Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Las Vegas, 2023

While F1 is eager for more street tracks, Formula E is drifting away from them

Formula 1

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Formula E, the championship which once billed itself as “electric street racing”, will hold almost half its races on permanent tracks this year.

But Formula 1 is going in the opposite direction. It has added more street tracks to its schedule in recent years and some of its permanent courses may be under threat from new city races. What’s behind these conflicting trends?

When all-electric single-seater series FE was launched 10 years ago its calendar consisted entirely of temporary circuits. In addition to venues visited by Formula 1 (Monaco) and IndyCar (Long Beach and Miami), it took in several entirely new street courses.

Like all championships, FE’s schedule was badly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the season before, its roster of tracks remained almost entirely street courses. FE visited 12 circuits in 2019, only one of which was a permanent track: Mexico’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which has the rare advantage of being situated within a city.

Nick Cassidy, Envision, Formula E, Portland, 2023
Nick Cassidy, Envision Racing, Jaguar I-TYPE 6
However FE has consistently struggled to put down roots at many of the venues it has visited. Only one city has appeared in all 10 seasons – Berlin – and its second most regular venue is the permanent course which also hosts F1’s Mexican Grand Prix.

To begin with, as FE lost some street tracks, others were found to replace them. But increasingly it has turned its sights to traditional racing circuits.

Italy’s round has moved from Rome (on the site of a mooted F1 race which never went ahead) to Misano this year. The American event, which previously visited temporary tracks in California, Miami and New York, now takes place at the Portland road course used by IndyCar. China has returned to the FE calendar for the first time post-Covid, but at the Shanghai International Circuit where F1 also races instead of the various street tracks used previously.

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As a result FE’s split between road and street races this year is almost half and half – eight to seven respectively. That’s still a considerably higher percentage than F1, where street tracks (not counting parkland courses like Melbourne) account for a quarter of the 2024 schedule. But street races are very much in vogue for F1.

Formula E, Beijing, 2014
Formula E raced exclusively on street circuits in its first season
When Liberty Media took over the series in 2017 it set out a plan to increase interest in it by holding races in what it called ‘destination cities’. Since then the trend towards more street circuits has been clear.

Among the most recent additions to F1’s calendar are street races in Las Vegas (2023), Miami (2022) and Jeddah (2021). Qatar also joined the calendar in 2021 with a race at a permanent track, though it was originally supposed to relocate to a street circuit in the future.

Although some permanent circuits have joined the calendar in recent years, most only featured temporarily as a stopgap during the Covid-affected seasons: Mugello, Nurburgring, Algarve and Istanbul. There are exceptions: Max Verstappen’s popularity helped Zandvoort return to the schedule, and Imola managed to secure a longer-term deal after F1’s return during the pandemic.

But in F1 the trend is clear, and looks set to continue. A new street track in Hanoi, Vietnam was ready to join the calendar in 2020 when the pandemic and then difficulties with the promoter put the kibosh on it. There have been persistent rumours the Circuit de Catalunya will lose its place on the calendar to a street track in Madrid. Most worryingly, there are also suggestions one of F1’s most celebrated road courses – Suzuka in Japan – faces competition from a planned street race in Osaka.

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Of course it’s too early to say whether F1’s newest street races will enjoy greater longevity than Formula E’s did. Street races invariably bring local opposition – this is just as true for F1 as it is for FE, as the grumblings around the Las Vegas and Miami grand prixs prove. But if they also generate sufficient local business, complaints can be overcome. F1, with its much larger audience, appears better-placed to do that.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Verstappen is not a fan of street circuits
But is this trend potentially to the detriment of both series? FE’s smaller, slower cars seem better suited to compact street tracks. Its races in Monaco, for instance, have undoubtedly been more competitive than F1’s.

In contrast, F1 world champion Verstappen routinely complains about the unsuitability of street tracks for modern F1 cars. “I don’t want to see myself in 2028 or whatever driving only on street circuits close to the city just for the fan engagement or whatever,” he said two years ago.

“Of course I understand everyone wants to make money, but there is also a limit to that because it’s important to keep these really cool circuits on the calendar instead of just driving on street circuits, which I think F1 cars are not designed for anyway.”

This is not to say that F1 can’t produce good races on street tracks nor FE on permanent courses. But that is clearly a secondary consideration for those in charge as both trends are being driven by commercial factors. In F1’s case it is choosing to do so in the hope of attracting new fans, but for FE it seems to be more a matter of necessity.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “While F1 is eager for more street tracks, Formula E is drifting away from them”

  1. The main thing is that street tracks are very uninspiring to watch. Just fences, fences, fences without any point of reference of where the cars are on track. The racing is poor as well, with exceptions of course. The only reason to have a street circuit is exactly what Liberty targets; the casual one off attendant spending money on the scene. It avoids these people having to travel to a track, but conveniently puts it in their backyard. Volume equals turnover. No regard for the sport or its avid fans as this is less relevant to Liberty than short term profit.

    1. I understand this argument, but it doesn’t necessarily explain the parallel trend of designing F1 tracks that are permanent circuits but look like street tracks – Abu Dhabi being the most obvious example, but other venues like Sochi have also been designed with this in mind. There must be something about the ‘look’ of a street circuit that FOM imagines appeals to fans, most of whom will be watching on television rather than attending races in person.

      1. @red-andy probably the ability to sell signage all the way around the track.

        1. absolutely the worst thing about Formula E undifferentiated, tunnels of repetitive signage.
          I’m not even sure why they pay for it – if anything, I’m marginally less likely to buy anything from ABB after the 10,000th view of it’s logo.

      2. Coincidental or a deliberate route into the psyche of the viewers that this kind of lay out of circuits is ok (/more common) and then duplicate them onto the road in a city centre?

    2. Agreed. I don’t much care where they race, but it will probably become a grayish blur in either a tunnel of Rolex/MSC billboards or a tunnel of light with a few drive shots mixed in.

      If they can improve the coverage, street races aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

      1. Drone shots, that is.

    3. Quite agree. Street tracks are awful, and none more so than Las Vegas.

  2. Losing Suzuka would be a shame, although thus far nothing concrete about a temporary circuit proposal in Osaka, which I first read about in Joe Saward’s 2022 Japanese GP Green Notebook post, but certainly not impossible, even if quite unlikely.
    I’d be careful with Jeddah & Miami in the same context, though, because they aren’t necessarily street circuits per se, given the former is effectively a semi-permanent temporary circuit not used by regularly traffic & somewhat the same with the latter.

  3. Does Miami really count as a street circuit, given that it takes place in a car park rather than on public roads?

    That aside, historically speaking – apart from Monaco, of course – ‘true’ street circuits tend to have a limited shelf life in F1, just as in FE. Think of the Valencia street circuit, or the string of races held in US cities in the 1980s and early 1990s. Even Adelaide only lasted 11 years before the circus moved on. The main difference is that, in F1, there are always willing volunteers to replace whichever course drops off the calendar, which probably isn’t the case in FE.

    Looking ahead, I can see Monaco, Singapore and probably Las Vegas as the three street circuits that will have a long-term place on the calendar; the others will come and go as local political winds change.

    1. @red-andy for Adelaide it was a case of money. After the F1 left, it was replaced by the Adelaide 500 which has run nearly every year since.

  4. For me the biggest problem is the layouts of the recent street track additions – they all seem to play the same cards: extreme long straights and or high speed (blind) corners all hoping for mayhem – I guess inspired by the ‘succes’ of Baku. Not only does it make all these tracks interchangeable and forgettable – it’s also throwing away decades of great work on safety standards. These street tracks have less to do with driver skills and pure racing but much more with luck – I fear that one day in one of these events F1 will run out of luck and that all the hard work on safety will come undone.

  5. I hate street races with passion. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Only Monaco is unique, so I’d keep that in the calendar. But like for Singapore, the novelty factor of night race has worn off after the addition of Jeddah and Las Vegas. I’d scrap them all and replace them with Mugello, Magny-Cours and Nürburgring/Hockenheim.

    I know Liberty only cares about money, and trendy cityscape with lights and nightclubs and fashion generate more social media likes than some muddy countryside race circuit in the middle of nowhere, which only gather petrolheads and true fans, and not rich celebrities and social media influencers who are Liberty’s main target audience.

    1. Singapore is also abysmal to watch in person compared to the circuit it effectively killed.

  6. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
    18th January 2024, 9:32

    Street circuits are absolutely awful and has made F1 duller than it is. No more please. Formula E is going the right path – it needed actual tracks.

  7. The street tracks in Formula E are objectively terrible. As people have pointed out, you find yourself staring at fences more than street scenery. There’s no crowds (maybe one grandstand at the start/finish), they’re often in parts of towns that aren’t exactly the main city (and sometimes as far out as being onan old airport parkinglot). So moving to tracks can only be applauded. Unfortunately, the move to circuits hasn’t been that beneficial either, it makes the cars look slower (this is inherent on moving from small narrow tracks to wider more open tracks) and the racing can get less interesting on them, as we saw in Mexico just this week.

    For F1 however, the speed is not an issue. F1’s car are not suited for narrow street tracks as they are currently. Luckily a lot of the newer street tracks take this into account by being more like traditional tracks, but it’s still hit or miss if the track is good or not. Singapore is a hit, Miami is a miss, Baku is a hit, Saudi Arabia is a miss, Las Vegas is up for debate still, could be a hit. So all in all, I’m not entirely opposed to street tracks, especially given that F1’s street tracks appear to be in town centers and attract a lot of attention. It definitely feels more energetic (although a good crowd on a circuit like Zandvoort or Silverstone accomplishes much of the same thing).

    But all in all, in both cases, the priority should not be the environment, but the quality of the actual racing. Your main focus should be pleasing the viewing audience. If your sport isn’t fun to watch, your race attendance will inevitably go down instead of up. Make sure your sport is good, then worry about how many casino’s are in the backdrop of your sweeping drone shots.

    1. But all in all, in both cases, the priority should not be the environment, but the quality of the actual racing. Your main focus should be pleasing the viewing audience. If your sport isn’t fun to watch, your race attendance will inevitably go down instead of up. Make sure your sport is good, then worry about how many casino’s are in the backdrop of your sweeping drone shots.

      This is the essence. And this is exactly what gets forgotten in the board room of a publicly traded/stock listed company. Everyone there is in it for the short term share holder value because they will be judged on this and they do not know how much longer they will be in their positions (- which certainly will be shortened if that shareholder value isn’t created soon). Nobody cares about the IP they have, it’s just entertainment product X.

  8. Comparing Formula E and Formula 1 proves to be a nuanced undertaking, primarily due to Formula E’s perpetual navigation of survival challenges. Formula 1, in contrast, offers a more accessible framework for comprehension and analysis. The financial dynamics associated with street circuits play a pivotal role in this distinction. Not only does the capacity to generate revenue from these venues hold significant weight, but the reduction of the FIA’s influence and control also emerges as a crucial factor.

    The strategic deployment of temporary venues exclusively catering to Formula 1 undermines the FIA’s regulatory sway. This strategic maneuver limits the FIA’s recourse should Liberty Media, the controlling entity of Formula 1, opt for a decisive breakaway from the FIA. The conundrum surrounding this potential divergence hinges on Liberty’s strategic calculus. While the formidable F1 brand may ostensibly tether them to the FIA, ongoing negotiations with the FIA afford Liberty a distinctly advantageous position. The inclusion of locations such as Vegas, Jeddah, Miami, Albert Park, Baku Singapore and potentially Madrid in their portfolio substantially amplifies their negotiating leverage, contrasting starkly with a scenario reliant on a complete roster of FIA-affiliated permanent venues.

  9. As I said in the round-up today I don’t dislike street circuits but I think the problem with most of the new style of street circuits is that they all follow the same template & so don’t have the sort of unique characteristics or challenges that used to set street circuits apart from everything else & each other.

    The fun of street circuits used to come from the spectacle created by the unique challenges they created. They used to be narrow, tight, bumpy, dusty & they used to feature multiple changes in road surface which would add to those challenges and there was no room for error with even the smallest mistake often punished.

    Now modern street circuits feel more like the normal circuits but just with walls next to the track as they tend to be just as open, wide, smooth, clean & are regularly resurfaced in many cases with similar tarmac as whats used on permanent circuits.

    Even Monaco has sadly lost a lot of what used to make it such a great spectacle as the 2003 changes that moved some barriers back & opened up some of the corners took away a lot of the challenge.

  10. Not a fan whatsoever of all these street circuits.

    They’re interesting as a novelty feature, but I want F1 predominantly to race on permanent circuits.

    Growing up, I used to love the scenery of the permanent circuits, these street tracks are just tunnels of concrete barriers.

    I used to be able to name a circuit easily from a photo of one corner. I’d have no idea any more, Baku and Monaco aside, they’re dull and generic.

    I’m already less interested in the sport than I was 10 years ago and I’ve watched every season religiously since 1999. Sadly, if things keep going in a negative direction (street circuits, and the sheer number of races) I can see it becoming a real issue for me. I’ve already drawn the line at Sprint Shootout, I haven’t watched one of those yet.

  11. F1 has many CITY TRACKS, but only few of them are STREET TRACKS. Can we finally get this right?!?

  12. There’s a far simpler answer here.

    The number of city circuits in F1 has risen because, a few years ago, it was very low.

    The number of city circuits in Formula E has fallen because, a few years ago, it was very high.

    Each number was only likely to move in one direction. Now they’re both at more moderate levels – there’s room to go either way in the future.

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