Formula E’s first visit to Cape Town put the city under a global spotlight, and it shone

Formula E’s first visit to Cape Town put the city under a global spotlight, and it shone
Team Nissan Formula E during the 2023 Cape Town E-Prix Free Practice 2 on February 25, 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Ziyaad Douglas / Gallo Images)

The Cape Town E-Prix pulled in the crowds as the Mother City put on its best for a global audience, and it did not disappoint.

The sun was shining in a bright blue sky as Table Mountain provided a formidable backdrop and the waves lapped at the shore. With the exception of a bit of wind in the city, Cape Town was showing off. What a perfect day to go racing.

Fans came to Green Point in their droves on Saturday, 15 February for the inaugural Cape Town E-Prix, seeking the thrill of Formula E’s all-electric racing. Children wore cardboard driver helmets while adults sported merchandise from a range of racing series, from MotoGP to Formula 1, and as the day heated up, the official Formula E caps could be spotted more and more among the crowd.

For those who arrived early, there were plenty of spots to check out the cars on track for Practice 2 at 9am. After practice the previous day, drivers were comfortable with the brand-new circuit and were putting their cars through their paces, but the grandstands remained fairly empty.

For the motorsport fan, arriving earlier meant getting a first taste of the action without all the crowds. When qualifying came a few hours later, many more had gathered to see drivers duel for grid positions. By the start of the race, grandstands were packed to capacity and viewing areas were crammed. The vibe truly was electric.

Black Coffee E-Prix

Grammy Award-winning DJ Black Coffee on the grid before the start of the inaugural Cape Town E-Prix on Sunday. (Photo supplied by Formula E).

Formula E not only brought world-class racing, but put on a world-class event. In the Fan Village people could relax on bean bags or eat lunch bought from the many food trucks around picnic tables. In the Gaming Arena visitors could test their skills around virtual circuits on racing simulators.

The activities made for a great day out, but the little details were equally as impressive. Helpers in bright-blue shirts were stationed throughout the vast venue, giving directions, pointing out landmarks and giving event details. “Hydration stations” offered sustainable cups that could be filled for free with fresh, cool water – no more endless queues for overpriced bottles like at some other events.

These recyclable cups are a small note, but signify a bigger effort made that is at the core of Formula E’s operation. In 2020, the series was certified as net-zero since its inception.

They are doing this by measuring and reducing carbon emissions across the whole event and then offsetting the “unavoidable” emissions. The cars themselves are powered by batteries that are charged by generators using biofuels, while the event partnered with Uber and MyCiTi to encourage fans to share rides and use local public transport. From the cars to the cups, it’s all about reducing the impact of the sport.

Graeme Smith

James Barclay, team director at Jaguar TCS Racing, with former South African cricket captain Graeme Smith. (Photo supplied by Formula E).

“We don’t need the electricity grid of any city to operate. We don’t need the actual power from any city in the world,” Formula E’s co-founder and co-owner, Alberto Longo, told Daily Maverick’s Craig Ray.

In South Africa, amid a crippling power crisis, it was fascinating to see different options available. With electric cars on show and generators buzzing, it was certainly food for thought.

South African motorsport shines

While the weekend was full of action-packed racing and electric energy, Cape Town was the real star. The event itself was world class and the beauty of this country was broadcast across the globe.

The city now joins a cohort of iconic cities on the Formula E calendar that includes London, Berlin, Mexico City and Monaco. And all over the world, Formula E fans were treated to spectacular racing that wove through Cape Town’s streets, with every turn producing a new landmark.

Table Mountain, Cape Town Stadium, Signal Hill and the Atlantic Ocean were all in view – before the race started, the helicopter film crew broadcast a scene of a whale nearby, just off the coast.

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All this, combined with the rolling shots of scenery shown throughout Saturday and Formula E’s own segment dedicated to exploring Cape Town, was a breathtaking show of support for South African tourism.

Not to mention the presence of South African stars who came out for a day at the races, from DJ Black Coffee to cricketer Graeme Smith. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was there too, and as he walked down the starting grid, cheers from the flanking grandstands followed him.

Read in Daily Maverick:

Spectacular Cape Town E-Prix gives a glimpse of a more sustainable future 

In pictures: The inaugural Cape Town E-Prix

Da Costa races to a dramatic and historic victory at Cape Town E-Prix

It was not only a big moment for the nation, but also for South African motorsport. South Africans are nothing if not supportive of local sports stars, and the way fans rallied behind ABT Cupra driver Kelvin van der Linde was particularly special. The significance of having the country’s flag up above the garage in an international championship cannot be overstated.

Siya Kolisi Formula E

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi with Naomi Schiff and Kelvin van der Linde of the ABT Cupra Formula E Team. (Photo supplied by Formula E).

South African James Barclay, who heads up the Jaguar team, remembers the last time international single-seater racing was seen at this level in the country, when Formula 1 last raced at Kyalami.

“I was at the last world championship in 1993, watching Ayrton Senna versus Alain Prost, and it’s been that long since we had a world championship race here,” Barclay told Daily Maverick.

“After 30 years, it’s been far too long. And for a country which has put a lot of people in this pit lane, not just in [Jaguar] but in many other teams, it shows there’s a real knowledge base here that has real value.

Formula E cars sweeping through Beach Road in Mouille Point. They reached speeds of 250km/h on this section of the track. (Photo supplied by Formula E)

“We’re looking forward to coming back and building the same year on year. So, hopefully [the Cape Town E-Prix] is a catalyst for other events to come because I think as a nation there’s a huge passion for the sport. We have a lot to offer.”

Speaking to journalists before the race, Van der Linde echoed Barclay’s hopes that Formula E’s presence in the country would inspire more racing in the country.

“I think if we can pull this event off and showcase something special on a world stage then we can put some pressure on the FIA to make it happen for Formula 1 too.” DM


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  • says:

    Well done the Cape.

    As much as I’d love to go and see the SA Grand Prix at Kyalami, I can’t see it happening, for the same apparent reason we lost this year’s rugby world cup – the rest of the country is such a stuff up that no one in their right minds would organise anything on that scale anywhere but in the Cape. Mind you, now we have the course here….?

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