. In the first room we were offered fancy drinks and mini-tarts as we waited for everyone to arrive. At one point I spilt the last little bit of my drink because it had a fruit at the bottom, and I got greedy, tipped the drink up too much and got my come-uppance. Then we were taken into a room where Williams Li did an interview (In Chinese) with a former Conservative Minister of State for Climate Change called Lord Barker. Long time readers familiar with my controversial political views can easily imagine that the mere presence of this David Cameron supporting life-peer was enough to make me uneasy and naturally I felt deeply mistrustful of him and the party he represents, but thankfully I resisted the temptation to heckle¬†him by asking how much he was being paid to be there, and after finishing his scripted and rehearsed questions (The only spontaneous moment was when Li stopped to point out that his wife was in attendance) he faded back into the background and I could continue to blissfully pretend he wasn’t even there. A car launch is definitely not a place for political theatre; so keep the politicians out of it I say. (Yes, even the ‘retired’ ones sitting in the House of Lords) Despite a choice of interviewer that I didn’t really approve of, Li came across okay and I thought that he genuinely wanted to improve air quality based on his bad experience with smog in Beijing.

The third room was about the new logo that NEXTEV had done for their NIO sub-brand. Pretty dry stuff but you could tell they’d worked really hard on it, and the videos they’d produced were well shot, tightly edited and informative. So that gets a thumbs up from me.

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NEXT EV’s FE car with it’s new livery for the rest of the season

The last room had a Formula E chassis with NEXTEV’s new livery adorning it. I thought it looked pretty solid and intricate. Maybe you can make up your own mind on that one though. As much as I liked the season 2/early season 3 liveries, it’s nice to see them trying something new and if they wanna show-off a new logo then that’s fine by me. Also in this room was a bunch of the team’s car parts as well as driver helmets, overalls, etc. Perhaps the most poignant item was this helmet though:

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Helmet created in tribute to the late Dr. Martin Leach, head of the company prior to his death earlier in the month and a central¬†part of the FE team. From the presentation videos, it seems the EP9 was very much his baby, and it’s a real tragedy that he didn’t get to see the car launched.

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So we come to the big reveal, and I have to say, despite knowing beforehand what it would look like, it was still an awesome moment to see it there as a physical thing that you can reach out and touch…Not that I would dare plaster this thing of beauty with my mucky fingerprints¬†of course, even when we were invited onto the stage for a closer look. The flashy videos again added a fair bit here, but there was some great substance and merit to the Paul Ricard/Nurburgring tests and EV lap records set. (Although I’m sure they’ll be broken in the years to come that doesn’t diminish the current achievements) As awesome as it looks I don’t think this is the kind of vehicle you can really leave in a Supermarket car-park on a shopping trip. Not that you’ll need to shop if you have the money for one of these…You could probably get your servants to handle that sort of thing.

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Gerry Hughes, Nelson Piquet Jnr. and Oliver Turvey talk to Nicki Shields about the EP9
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Upon closer inspection…Yup, still awesome

The drivers both got to drive it, though with only 7 ever being made neither looked likely of owning one. Incidentally I got to meet Oliver Turvey for the first time, and although I’m not the most interesting person in the world Oliver listened to what I had to say and was polite and engaged. (I think I ended up mainly telling him about Road to Vegas actually) Nelson was there too but I was only able to say good luck to him as he was leaving.

Overall it was a really well organised event and NEXTEV’s PR and social media manager Rebecca took great care of me (And to a lesser extent Jack as he is probably more self-reliant) and the driver was also really friendly and definitely prompt on arrival. So I should really thank all the staff there who helped to make the event run smoothly¬†and made it an engaging and exciting evening for all. (Yes, even you Lord Barker) And here’s to future success for NEXTEV on track.

If you want more information on Cloud Sport’s Road to Vegas Formula E competition before the final round on December 3rd-4th at Battersea Park (Probably the last time we will see FE and Battersea Park mentioned in the same breath) then check out¬†their website.

Road to Vegas Berlin round-up and NEXTEV NIO EP9 launch

Road to Vegas – Paris review

In the last weekend of October I was back for more Cloudsport Road to Vegas action with the second round in Paris, and there were some very interesting developments, not just on the track, but also in the commentary box.

I’ll start off talking about the latter. Rene Alexander¬†was once again on duty for the finale of the WRC eSports series, this time for the finale in Wales, so the semi-finals were covered¬†by myself and Alie Tacq. However we were also helped by my friend Remco Majoor; like me he’s a member of Formula E Addicts but he also drives in the series, albeit thus far in the first two rounds he has been unlucky not to finish either of¬†the semi-finals he’s made it through to. Fortunately for me though Remco could commentate with me for the final in Paris which Alie unfortunately could not make due to a prior commitment. It was nice to commentate with Remco for a change as despite knowing him a year I’d not heard his voice before the weekend, and it turns out that he is actually a great co-commentator who’s really easy to work with; I only wish I didn’t speak over him so much! I am sort of hoping Remco’s commentary position isn’t renewed too regularly during the rest of the season because I would love to see what he could do if he fulfilled his potential and qualified into a final. However with no points on the board halfway through the competition, Remco’s Vegas prospects unfortunately look quite remote, but I’m sure he’ll keep trying.

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Gian Trovo slowly crashes into a pit awning in his Semi final, running 9 laps down and having already lost both wings and his front left wheel. This man is an absolute legend! I would love to get into contact with Gian and do an interview with him, so if anyone knows him, send him my way.

Anyway so let’s recap¬†what happened in¬†Paris. The four Semi-final winners were Greger Huttu, Olli Pahkala, Patrik Holtzman and Bono Huis. There were a couple of hard-luck stories though; Muhammed Patel, starting from the pitlane in the first semi-final after an incident on the warm-up lap, put on some spectacular and unusual overtakes to get up into the 5th place needed to qualify for the final, when disaster struck with only a handful of laps to run as he was disconnected; this meant that the brilliantly named American Walter Wedgeworth managed to reach the final against all odds and without the aid of a front wing. Cem Bolukbasi somehow managed to flip his car upside down over the curb in group 2, whilst in group 3 ¬†Petar Brljack, who placed 2nd in the final at Long Beach, had an extremely messy semi-final after Jesus Sicillia spun in front of him early on and removed Brljack’s front wing. Another Formula E Addicts driver and close friend of Remco’s, Mark Berends, also had his suspension broken by Brljack, and Mark ended up 6th, just missing out on a place in the final to Miguel Ballestre; but as consolation Mark has jumped up to 25th in the overall points and is still in the hunt for the top 10.¬†In the final group, it was sensationally Graham Carroll’s turn to suffer misfortune, as his steering wheel failed him right as he was approaching his pit marker; this meant he lost a 12 second lead that he had over Bono Huis, and later a huge lock-up allowed Wyatt Gooden to get past¬†too; the result was that Graham Carroll started 12th in the final when he justifiably felt he could have started in the top 4. An honourable mention must go to Gian Trovo who was 7 seconds off the pace in qualifying, repeatedly pit to replace his front wing and ended up being lapped at least 9 times before retiring in comical fashion, being unable to avoid the marquee garage wall. But despite being way out of his depth, his never say die attitude made a great impression on me, and I sincerely hope that Gian comes back in Berlin to give it another go; so he’s made at least one fan!

The final had a very eventful start. Huttu and Pahkala led away from the front row, but Patrik Holtzman directly¬†behind¬†tried to squeeze Bono Huis into the wall, and subsequently was given a 5 second penalty post-race for not leaving enough room for the Dutchman. Whilst those two were squabbling, Enzo Bonito took full advantage to sweep around the outside of both of them to take 3rd position. Graham Carroll discovered that starting lower down the order on a Formula E circuit makes your life so much harder than at the front, as he was hit in the rear by Michelle D’Alessandro. D’Alessandro then rather cruelly spun Samuel Libeert out of his home race, and copped a drive through penalty from the Stewards for his indiscretions. David Greco, 3rd in the standings entering the race, made contact with Nikodem Wisniewski which lost both cars positions; Greco was judged to be at fault and was given a 3 second penalty after the finish.

Once the carnage of the first lap was out of the way, the race began to settle down. It wasn’t until the pitstops that we began to see some action. Marc Gassner and Dimitrios Parisis pitted the earliest on lap 19, a move which didn’t really pay off as it happens; it only freed up the faster drivers who were out of position behind them, and allowed them to jump them in the order in clean air. Bonito was the first frontrunner to pit on lap 21, followed by Huis, Wyatt Gooden and Wisniewski. The following lap¬†Huttu, Pahkala, Aleksi Ussi (participating with a broken arm) and Carroll all made their stops. Holtzman, Jakub Brezinski and Aleksi Elomaa then vacated the lead when they pit on lap 23.

Through the pitstops one man had opted to go for a very different strategy; that man was Miguel Ballestre. Narrow runner-up in Cloud sport’s other series, the Seat Leon Eurocup, Ballestre had been struggling in 16th place and didn’t really have the pace to run at the front. By lap 25, the 3 Team Redline teammates Huttu, Pahkala and Bonito had all caught up to Ballestre and were starting to get severely held up by the Spaniard as he backed them into Holtzman. It wasn’t until lap 29 that they managed to clear Ballestre when he hit the inside of a curb and lost his front wing. But Miguel decided this was not a sign that he should pit for repairs and carried on regardless as his pace continued to worsen. Huis was able to retake 5th by braking late¬†around the outside at turn one, but then Aleksi Ussi and Wyatt Gooden battled furiously for position whilst fighting in turn with the stubborn Ballestre, who on lap 31 moved in the braking zone very late which caused both Ussi and Gooden to take dramatic evasive action. This was something the stewards took a dim view of. Nethertheless, Ussi and Gooden both found their way past on the same lap, and a train from 9th through to 15th began to form up behind Ballestre. One man who took advantage of this bunching up was Carroll, who found a way around the outside of Elomaa in a risky but beautifully judged move through turns 4 and 5. The fun was over on lap 33 as Ballestre finally bailed out and pit, ending a suicidal stint from him which left him back where he started in 16th.

Up front, Olli Pahkala had a big scare as his rear wheel tapped the wall at the high speed turn 8 with 5 laps to go, but mercifully he got away with it and continued to push Greger Huttu all the way to the finish, but he never felt it was worth trying a risky move on his compatriot, so Huttu was able to win ahead of Pahkala and Bonito. With their teammates Huis and Ussi 5th and 6th behind Holtzman it proved to be a very good day for Team Redline. A difficult day for Graham Carroll ended with some consolation as Greco’s 3 second penalty in the bunched up pack dropped him to 12th, elevating Carroll into the top 10. Even with the dropped worst result, those precious few points could well make all the difference.

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Note: Holtzman set the fastest lap and scored 2 extra points for doing so.

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Next stop Berlin on November 19th/20th. With the championship hotting up, that top 10 is starting to take shape, but remember with the dropped score yet to come we could see the fortunes of many mid-pack runners fluctuate.

For further information and full streams of every race, visit: http://roadtovegas.cloudsport.club/

Road to Vegas – Paris review