By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Sam Bird was a winner when the electric Formula E series made its London debut last year and hopes to repeat the feat this weekend in a season finale facing an uncertain future.
Formula E is seeking a new venue in the capital, following an agreement not to return to Battersea Park after this year’s event in the face of stiff local opposition to motor racing on their doorstep.
There has been talk about staging a race on the city streets but a draft calendar for the 2016-17 circulating in recent weeks had Montreal and New York as the final rounds of the third season and London omitted.
“I think it’s disappointing,” Bird, a former Mercedes Formula One test driver who now races in Formula E for the DS Virgin Racing team, told Reuters.
“I think it is a shame that we are going to be leaving Battersea Park.
“As a British driver, driving for a semi-British team with the Virgin connection, we would love to have a race in London. Most teams are based in the UK, so I think it’s a big hub for Formula E. To do it in the heart of London makes sense.”
Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag told Reuters that talks were ongoing with the Mayor of London’s office about alternative venues.
“How quick that can happen, or if ever that can happen, we don’t know yet. We are working on it,” he said, expressing optimism that a race might be possible for season four but also sounding a note of caution.
“London is really important for us and we want to be here but you can only do what you can do. If we don’t find the right venue, we’re not going to force it. We’re not going to try at any price to be here.”
Bird, who competes in the World Endurance Championship with a Ferrari team, is committed to the electric series with its unique features such as fanboost — fans voting via twitter to give their favorite driver a power boost. He remained hopeful.
“We’ve been able to secure other venues around the world that Formula One hasn’t been able to achieve, like New York, so why not London as well?” he said.
“(Racing) around some of the great venues of London. That would be phenomenal.”
Bird heads into the weekend third in the championship, with Brazilian Lucas Di Grassi and Switzerland’s Sebastien Buemi fighting for the title, and convinced he is in the right place.
“I see it as a very stable, secure series now,” he said. “I think it did well in season one, it’s done even better in season two. It’s going from strength to strength… I want to be a part of it, to see it grow until it’s a really big series.
“It’s got such a unique selling point that I don’t see why it can’t.
“It’s got quite a lot of momentum already so if we keep on evolving, coming up with new technologies, new and exciting ways to race and new cities to go to, making good spectacles in these cities, there’s no reason why we can’t be a globally massive series.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)