You know, I was really looking forwards to putting all that political bickering and bullshit behind me and posting about Nico Rosberg as I said I would at the end of my last post. Unfortunately that’s going to have to wait a bit longer, because last night I saw this:
Now it is possible that I’ve been blocked by mistake, and that this is some kind of misunderstanding. But it’s much more likely that Formula E have simply decided that they don’t like what I’ve been tweeting about them and this is their way of “punishing” me. I’ve never said anything abusive or spammy towards Formula E, so this seems pretty harsh and draconian to me; if anything I’ve been one of their biggest fans right from the first race at Beijing in 2014. And what could they have taken offence to? Me retweeting F1 Broadcasting’s strong evidence that Formula E and Roborace have purchased thousands of fake accounts to follow them and to boost their profile? The fact that I’ve talked to and (perish the thought) listened to the Battersea Protestors and given constructive feedback towards them? Or maybe they’re big fans of Mr. Cameron and the Conservative party, in which case we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. None of these three are good enough reasons to block me.
Whatever the reason, the message is clear: “We don’t like what you have to say, so we’re going to ostracise you.” Was praising FE every weekend for the great show that they put on not enough? Hasn’t my work for FE Addicts over Facebook (3,587 members) and Twitter, (444 followers) tirelessly covering every piece of news that I can find, live tweeting races, doing a podcast and running competitions to win team merchandise, and not to mention my detailed articles for e-racing.net and ecocars4sale.com, pretty much all been positive publicity that has benefitted them? But no, apparently I’m a renegade who thinks too much and must be silenced.
You know what? Whilst we’re talking about unprofessionalism, let’s talk about Formula E’s official UK fansite on Facebook. We’ve had a pretty tetchy relationship after there was a big fallout out when they tried to promote their fanpage on our FE Addicts page, (They are a much younger page than us, established only at the end of last year) which didn’t go down well especially with the admin team. (It’s against the rules that have been in place for years on our long-running sister group Addicted to Formula 1) But despite that I was still active on their page and I even wrote them a fan interview which is still up there for all to read. I did my absolute best to keep things cordial with the UK Fansite despite the way things had fallen apart between us. And then this happened on the 18th of February:
Some context: A YouTuber called Ali-A, who I don’t really like, got a showrun in a Formula E car, and I basically said some minor comment that I wasn’t a fan of his and I felt that other people would have been more deserving of an FE showrun rather than some Call Of Duty gamer who doesn’t really care about the sport. Tom deleted that and then posted this:
I told other members of the UK Fansite about Tom’s behaviour (Or rather, his lack of it) in the hope that whoever’s actually in charge of it all might intervene. I never heard back, so I can only assume that Formula E either takes Tom’s side and supports his actions, or has simply covered them up as a way of not having to deal with them or me. Well, not anymore.
You know what? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if me being blocked has something to do with Tom. Well, you can insult me and you can get me blocked on Twitter, but you can’t separate me from my love for this sport; not even the protestors’ strongest arguments and evidence of FE’s wrongdoing could make me turn my back on it. I know what will though.
I’ve bought my tickets for both race days at Battersea, costing just over £30 each, and I sincerely hope to be let in so I can watch the race, meet up with friends and have as good a time as possible. If I am barred from there too, (and I really, really hope you aren’t stupid enough to try that) then my love of Formula E, which has been severely tested so far, will be shattered completely.
Anyway, I apologise to regular readers for this, but I felt it had to be done. Because I always like to end with a video, here’s some Pikes Peak footage set to Miami Nights ’84 to take our minds off all this trouble.
Motor racing is unavoidably mixed with politics. Long gone thankfully are the days of the 1930’s when the successes of German manufacturers Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were part of the Nazi propaganda machine, but our sport still relies on political clout almost as much as money changing hands to ensure that races go ahead and the show keeps itself on the road. Normally for a street race, the local government rubber stamps an event and it’s financial arrangements; then the motorsport circus comes to town, puts on a show, packs up and most people leave satisfied.
Lately though we’re seeing political struggles in one of the newest categories of our sport. The 2 year old FIA Formula E championship, which has a brief to hold races with it’s electric powered single seaters in city centres which normally wouldn’t be used for motor racing events is experiencing a backlash from some quarters; a race in Miami from the first season has been shelved due to (among other problems) vocal opposition from environmentalists that felt the sport was doing more harm than good to the local area, and a potential bid in Lugano was abandoned at the end of 2015 after a similar movement successfully campaigned against having a race in the Swiss city. More pressingly, races in London and Berlin are set to go ahead despite considerable opposition from local groups, in both cases locals had no idea it was even happening until the event was announced, construction work began and tickets went on sale.
As a Formula E fan and someone who enjoys the sport greatly I am extremely concerned by the level of this opposition and the growing anger and frustration they’re expressing as their concerns are continually ignored or belittled by both the sport and their own governments. But whilst we need to take a good hard look at ourselves before we criticise members of the public, I must confess that although I’ve been fairly open and understanding, at times I’ve felt disappointed by them in certain aspects. I’m a lot more familiar with what’s going on closer to home in London, but less so with the Berlin situation, (For example, I have no idea how Berlin’s political system actually works) and as a result I find it harder to sympathise with preventing that particular race. However, if anyone wants to reach out to me and offer me full and detailed reasons why they think Karl Marx Alee is a bad place for a Formula E race, they’re more than welcome to, and maybe I’ll reconsider my stance on the Berlin ePrix.
Don’t get me wrong, the protestors that I have met are thoroughly decent people but I feel they can get carried away and make decisions/statements intended to help their cause, but which actually become detrimental and turn people away. What follows is not so much an analysis of the whole situation (That’s been done already) as it is my reaction to what’s happened so far and a few suggestions based upon my own observations.
One bad apple doesn’t necessarily spoil the whole barrel
Whilst I admit that at least one of the venues is on balance too problematic for locals and does more harm than good, the vast majority of the 10 venues on the FE calendar go ahead quite smoothly in venues which really suit this championship down to the ground, and allow for some fantastic racing. I don’t think it’s fair to disrespect the entire series because of problems at just one event; in the same way that the death of just one patient is not reason enough to shut down a hospital.
Furthermore, I have noticed a tendency to accuse Formula E personnel who work exclusively on the sporting side and have nothing to do with the decision to hold the races in Battersea Park or Karl-Marx-Allee. To me that’s probably even more unfair than writing off the whole series because it’s painting the innocent as guilty; all that does is hurt the image of your protest when you target the wrong people. The sport is by no means unaccountable, but we’re talking about a scenario that I believe shows Formula E at it’s absolute worst; it’s the nadir, not the standard. There are great people in this championship, from drivers to engineers, mechanics and team bosses; don’t throw them under the bus too just because of some poor decisions and management by those at the top. It’s very easy for example to call the construction workers “Cowboys” for causing disruption, but they’re just people doing a job; they’ve got to trust that those in charge are doing the right thing, otherwise they don’t get paid and a lot of money goes down the drain. Not to say that everyone working in FE should show nothing but gormless obedience, however it’s understandable why they won’t question or engage with the politics of the situation, even if they do keep being dug up like the Panama papers.
A recent step that Save Battersea Park have undertaken is to instate a “Hall of shame” on their website. Whilst it probably isn’t going to guilt-trip any of the accused into atoning, it’s definitely a step in the right direction: It clearly outlines the figures they feel are responsible and exposes the lies and mistruths they have told. Is the”Hall of shame” biased? Of course it is, and in a way that’s the point. It lets people know that SBP aren’t happy with the people who are making decisions on their behalf. It also shows that the protestors have a solid understanding of how this situation unfolded the way it did and what could have been handled differently. Does this information hurt the reputation of the championship though? Debatable. But even if the fiasco in London does hurt Formula E’s reputation, it certainly doesn’t mean that the other races are anywhere near as negative for their locals.
The fans are not your enemy
Now, it’s natural that Formula E fans are not going to respond positively to you: You’re seen as a threat against something that they love. Maybe they went to the event you’re protesting against and had a great time. In many cases I’ve heard fans complain that they find these opposition groups “too aggressive, fanatical and militant”, and to be honest I find it hard to refute these claims when members of the Battersea Park Action group are talking on the local radio about how they’re going to “Throw Formula E out of the park”, fans are going to take that kind of thing personally. Keep in mind, we have to deal with a fair few Petrolheads who hate the sport for no other reason than because the electric motors in the cars don’t sound like the throaty engines that they’re used to, as well as purists who loathe the idea of voting for drivers to get temporary speed boosts, or of swapping cars midway through the race… The sport has to deal with criticism like this quite regularly, and a protest won’t be treated any differently. People are going to get protective, and you can expect to receive some abuse from them, especially online.
All I can say is that it’s very important to emphasise that the fans get a poor deal out of this too; at Battersea for example they get poor spectator views, (due to the trees and the lack of space for Grandstands) and a narrow track with extremely limited overtaking opportunities. Obviously you can’t force people to sympathise/support you, however you can definitely avoid casting yourself as the villains by not antagonising fans; avoid making it personal especially with individuals you don’t like. Remember if you support the Battersea Park Action Group that whatever you say over social media will be directly associated with BPAG; people see the “Anti-FE” Twitter accounts made by the public for the park’s Squirrels, Bandstand and lately “FE Wacky races” and jump to the conclusion that BPAG is responsible for all of them, when this is infact wide of the mark.
When you think about it the fans want the same thing as you: A green motor racing championship which practices what it preaches. The distinction between the two is that they believe that’s exactly what they’re getting; you do not. My opinion is that we should both be a little more tolerant of each other’s rationales.
Well researched evidence and facts, not just opinions
Saying the event disadvantages or is harmful to locals is all well and good, but can you quantify that into provable statistics? You can’t rely just on anecdotal evidence, even if it really did happen, because you need to treat what you’re saying as though it’s got to hold up under inspection in a court of law; indeed, I know that legal action is an avenue that protesters in Battersea are pursuing at the moment, so I feel this is a very relevant point. It’s like a house of cards: If one part of the argument isn’t strong enough, people will pick it apart until the whole thing collapses.
A big bugbear for me is the spectator numbers at Battersea. Formula E and the council claim that roughly 30,000 visited the park each day and that 60,000 were there the whole weekend. The Protestors claim that this is an inaccurate number based upon TV pictures showing that the park was sparsely populated during the event. But the ticket sales from Ticketmaster don’t lie. Interestingly though, the reviews for the London ePrix on Ticketmaster’s website are fairly mixed, with an overall rating of only 3.2 stars out of 5.
In Berlin, it’s my understanding that a key argument against holding the race is that there are illegal car races happening in the German capital with fatal consequences, and opponents are concerned that having a Formula E race on Alexanderplatz will encourage further impromptu street racing. Formula E is actually helping to promote part of a road safety programme spearheaded by the FIA and it’s president Jean Todt. I’ve been critical of Todt in the past for appearing on TV coverage and going on endlessly about the number of people who die in road accidents every day, (All the while taking a very Laissez faire attitude to problems in the motorsport categories that the FIA has jurisdiction over, but that’s another can of worms) but Jean does raise a valid point and it’s clear that it’s an issue the sport takes very seriously; it’s no coincidence that the FIA has put so much effort towards promoting road safety, commissioning a short film by Luc Besson called “Save kids’ lives”, establishing 10 golden rules for drivers…In Formula E specifically each car has the FIA “Action for Road safety” logo visible just underneath the nosecone, and also the drivers are used in a lot of road safety campaigns in which they visit local school children. So to my mind, people who claim that Formula E will cause more road races and fatal accidents in Berlin are being at best sensationalist, and at worst have not done sufficient research.
Don’t disgrace yourself by spreading rumours and misinformation through some attention-grabbing soundbites; pick your evidence very carefully and get it as airtight as you can, in order to undermine the counter-evidence that your opponents will use. No melodrama and no bullshit; that won’t do you any good. Put the hard graft in and know thy enemy.
Politicians are just as responsible as Formula E
We’ve all know of this type of public servant; they want people to think they’re green without having to actually to do anything to back up the high ideals they preach; they’re building ‘fake green’ portfolios and Formula E fits neatly into that. These are people who will use (and in many cases abuse) their power to get what they want, then ask for absolution afterwards and claim to have “learnt important lessons” before they go on to replicate the same mistakes that upset people in the first place.
This can also work the opposite way though; In London the Conservative majority backed the race, whereas the Labour party decided to oppose it. Whilst Labour did a much better job of representing the needs of local residents, they also used the whole thing as an excuse to criticise the use of Grid Girls at a family event. Now, don’t misunderstand me: I feel pretty uncomfortable about women being used to titillate at motorsport events, as anyone who went with me to the Race of Champions last November will know. (whilst the “ROC dancers” did two routines in a row wearing lycra in below freezing conditions I buried my head in a book and tried to ignore what was going on in front of me) But although it’s commendable to improve the image of women that the sport represents by attempting to put an end to/change the practice of Grid Girls (And the FE team principals I’ve talked have told me that if offered they would come out in support of such a cause) it’s not completely relevant to the Battersea issue. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Grid Girls, Grid Boys or inflatable mascots; they are a consequence of the race, not a cause. My point is that you’ll be hard pressed to find a political party that will support you without trying to force it’s own agenda to the table. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing though is up to you.
Chances are, if a politician speaks out in favour of holding a Formula E race in London or Berlin, it’s highly unlikely to be because they know or care about the sport. It’s because they feel they stand to benefit from allowing it to happen, either financially or in terms of their image. Everyone votes on party lines, because the political parties that are in power at the moment don’t represent the people that vote for them, they obviously represent the business interests of the corporations that bankroll their party. As you can tell I don’t have a very high opinion of politicians in general, and I treat them all with a large amount of disdain, skepticism, and in some cases contempt; I have found these to be the most reliable policies.
Focus on alternative venues: Give us somewhere better to race!
A few Formula E fans I’ve spoken to have told me that the only point made by Save Battersea Park which they agreed with was the fact that the ExCel exhibition centre in London had also submitted a bid and that the event could easily be run there with much less disruption to people. Admittedly despite the shareholders being all for it, ExCel have gone a bit quiet lately. However, Future Liverpool are currently pushing for a very promising proposal to make a Formula E race happen on the road around Albert Docks which would pass right next to the historic Cavern Club; sadly it’s unlikely that Formula E will be interested in anywhere outside of London, but the potential is there for a great event and much better circuit for spectators and for overtaking. The UK in particular is not short of other venues to go to, however in the case of Berlin I’ve not seen an alternative suggested by the opponents there. Obviously there was great difficulty in finding a replacement venue for Templehoff airport so in terms of street circuits you’ve only got established venues like the Norisring (Who already turned it down because the timeframe was too short) but as far as Formula E fans are concerned, if you constantly point out the problems whilst not offering any solutions, then you’re just being whiny and selfish.
One thing that pisses me off no end about the London scenario is the people against the race in Battersea Park who constantly ask why the race can’t take place at Crystal Palace Park… Well, probably because it was too expensive to maintain safety and the speeds were simply too high in the 1970’s, meaning that the track was closed and hasn’t been used for international motor racing since, just a few club sprint races on what remains of the original circuit. Seriously, how hypocritical can you be to claim that “A park is not a place for a race track”, and then immediately suggest another park to replace it, for no better reason than because F3 used to race there (Over 40 years ago), and they remembered it from the opening ten minutes of Ron Howard’s Rush; the reality is that in places it’s even narrower than Battersea and would need extensive work to be made suitable for Formula E. The people calling for Crystal Palace really should know better; It’s a little annoying to have to explain all this to the Green Party’s London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry over Twitter, although to be honest I’m more concerned about the complete disinterest from all the other candidates in either the race or the issues surrounding it.
Remember that as far as these other venues are concerned your protest is a big help because it means they’re a much more attractive prospect due to their relative lack of opposition to hosting a race (This is assuming they wouldn’t subsequently cause problems with their own locals…) so make contact with these venues; they probably don’t have the same motives as you but chances are the enemy of their enemy is their friend, and they’ll want to help you out and offer some support, which is key.
Don’t feel afraid to speak out, or take action
It never looks good when there’s protestors outside the gates at a sporting event, and it’s sad when people feel it has to come to this to get their message across. But a demonstration is harder for the sport to ignore. Legal action is also an avenue to explore, as discussed already, but for both London and Berlin it’s already far too late to stop this year’s events: Tickets have been sold, marshals volunteered, planning application approved… Plus if your case fails (And trust me, it’s not an easy case to win by a long shot) then you have to pay up for it. There are a lot of other methods and mediums via which to get your message across; obviously don’t do anything that would endanger your own lives or anyone else’s. And definitely do not tell people that you’re going to do an Arthur Dent and lie down in front of construction vehicles… (I appreciate that the stakes are high, but don’t panic! It’s not as if the Earth is about to get blown up by a bunch of poetry-blurting Vogons…)
As a Formula E fan, if you’re upset with my sport, I want to hear about it. I don’t want to live in some fake perfect world and stick my head in the sand hoping for you to shut up and go away. I want to make sure the sport I follow is legal and ethical, and if that means being taken out of my comfort zone and being forced to acknowledge and confront unethical politics, shady deals and damage to a green space, then so be it.
Clearly Formula E Holdings has not taken you seriously so far. But if they value their image then surely they have to respond at some point. If you ever feel that you’re not getting anywhere with your campaign and that you’re starting to lose hope of ever finding a resolution, then remember these words from the McLaren F1 team’s legendary boss Ron Dennis, said to his driver Ayrton Senna during a period when Senna had become disillusioned with the politics of the sport and was seriously considering quitting it for good:
“If you are true to your values, if you believe that your values are correct, then walking away from the dark forces that you are faced with in life just doesn’t become an option.”
The next post I am working on is back to my less political fare, another F1 driver career request. This time it’s the man currently on a 5 race winning streak; championship leader Nico Rosberg.