Malaysia had its own fair share of history in motorsports, when the country first hosted the World Motorcycle Championship (MotoGP) at the (now gone) Shah Alam Circuit back in 1991, and held its first ever Formula One race in 1999 at Sepang. This year, the second round of the new FIA Formula E Championship was held on the streets of Putrajaya.
With the Putrajaya ePrix is done and dusted, yours truly have looked back on what made the inaugural Formula E (FE) race in Malaysia a memorable event.
1. Putrajaya street circuit
Ask any race fans and they will tell you that the majority of street circuits are mainly misses than hits; which includes Singapore’s Marina Bay, Monaco’s Circuit de Monaco and Russia’s new Sochi Autodrom. Not to forget, the first ePrix in China was mostly dull until the final lap.
However, the Putrajaya Street Circuit has turned out to be the biggest surprise, as last Saturday’s race was action-packed that kept fans on the edge of their seats. The Putrajaya Street Circuit may be short, but the circuit’s challenging layout, coupled with plenty of overtaking opportunities meant good news for race fans. FE drivers such as race winner Sam Bird and many other drivers praised the circuit’s layout; not forgetting FE CEO Alejandro Agag who gave thumbs up to the Putrajaya ePrix, which took the championship to new heights.
If that is not enough, a quick check on a popular motorsports forum revealed fans enjoyed the action in Putrajaya, which indirectly made them fans of the single-seater race series in the process. In short, the Putrajaya street circuit has achieved something many other street circuits have failed – pure proper racing.
On a side note, events like Formula One are infamous for overcharging food and beverages. Over here, my breakfast consisting of packed fried rice and three curry puffs just cost me RM5. A can of soft drink costs RM3 each, where similar items will cost RM10 in Sepang. There are a variety of food trucks around the spectators area and food were reasonably priced as well.
2. Crowd Response
Undoubtedly the organisers of the Putrajaya round could have done more to promote the event, as there were many empty seats on the grandstand. Crowd turnout was average at best, with locals seen scattered around the general admission area. While the tickets in FE are more more affordable than F1 (the cheapest ticket for general admission is priced at RM50), I would think the disappointing crowd turnout is acceptable given the fact that the FE championship is still new.
Apart from intensive promotions, perhaps the organisers should also look into introducing Malaysian drivers on the FE grid. Our country has a good number of single-seater drivers such as Jazeman Jaafar, Nabil Jefri and Weiron Tan, hence getting them to race at least a one-off race will garner local crowds. After all, this is a proven tactic as seen in MotoGP, where the crowd turnout in Sepang has increased steadily after the inclusion of Malaysian riders in Moto3 and Moto2 categories.
3. FE engages the young
Recently, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was vilified with his recent comments that F1 doesn’t need the young crowd and social media is pointless. This is the complete opposite in FE, where the organisers knows the importance of reaching out to the younger crowd.
Using social media platforms to engage fans, FE introduced the FanBoost system which allows fans to vote for their favourite driver, giving them extra power boost during the race. It may sound gimmicky, but Bruno Senna has shown that the FanBoost system works when he exploited the extra 40bhp of boost to overtake Nicolas Prost during the race in Putrajaya.
Knowing that Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is popular among the young crowd, FE complements that with the introduction of Formula EJ. The EJ, which looks similar to deadmau5, plays dance music that suits the action during the race day, with the music reaching crescendo when the race action gets intense. In other words, this could be the way for organisers to tackle the lack of noise from the FE cars.
4. Formula E drivers are high calibre
The current FE grid consists of former F1 drivers, endurance racing drivers, and those who missed to secure a spot in the pinnacle of motorsports. That didn’t matter as the current grid in Formula E features some of the best racing drivers around.
Take for instance Stephane Sarrazin. The 39-year old French is one of the world’s most versatile drivers, with Sarrazin is competing in rallying, endurance racing (via Toyota Racing) and single seaters (Formula E). Sebastian Buemi has just been crowned as world champion in this year’s WEC, and Lucas Di Grassi finished second overall with Audi in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Race winner Sam Bird was a runner-up from GP2 in 2013, where he joined FE after failing to secure a racing seat in F1.
With F1 currently riddled with controversies and lack of opportunities, these professional drivers saw the potential with FE. Who knows the current crop of F1 drivers may soon jump over to FE in the near future…
5. FE could set the future of F1
With F1 embracing modern and greener technologies such as hybrid powertrains and energy recovery systems, the future of F1 cars could likely be following the steps of FE’s Spark-Renault SRT_01E car. After all, that car was a collaboration between parties involved in F1 such as Renault, Williams and McLaren. We could imagine future F1 drivers piloting electric single-seater in the forestry tracks of Monza or high-speed tracks such as Silverstone; while at the same time keeping environmental activist at bay.
On that note, we could look the SRT_01E car to define the future F1 racers just like how the Cadillac Type 53 defined the modern cars we drive today. As much as the tech boffins are enhancing these cars with more power and battery range, let’s hope they also don’t forget to improve engine noise!