Last weekend’s Santiago E-Prix was another bold chapter for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship as it planted another stake in the ground in South America.
Despite the record temperatures being less than conducive to a family day out, the crowd is believed to have been well over 20,000.
As is so often the case in Formula E, it was a sometimes surreal event from a sporting perspective.
Taking in some of the action during Free Practice 2 on Saturday morning at Turn 7 it was slightly disconcerting to hear the screams of the rollercoaster riders at the Fantasilandia theme park give a unique soundtrack to Lucas di Grassi and Sebastien Buemi’s efforts on track!
The venue of the race changed for 2019 from the Parque Forestal area close to the River Mapocho in the center of the city to the Parque O’Higgins facility a couple of miles further south.
The historic setting, named after Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the founding fathers of the Chilean capital, houses the Movistar Arena around which the Formula E circus raced last weekend.
It’s a leafy and pleasant area and one which has hosted Davis Cup tennis, music festivals and concerts by global artists such as Robbie Williams and 90s grunge slackers Pearl Jam.
After difficulties with bureaucracy and some less-than-friendly local residents in 2018, Formula E made the decision to relocate for the 2019 edition of the Santiago E-Prix.
The deal, spearheaded by Formula E co-founder Alberto Longo, focused on several key residual strategies including a wide-ranging legacy outlook for the park.
E-racing365 can reveal that a tax Formula E Holdings Ltd. had to pay in order to hire the facility was offered to the local neighbourhood to decide where best it could use the cash for renovations in the park.
Nine options were offered to the local jurisdiction, which was told to choose three legacy services to be paid for by Formula E.
Two of these are known to have been the re-asphalting of some of the park and special environmentally friendly efficient lighting organized through a directive with Formula E’s official partner Enel.
“For us the re-asphalting of the whole area was a major contribution from having a Formula E race take place,” Longo told e-racing365 last weekend.
“We are also doing the lighting of the park and other benefits that we did through the money donated to the municipality. Finally, the legacy in Santiago is becoming a big one.”
Longo and his team were flat-out welcoming governmental ministers and local mayor Felipe Alessandri who was pivotal to getting the race to Parque O’Higgins in the first place.
Twelve months is a long time in Formula E, and this time last year ‘the heat’ on Formula E was not solar but more social!
Cooling ‘The Heat’ in Santiago
It was far from an easy delivery to get the race on – Formula E races seldom are – yet compared to the 2018 edition 12 months earlier, it was a breeze.
“Last year the location of the circuit was over three different municipalities, which is a problem because the three mayors were from different political parties,” said Longo.
“On top of all the majors is the intendente which was headed up by Claudio Orrego Larraín, belonging to another different party.
“And then on top of that we have the government which was from a different party. It was a bit intense,” Longo says with a smile and more than a hint of understatement.
The local opposition was plain to see last season, with residents displeased at the disruption. Longo though, swiftly acknowledges that Formula E listened and reacted accordingly.
“Obviously we had an operational issue with the race closing the streets in the heart of the city,” he says candidly.
“Compare this to racing in a park, which is still in the city center, and you have a completely different story now.
“We cause some disruption to the neighbours there [if we race on city streets], but we cause zero disruption here and this location is much more versatile than the other one and it gives us room to expand.”
Parque O’Higgins is a place where Chileans do a lot of celebrating, including the Lollapalooza Chile music festival.
It is also where, in a country devoted to faith, they welcomed a quarter of a million people when Pope Francis came to town in early 2018.
Longo has delivered a shrewd strategy on the long-term future of the Santiago E-Prix and it is one which he readily acknowledges is very much step-by-step. It has to be, due to the complexities of lively local politics.
“After last year when things were a little bit shaky, you know, we decided to go a little low profile this time,” he says.
“The reality is we can be three to four times bigger than where we are now, and this venue allows us to grow.
“But there is a problem, as another challenge we face is that Felipe Alessandri is the mayor only up until 2020 and there is a local law that doesn’t allow him to sign further than that.
“We have their commitment to give us the permit for next year, but they cannot commit for the year after [at this stage].”
This means that Longo is now talking to the national government to see if they can help Formula E out to build a bridge between those elections as the park is owned by the municipality of Santiago.
Bigger Picture in Focus in South America
Santiago is a fantastic city, bursting with colour, culture and an appreciation of sport. It is also popular with most of the manufacturers and teams whose partners can experience a cosmopolitan population which has a genuine interest in EV technology.
Then of course there is the fact that the title partner of the E-Prix is Antofagasta.
The local mineral company is intrinsic to EV technology through its mining of materials that make up batteries and other key components.
And while the track broke up badly during the race this is not unknown in motorsport with such ferocious heat, and it just about got away without it impacting on the race too badly.
The facilities were generally good although the media center bunker was far from pleasant without adequate air-conditioning and one water dispenser for 250 people!
But these are minor points compared to the bigger picture which is seeing Formula E now building a more stable, long-term and interesting calendar which ticks off a multitude of important boxes.
Santiago is likely to be part of a South American double-header in January-February 2020 when another city on the continent joins the electric party.
As ever in Formula E, wherever an additional South American round might take place (check back on e-racing365 later this week for further clues), it will follow the DNA of the series in providing a unique and multi-faceted opportunity for the world to learn more about electric engineering and bigger-picture messaging for the future of sport and energy.