The inaugural Formula E Grand Prix in Hong Kong debuted to resounding success.
28 October 2016
The engine roar, acrid fumes, burning rubber and gut-rumbling vibrations echoing through the grandstand may have been missing, but the anticipation and excitement at the Formula E Grand Prix in Hong Kong were just as palpable. The event has set new records for fan engagement and witnessed the type of corporate sponsorship that would be the envy of other sports. A capacity 25,000-strong crowd filed through the turnstiles on the day of the race in early October, with grandstand seating reportedly sold out well before race day.
For the drivers and their teams, the response was near unanimous; the inaugural Hong Kong Kong Formula E Grand Prix, and the opening round of just the third season of the championship, was a success. “It’s really fantastic,” said Mahindra Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist. “Just the view of the track is unbelievable. I never really dreamed that it [the track] would be so much in the centre of Hong Kong.”
The Swede has a winning history in this part of the world. At the Macau Grand Prix, which has staged the flagship Formula 3 race for more than 60 years, Mr Rosenqvist has taken the chequered flag twice, back-to-back in 2014 and 2015, and is familiar with one of the world’s best street circuits. In his Hong Kong debut, Mr Rosenqvist finished mid-field in 12th, but his teammate, German Nick Heidfeld, took a podium finish in third place, behind Swiss Sebastien Buemi, who placed first, and Lucas di Grassi in second place.
“I think it was a great first race, a great start to the season,” Mr Buemi told the media after the race. “They’ve done an amazing job from the day they announced we were going to race here. Many people turning up here in the grandstands [and] when you see so many people, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Formula 1 royalty Alain Prost was glowing in his assessment of the track and the race. “What a fantastic way to start the season. The first-ever Hong Kong ePrix certainly looked spectacular and we saw some very close competition,” said the Senior Team Manager and co-owner of the Renault e.dams racing team, which took first place in Hong Kong. He called Hong Kong “a magical city” with a stunning backdrop, and “a good commercial success.”
This year’s two-kilometre route was along the Central Harbourfront, where the circuit passed such landmarks as the Central Star Ferry Pier and City Hall, with Victoria Harbour on one side and the Central and Mid-Levels skyline on the other.
The concept behind Formula E is to keep the party going on and off the track. Away from the circuit, fans enjoyed themselves at the eVillage, an entertainment area with free entry for all tickets holders.
Inside the village were displays of electric and hybrid cars from Renault and BMW, as well as activities such as racing simulators and the obligatory party zone with DJ.
“I felt the whole day was very intimate and open,” says Stephen Short, a journalist who spent raceday by the track. “The opportunity to move among the drivers was very impressive. I thought that from a spectator’s point of view, its really quite fun. There was more action in the race than in a typical Formula 1 race.”
There were a series of crashes on the tight circuit and the safety car was called out midway through the 45-lap race.
Formula E is the latest international attraction hosted by Hong Kong, which also stages such major draws as the Hong Kong Sevens, the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon and the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival. Together, these events create economic value through tourism, a pillar of the Hong Kong economy, accounting for about five per cent of GDP and delivering about 270 000 jobs according to data from the Hong Kong Government.
While data for the ePrix have not yet been released, the race will have another two editions and the promise is for a bigger and better race next year. “Every time I come to a Formula E race, I’m amazed,” Jean Todt, President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile told the Macau Daily Times. The FIA is the organising body behind the event and sanctions the race. “It’s simply very special and it’s exactly what we wanted to be.”
Another measure of success is the promotional value brands have interacting with consumers. Finance house Julius Bär is the official global partner of the Hong Kong event, but companies such as Michelin, Tag Heuer, Qualcomm, DHL and GH Mumm have lent their support. Maison Mumm used the Hong Kong race to launch new packaging, the Grand Cordon bottle, based around the champagne’s iconic red sash.
And while the champagne flowed in the corporate areas and over the podium, this was a new experience for Hong Kong and for motorsport. The purists might say without the sensorial experience of racing, there can be no motorsport. No grease, no burning gears, no fuel and no engine noise means “no go.” Yet the race delivered.
Formula E Chief Executive Alejandro Agag paid tribute to the Formula Electric Racing Hong Kong team, which put together the event. “I think street racing is very difficult to organise and to set up,” he said. “This is an incredible backdrop for the race, I think we’ve done it again, but it will be even better if we keep improving. I am so very happy to be in Hong Kong.”
- Event Organisation
- Hong Kong