Formula E wins armwrestle for New York

Formula One was forced to retreat from New York after two failed attempts to host a street circuit in New Jersey and must now (even at its imperious best) be feeling its lunch has been carved by an unwelcome uncle at Christmas dinner.

Flushing Meadows was the first stab at bringing Formula One to the Apple Isle, but any hopes to create the same hysteria the Beatles did at Shea Stadium ultimately fell flat on its face. The second attempt - the Grand Prix of America in New Jersey - was first announced in October 2011, with a June 2013 target date. The planned street circuit was expected to run through Weehawken and West New York, against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.

Because of financial setbacks, the race was postponed to 2014 as an asterix under a ‘proposed calendar, with the event eventually scrapped altogether due to promoter lack of funds.

There were suggestions that Indycar could have swept in and use the rudimentary infrastructure for their own signature event, but that would still have required millions to pull it off, not to mention the know-how required to navigate the treacherous political waters of the waterfront district.

New Jersey politics is a sport in itself. Even American national treasure, Paul Newman failed to land ChampCar to Brooklyn after being knocked back by a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) opposition and environmental group coalition wanting to protect the local environment – not dissimilar to the Save Battersea Park Group opposed to the London ePrix, but with more muscle and structure attached.

Even NASCAR – not arguably a favourite of the red state – had their proposal to run an oval race at Staten Island blown out of the water by NIMBY opposition and trade unions vehemently opposed to the traffic – and particular fans – created by such an event.

And yet, Formula E impresario Alejandro Agag, has pulled off the seemingly impossible by securing a Brooklyn event for the electric single seater series in July next year, making it a first FIA-sanctioned open-wheel race to take place within the five boroughs of New York City in modern history.

The circuit, which remains subject to FIA track homologation, features 13 turns and will wind its way around Pier 11 and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, giving sponsors and manufacturers a dream location and maximum air-time given the historical significance of the event.

Formula E’s successful Paris event last year should’ve been a warning to Formula One that a New York event wasn’t too far away, but with energy efficiency, transportation and air-pollution being key issues for one of the most populated states in America, the opportunity for Formula E to showcase what can be done with electric alternatives to large urban populations is a win for the series, manufacturers and local government.

In 2014, Formula E was regarded not so much as a joke, but as a series destined to be a cursory footnote in the motorsport calendar year. Now, even its most hardened critics must recognise its mainstream potential by bringing open-wheeler racing to the masses when Formula One still persists in running on circuits that require a one-hour train ride to put bums on seats – with crowds sometimes artificially augmented by rent-a-crowds on a Sunday afternoon.

Liberty Group’s recent purchase and subsequent announcement to expand the Formula One’s footprint via social media and marketing has come at a very interesting time. The underlying principle of chess strategy in the opening phase is control of the board’s centre squares. If ever there was a centre square in the U.S., then New York is it.

It’s no surprise then that Liberty has been looking at Alejandro Agag as a potential replacement for Bernie Ecclestone when he eventually ‘retires’.