Having worked for several weeks in Battersea Park the previous winter I was astonished at the transformation of the place to accommodate the final round of the inaugural Formula E championship. Much like Albert Park in Australia, this sleepy green parkland had been turned into a world class motorsport venue.
The concrete blocks attached to the barriers were pushed as far off the track as possible and yet still there was little room to overtake. This didn’t stop the drivers from whizzing by at speeds scarcely believable on such narrow roads.
The event itself was brilliantly organised. It had been well advertised and thus was well attended. I had been lucky enough to meet Lucas Di Grassi and Daniel Abt at a driver event with DHL earlier in the week, just one of several ways anticipation was built in advance.
To get to the main spectator zone we walked through pleasant woodland past ponds immediately at odds with the high octane action beyond the trees. The fan area was like a festival site with plenty of decent but predictably pricey food options (much like at the British Grand Prix). There were fun sponsor activations such as DHL’s bike pedalling challenge and almost as soon as we arrived a journalist from a Monaco radio station wanted to interview us about our experience so far. There was a real buzz about the place which only grew as the day progressed.
We attended the second day of racing – the season finale. London was lucky enough not only to host the final race but to stage the only double header of the season and the previous day’s action had set the scene nicely for the decider. Whilst Lucas Di Grassi was mathematically still in it, the title fight was really between Nelson Piquet Jr (he of Singapore crashgate 2008 fame) and Sebastien Buemi.
Luck was to play its part when the great British summer turned to rain. The Formula E qualifying format divides the cars into four groups which qualify one at a time. The timing of the rain proved crucial as Piquet ended up way down the order whilst Buemi started at the front. We headed to the outside of the track in the first sector to watch.
The race turned out to be a thriller, right up until even after the chequered flag had flown. With enough incidents, overtakes and changes of championship outcome to keep the whole crowd breathless, Formula E certainly won a lot of fans that day. Piquet’s advancement through the field after a slow start on a clever strategy whilst Buemi recovered from a spin meant there was never a dull moment. Even after the end of the race there was more drama to come when it transpired that the first car to cross the line had used up its entire battery life and was diqualified, promoting home favourite Sam Bird to top spot. The points standings duly changed but even so Piquet had still done just enough to be crowned the first ever Formula E champion.
Afterwards we rushed over the bridge back to the fanzone for the podium celebrations. It was a fantastic atmosphere and a great end to an event with a promising future. Let’s hope Formula E returns to Battersea in 2016.
Need to know
Cheapest tickets (no grandstand but still perfectly adequate although can get crowded): £15 + £1.80 Ticketmaster fee
Nearest station: Queenstown Road