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[From the scene] Seoul’s first Formula E race leaves much to be desired

Aug. 16, 2022 - 08:43 By Kim Da-sol

Seoul hosted the country’s first electric car racing event over the weekend, after the competition was delayed twice due to pandemic, but despite the hype for the motorsports extravaganza, the season finale left a wake of disappointment regarding its management and operation. 

Seoul E-Prix, the final race of season eight of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, was held on Saturday and Sunday. Races took place on a 2.7-kilometer track constructed around and looping through Jamsil Olympic Stadium in southern Seoul. Of 22 players from 11 teams, Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne and his Mercedes-EQ clinched the championship title for the 2021-22 season. 

All Formula E teams are required to use the official race car -- Gen 2 -- but the powertrain can be modified according to their strategy. Still, batteries cannot be changed. Adding entertainment elements inspired from online racing games, a driver could collect an extra 30 kilowatts of power when they pass through the “Activation Zone.” The top five drivers, based on an online vote, were also offered another 20 kilowatts for five seconds during the race. 

On Saturday, a rain-soaked circuit caused eight cars to crash just on the first lap, leading to a 40-minute delay before racing could resume. On Sunday, the event went relatively smooth with dry track conditions. Sunday’s event marked the 100th race for Formula E, which kicked off in 2014. 

Despite nearly 50,000 visitors gathering for the two-day event, the management of the race stoked complaints. Organizer Formula E Korea hurriedly changed or canceled press conferences and interviews with drivers at the last minute. Tracks were still under construction a day prior to the event. 

The organizer said they were undergoing repairs due to heavy rainfall earlier in the week. 

Unreasonably high ticket prices also caused public discontent. 

Prices ranged from 99,000 won to 500,000 won, about three to four times more than previous races held in cities like London and New York. The organizer and city of Seoul said the price included costs for its experience zone and entry to events like a K-pop concert. The city hosted Seoul E-Prix as part of the citywide Seoul Festa. 

But high prices slowed ticket sales, with the organizer giving away free tickets in the last days leading up to the competition. Some also criticized the city for using the global race as its own promotional event. 

“Not to mention the expensive price of the ticket, when I arrived at the venue, I was surprised to see that half of the screens from what I (should be able to) see in my seat were blocked. Considering that races take place on the track outside the stadium, what was the point of buying this expensive ticket with a limited view?” a 41-year-old fan surnamed Kim told The Korea Herald. Kim’s ticket was 199,000 won. 

Others also said the experience zone did not live up to the name value of the global race.

Only a number of companies, such as carmakers Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, set up promotional booths, as other global firms including ABB, DHL and Samsung Electronics used the experience zone to showcase their latest devices. 

Irrelevant events such as a Pokemon parade and K-pop concert took place alongside the race. However, such events did create a festive mood, but instead raised questions about whether visitors were even aware of or interested in Formula E.

The organizer aims to hold another event for the 2022-23 season of Formula E in Korea in May next year, with new racing teams such as McLaren and Maserati joining. If successful, the next-generation Gen 3 cars that are faster, lighter and more efficient are expected to debut here.