On the morning of the first ever Formula E race in the United states, the press office located in the American Airlines Arena was set to open at 7AM. Worried about the impending crowd and the limited parking, I arrived an hour before that. I paid $20 to leave my rental car in the parking lot of "Will Call," a bar that was inexplicably still open but was conveniently located right behind the main grandstand. I gathered my camera gear and got out of the car, ready for a 12-hour day of watching electric race cars carve their way around the streets of Miami. It was at that moment I realized there was a family of four parked next to me in a mini-van doing the same thing.
In the dark.
While Will Call was still finishing up last call.
The point I'm making is that — even though Formula E is a brand new series that lacks a true international star, even though the cars turn most motorsports fans off because they eschew combustion engines for electric ones, even though that means there's "no sound" — something big is happening here just six races into the sport's inaugural 11-race season. Formula E is probably already a success on a number of measurable levels, but if anything, it's at least already successful enough to make families try to get to the event before the sun is up.
That's impressive, especially considering that legacy racing series like NASCAR — which at its peak brought around 100,000 people to most races — are bleeding fans left and right. But it all makes sense once you've seen these cars in action.
Formula E might have arrived at the perfect time
Granted, I was so close that my camera and I were being pelted by bits of rubber that used to belong to Michelin and bits of gravel that used to belong to the City of Miami. My enthusiasm might be more measured if I had sat in the grandstands instead. But I've seen enough racing at speedways big and small to know when I'm watching an exciting series and when I'm watching a dud.
Formula E has to jump a lot of hurdles to achieve long-lasting success, and it's trying to do that at a time when basically every major motorsport in the world is on some sort of decline. But if the race in Miami was any indication of where it's going, it's off to a hell of a start.
- A cameraman shoots out of one of the only available photo holes in the fence. The setup of the track was so rushed that almost none of these special sections of fencing were installed.
- The streets around the American Airlines Arena were under construction for more than a week in order to prepare for the race.
- The Miami street course was laid out around the American Airlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat.
- Fans drape the flag of Spain over their balcony railing in support of Virgin driver Jaime Alguersuari.
- Fans watched from the grandstands, the infield, and from behind just about every section of fencing around the track.
- Richard Branson is one of the series's biggest champions. "I hope 10 years from now, 20 years from now, the smell of exhaust will be as much a thing of the past as the smell of cigarettes in a restaurant," he said before the race.
- A racing engineer for Virgin Racing helps get Sam Bird's car set up. Bird, who's won a race already, attributes his success to the behind-the-scenes work. "The guys are working flat-out," he said while we spoke the day before the race. They're also working on ideas for next year. "If you're ever standing still in this sport, you're going backwards. You have to always be keeping an eye on the future," Bird says.
- Formula E is such a globetrotting series that the cars are actually sent to each race location in giant DHL packages.
- Before and after each race, the cars are assembled, disassembled, and placed in these shipping containers.
- That means everything — from the tires, to the body work, to the lettering. Each car is put back together the day before each race.
- Members of the Amlin Aguri team roll Salvador Duran's car away from the inspection area.
- Nick Heidfeld makes some last-minute adjustments to his helmet before strapping in for the race.
- Amlin Aguri driver Salvador Duran and a member of his crew hop on scooters to take a lap of the course. The drivers spent a lot of time using scooters and bikes to drive the course while it was being built in order to get familiar with the layout.
- Legendary Formula One driver Alain Prost discusses race strategy with his son, Nico, who would go on to win the race in Miami.
- Vitantonio Liuzzi has a laugh with Michael Andretti and driver Scott Speed. Liuzzi had to fill in last minute for another driver, and was actually on vacation in Miami with his wife when he found out he was needed.
- Dozens of members of the media try to get a picture of the drivers, who assembled for a group photo.
- Open-wheel racing typically involves less contact than a stock car series like NASCAR, but Formula E is the exception. Tight street circuits and evenly matched cars mean there's lots of bumps, slams, and crashes.
- Track workers take a break from the heat while the first practice session gets underway. The track was still being completed right up until the beginning of the race.
- Karun Chandhok, who has driven in the Formula One and Le Mans series, takes a few laps around the course during the first practice session.
- The wheel of a Formula E car is, compared to the steering wheels of other series like Formula One, relatively low-tech in its appearance.
- Nico Prost, the eventual race winner, set the third-fastest lap in qualifying.
- The crowd in Miami was an extremely diverse one. There was a handful of traditional race fans, but many people made the trip from outside the city. Most seemed unfamiliar with the series and racing in general.
- António Félix da Costa speaks with a local reporter about the race. The drivers spent most of the day before the race working with the media.
- Track workers run through some final discussions before the race.
- As is the case with any type of racing, safety is paramount. Countless medics and firefighters were on hand should something have gone wrong.
- Locals watched from 20 stories up in the apartments and hotels that line Biscayne Blvd.
- Lucas di Grassi pulls into his spot on the starting grid on Biscayne Blvd.
- The first few laps of every Formula E race have been wild. All 20 cars are at their closest, and it's one of the best chances to overtake a number of positions.
- Sam Bird leads drivers out of the straightaway and through the first turn. This spot in particular was where drivers did a lot of regenerative braking to make their batteries last a bit longer.
- Drivers battle in traffic as they turn up the hill toward the American Airlines Arena.
- Lucas di Grassi speeds past fans on the back straightaway.
- Right before the race started a yacht pulled into the space between Museum Park and American Airlines Arena, providing one of the most exclusive views of the race.
- Nelson Piquet Jr., who has competed in Formula One and various levels of NASCAR, catches some air going around a corner.
- Sébastien Buemi chases Salvador Duran down the straightaway.
- An Andretti Racing driver zips past an opening in one of the concrete barriers. "I think it’s the future," team owner Michael Andretti said about Formula E. He's a former IndyCar and Formula One driver himself, and the son of the famous Mario Andretti.
- Formula E drivers speed north up Biscayne Blvd., past the paying crowd and people watching from their balconies.
- Track workers watch a driver speed down the main straightaway.
- Bruno Senna, nephew of famous Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, handles a turn on the Miami course. His best finishes so far have been fifth place in Buenos Aires and Long Beach.
- Virgin Racing driver Sam Bird fights the car's rough handling in one of the turns. "It’s a different form of motorsport, and it may not have a lot of sound, but it’s still exciting racing," he said the day before the race.
- The cars raced north along Biscayne Boulevard until they reached four turns that sent them under the 395 overpass.
- While most people in attendance had to pay to watch, many Miamians took refuge under the 395 overpass. It offered a great view of the cars as they fought through turn 4 before heading down Biscayne Blvd. towards the American Airlines Arena.
- Prost leads the field down the front straightaway late in the race. Miami was his first win in the series — he led most of the inaugural race in Beijing until he caused a wreck in the final turn.
- Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag watches the victory lane ceremonies.
- Nico Prost poses for a photo after winning the Miami ePrix.
- After the first place trophy was presented, Branson emerged from behind the podium with the trophy for second place finisher Scott Speed.
- Alain Prost presents his son, Nico, with the first place trophy.
- A member of the e.dams Renault crew swigs champagne in victory lane.
- The Formula E "EJ" poses for a photo in between spins of "Uptown Funk."
- The press center for the race was on the court at the American Airlines Arena where the Miami Heat play, and the drivers blew off some steam with a shoot-around session following a press photo. Driver António Félix da Costa — who only measures about 5 feet, 8 inches — got to dunk with a little help from a teammate.