When I was around 6 years old, I remember sitting on top of bunkbeds still wearing patent party shoes and a velvet party dress watching the scene below. It was early evening on Christmas day, we were at my cousin’s house. On the carpet there were large scraps of thematic, recently discarded paper. With younger cousins Hugh and Oli strangely nowhere to be seen, instead, my father and my uncle were in their places lying on the floor putting bits together. The Scalextric had been unwrapped.
Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to go along to the London segment of Formula E – a wholly electric car racing series, that here in our capital, would run along the streets in Battersea Park. Using cars that are similar in looks to any Formula One car, the paddock on the day was buzzing with speed-dreamed anticipation. All teams set. All ready to go. At the DS Virgin Racing tent – sponsors of British driver Sam Bird, we were shown around the four-wheeled dreams. All of the cars have the same chassis and battery, but as of the second season this year, different motors, gearboxes, inverters and cooling systems are now allowed. Top speeds, being battery powered, are naturally slower than their F1 equivalents (225kmh/140mph), but their acceleration, is mind-blowingly quick. These formula E cars smash through 0-100kmph (61mph) in 2.9 seconds. Just try to match that!
This year’s season saw drivers compete in 10 heats stretching over 9 countries where destinations included Berlin, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Long Beach, L.A. The races are designed to be a street road race, like something out of any car-racing video game perhaps, but were sadly not allowed on the main roads of London this time. That said, organizer and CEO Alejandro Agag tells us that he has distinct memories of having to go out at four o’clock in the morning to Battersea Park with a car and driver, so that the council could test to ensure the sound levels were not above regulations, and that the residents of Battersea would not be disturbed from their sleep, in the middle of the night, or otherwise.
The race, like Formula One, has its practice heats, with the final race of the day lasting for forty-five minutes, followed by another half an hour. You can give your preferred drivers some extra oompf with the interactive element of the FanBoost – a voting system powered by social media (the whole competition has had a mere 4.7 billion mentions so far). Possibly the most exciting part of watching Formula E is the pit stop, as this is not like any other racing pit stop. With the cars 200kw batteries charged, they wind down to a hair-raising 0% (as smart-phone owners, we’ve all been there at a nail-biting, yellow-coded, near-flatline two percent), and so instead of re-fueling, they instead have to change cars.
This in turn means that they have to jump out of car one in rapid time, into car two that is fully-charged, ready and waiting to go. With a few near collisions as they exit the pits ready to speed around the track again, it is goose-bump-inducing stuff. The skill is all in the leap. The race lasts one hour, during which time, the cars fly past crowds of enthusiastic spectators making a day of it along the gardens of the Thames. We pitch up by the Albert Memorial to wave on our own favourites, but not before we have set foot in the VIP spectating area where, with butler-service, two life-size model cars are available for all your best photo moments. Here too, as in the EMOTION Club VIP hospitality tent that overlooks the pits, is where you’ll be doused in Mumm Champagne’s newly packaged Grand Corton NV. Moving with the times in style, Mumm used to be the main sponsor of Formula One, but promoting #DareWinCelebrate has now switched over to Formula E.
On the day itself there are other cocktails being served, first showcased at a launch dinner, a week prior at Tower Bridge. High up over the Thames, guests were party to liquid dreams served in Martini glasses – this specific one in a colour matching not only the Formula E pantone, but perhaps co-incidentally, the colour of Tower Bridge’s own bright blue iron-work. These cocktails, the curious work of well-known duo who play with their food for a living, Bompass and Parr, had one clear requirement – to use the aquafuel that powers the generators that charge the Formula E batteries in their chosen drinks. If that’s enough to make to spill your champagne – it is entirely safe and true. Glycerine, the key ingredient, is a sweet-tasting, non-toxic liquid that is 100% sustainable (such is the Formula E mission), and, as such 100% fully drinkable.
In the collection is the Dunaliella Salina Gin Fizz – made with Dunaliella salina algae-infused Beafeeter Gin, lemon juice, glycerine, egg white and soda water, the Formula E Cocktail – 50ml ‘electrified Absolut Citron Vodka (to electrify the vodka, infuse 10-15 Szechuan buttons and 10-15 Japanese sancho peppercorns into a 750ml bottle of vodka), triple sec, lemon juice, glycerine and egg white, finishing with an Electrified Pickleback where the gherkins were electrified so that they glow in front of our faces – (something to do with the way electricity reacts to the salts in the gherkins and acid in the vinegar) – certainly something to savour, if not talk about at the very least (Editor’s note – don’t try this at home). Mumm too had their own Champagne cocktail created specially – using 20ml Bay Laurel-infused glycerine, Mumm Grand Cordon champagne, and a golden dipped Bay Laurel leaf, as seen on the wreaths hung round the necks of the winning drivers themselves.
Of course, the closing ceremony of the race, crowd and drivers were suitably doused in Mumm Champagne from the podium, sprayed out with palpable adrenaline. On the first day of the two that I went to, winners were the incredible Nico Prost, racing for Reneault E Dams and son of F1 Legend Alain Prost, Bruno Senna racing for Mahindra Racing and nephew of the great motor-racing legend that was Aytron Senna, whilst finishing third was Jean-Èric Vergne, racing for DS Virgin Racing. Heart-stopping to see such next-generation racing icons so up-close. Overall, the 2015-16 championship was won by Sébastien Buemi – a happy moment of real joy after his the heartache he experienced earlier this season at Le Mans.
Highly recommended, the perfect chance to sup on newly launched Grand Cordon Mumm Champagne and an excellent all-round day out. Wherever you are in the world, make a note to check out the 2016-17 edition, and re-live your very own grown-up scalextric dreams. It’s electrifying!
The 2016/17 FIA Formula E Championship calendar features 14 races, to be staged in 12 of the world’s leading cities, with double-headers in Montreal and New York. In addition to the ePrix, there will be a special event, the FIA Electric Mobility Forum, which will take place in Las Vegas on January 7. For more information, visit www.fiaformulae.com.