The streets of Rome's EUR suburb host the second edition of Formula E
Rome has a prestigious history when it comes to drawing crowds to watch the thrills and spills of a race.
Gone might be the days of 300,000 Romans squeezing into the banks of the Circus Maximus to watch and cheer the victors of the famed chariot races.
But 2,000 years on, the spirit and entertainment of the battle lives on in the streets of the Eternal City as the capital gears up to host the super-charged speedsters of Formula E for the second consecutive year.
The auto-racing series began a love-affair with Rome in 2018 when the inaugural race zoomed into and around the southern EUR district of the city.
One year later it is returning as an evolved race – given the fast-paced development of electric cars and the technology that powers them to great speeds – with bigger sporting names in attendance.
Former Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa from Brazil, who came within a whisker of winning the world championship in 2008 only for Britain's Lewis Hamilton to take it away from him on the final corner, has joined the series this year along with fellow former F1 drivers Jean-Eric Vergne from France, Nelson Piquet Jnr from Brazil and Sebastien Buemi from Switzerland.
However, Brazilian Felipe Nasr, another former Formula 1 star, has confirmed he will miss the Rome leg of the series to defend his title in the IMSA SportsCar Championship, a car racing serues based in the US and Canada – International Motor Sports Association.
For those not in the know, Formula E is a class of motorsport only using electric-powered cars, with a limited maximum power set to 180 kilowatts.
The championship is now into its fifth season, having started in Beijing in 2014. Races take place on temporary city-centre circuits, encapsulating some of the most impressive sites in the world – not least in Rome.
This year the feast of racing, which will also include qualifying sessions and a race of electric-powered Jaguars, takes place in Rome on Saturday 13 April with reasonably-priced tickets on sale for the best spots to see the grandstand finish.
A place in the raised Tribuna at the start/finish line, with views of the circuit and giant screens playing the television coverage, costs €40 for adults and with a reduced rate of €20 for young adults (16-24) and seniors (upward of 65 years). To guarantee a coveted place overlooking the finish, Tribuna Premium ticket prices are higher – €60 for adults with a reduced rate of €30.
Each ticket also includes admittance into the Allianz E-Village, providing an immersive festival of motorsport technology for all the family.
However most of the attention will be focused on the track where the drivers will test their speed through a 2.8-km route around the so-called Circuito Cittadino dell’EUR, around a suburb synonymous for its fascist-era architecture and expansive spaces.
The start/finish line will be positioned on Via Cristoforo Colombo near the Obelisco di Marconi with the drivers weaving past Massimiliano Fuksas's fututistic Rome Convention Centre, La Nuvola, before the track splits for the pit lane around the Palazzo dei Congressi built orginally for the 1942 Universal Exposition.
The drivers will then make their way around the Obelisco di Marconi with the majestic backdrop of Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, also known as Colosseo Quadrato, currently home to fashion house Fendi.
The course, the second longest in Formula E, was designed to test the drivers’ skills to the maximum and it presents a total of 21 turns.
However, the drivers don't have to swerve potholes like the rest of commuters in the capital. The race organisers agreed to fund a carpet of asphalt over Rome’s badly maintained roads.
The drivers made a big impression during their time in Italy and a selection of them even met Pope Francis at his Vatican residence prior to racing alongside the Spanish founder and CEO of the series Alejandro Agag.
The race itself was an enthralling battle with a thrilling ending as Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird from the UK claimed glory ahead of Brazilian Audi driver Lucas di Grassi – after Switzerland's long-time leader Felix Rosenqvist retired with left-rear suspension damage after catching a kerb.
However, the results in Rome only played a fraction of a part in the overall standings for the 2017/18 series and Jean-Eric Vergne climbed above di Grassi and Bird to claim the Drivers’ Championship at the end of the calendar for his team Techeetah, based in China.
Unfortunately this year Rome does not have any home hopefuls in the race after Luca Filippi lost his seat in the British NIO Formula E Team at the end of last season.
The Roman leg will be the seventh race of the Formula E series and the standings already make for interesting reading with points spread between the major teams vying for the overall title.
This year’s championship has also seen a number of important technological advancements in the ever-developing sport. For the first time, all 22 cars on the track have enough energy storage capacity to last the whole race so mid-race car swaps have become a thing of the past.
Gen 2 cars
The second generation “Gen 2” cars, which have double the power of the Gen 1 cars used in previous series, can accelerate from 0 to 100km per hour in just 2.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 280km per hour (about 90/100 km per hour slower than Formula 1).
This has meant greater speed for the Batmobile-esque vehicles which has, in turn, helped create a competitive grid of drivers in the opening races of the series.
Portuguese racer Antonio Felix Da Costa, of the BMW I Andretti Motorsport team, came out on top in the opening race of the calendar at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia in December – as Massa’s start to life in the championship ended with a disappointing 17th place finish.
Vergne, the reigning champion, came home second on the podium ahead of Jerome D’Ambrosio of Belgium – who then claimed the second race on the streets of Marrakesh in January.
Sam Bird responded to reach the chequered flag first in the third race at Santiago while the fourth went the way of Lucas Di Grassi – both of whom will be seeking success on their return to Rome.
As well as the main action on track, Rome has also secured a leg of the newly-introduced Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY – the world’s first all-electric mass-produced international race series.
The ten-race calendar, which is the official support race of Formula E, sees 20 Jaguar I-PACE racing cars with identical specifications going head to head allowing driver skill and team tactics alone to determine who will be crowned champion. The race in Rome will take place before the Formula E race on 13 April.
By Ed White
For full details, including route and tickets, see website.
This article was published in the April 2019 edition of Wanted in Rome magazine.