Address: Tempelhofer Park, Tempelhof, 12101 Berlin, Germany
Circuit type: Temporary airfield course
Formula E picked an iconic location for its first German event; the former Tempelhof airport, complete with its enormous main terminal, which is among the largest listed buildings in the world. Once a symbol of freedom for Berliners during the Cold War, it is now being turned into an event centre, office spaces, museum and large outdoor park.
Sited on the giant apron of the terminal building, the orignal anti-clockwise ePrix course wound around 2.469km of a twisty layout, which packed in 17 turns despite its relatively short distance. Event though it was an airport track, the circuit was based on the main apron and made no use of the former runways. Part of the circuit passed under the large canopy of the terminal building, which used to provide protection from the elements for passengers boarding departing aircraft.
The course was designed by Rodrigo Nunes, who also designed the Buenos Aires ePrix circuit and the Porto track used by the WTCC.
Originally built in 1927, Berlin-Tempelhof was extensively re-constructed during the 1930s by the Nazis, becoming one of the largest buildings in the world when it opened, constructed in a quadrant measuring some 1.2 kms. The building complex was designed to resemble an eagle in flight with semicircular hangars forming the bird's spread wings, though due to the outbreak of World War II it was never completed for civilian use, instead becoming a manufacturing base for Junckers and Focke-Wolfe bombers. Elsewhere on the site was housed Berlin's only SS concentration camp.
At the end of the war, the airport was handed over to the US military and became famous in 1948/49 during the Berlin Air Lift, when Western Forces kept the besieged Berlin population supplied with food and other necessities during the Soviet blockade of all other routes into the city. During the division of Germany the airport became a gateway to freedom for many people. US Forces remained at the airport during the Cold War, but following the reunification of Germany in 1990 it reverted to civilian-only use.
Once one of the busiest airports in the world, aided by its close proximity to the city centre, in the late 1990s, plans were made to concentrate domestic and international air traffic in Berlin and Brandenburg at one airport: Berlin-Schönefeld International Airport. Tegel and Tempelhof were both to close as part of the plans, but in the end only Tempelhof ended flight operations, with the last planes leaving in 2008.
Since then, the facility has been transforming itself into an events centre and outdoor park. Fashion shows and a music festival have been held here and, aside from Formula E, the DTM touring car championship began negotiations in 2013 with the city government about holding a round of its series at Tempelhof but, to date, nothing has come of this.
In its first appearance as a racing circuit in 2015, Jarno Trulli scored an unexpected pole position, which proved the high spot in a dismal position. At the start he soon slipped down the order and out of contention, eventually retiring. The race was initially won by championship leader Lucas di Grassi, but after di Grassi's car was found to have used a modified front wing, the victory was handed to second-placed Jérôme d'Ambrosio.
Although included on the 2015-16 Formula E calendar, the race was switch to a new circuit on Alexanderplatz after Tempelhof was converted into a refugee camp as part of the German's capital's response to the European migration crisis. Problems with the new venue, however, meant that Templehof was back in favour by 2017, albeit with a new layout. This includes a section of the track passing through the 'Emotion' village, forming a short tunnel. After the Brussels ePrix fell through, Formula E organisers elected to make the Berlin event a double-header.
In 2018 the track was mildly revised, with three changes from the year before: the first involved the re-positioning of the pit lane entry from Turn 10 to after the final corner. The second saw the 180-degree Turn 6 right-hander moved away from the center of a braking zone slightly, allowing for a straighter approach to the hairpin and to provide more overtaking opportunities. This also resulted in the length of the straight increasing by some 40 metres (130 ft). These alterations increased the track's overall length by 100 metres (330 ft).
There were no further track alterations in 2019, though the tunnel section after Turn 3 was elminated with the relocation of the 'Emotion' village.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Formula E struck a deal with the Berlin authorities to host the remaining races of the 2019/20 season at Tempelhof. A total of six races will be run in August, with a mix of weekend and mid-week races. Each pair of races will use a different track configuration, presenting opportunities for distinct strategies, while the events will be held behind closed doors. As per German government guidelines, there will be a maximum number of 1,000 people on site at any given time, including local suppliers and medical crews with each Formula E team bringing 20 staff. All other operations will be carried out remotely.
The first pair of races sees the track layout reversed, while the middle pair sees the electric racers use the more traditional layout. The final pair of races takes place on a revised circuit, with a set of sweeping curves added to the back straight and a more technical set of corners added after the hairpin. A return to the original pit lane layout is also suggested on the track maps released by the organisers, no doubt due to its greater suitability for reversed running.
"It is a huge undertaking in terms of production to set up three different configurations for this event, with fewer people on-site to be able to carry out those changes," said Frederic Espinos, Formula E Sporting Director. "We're doing something that has never been seen before in world-class motorsport and it's an example of how reactive and innovative Formula E is – it's in our DNA.
"Racing in both directions has a lot of implications. It is not just turning all braking markers and the grid boxes around. Other international series wanted to make this happen but their proposals were rejected by the governing body. We had to make sure all the broadcast technology, overlays, branding, safety measures, barriers, kerbs and run-off worked and plan accordingly for this – whilst also making the changes viable in just 24 hours, with reduced resources.
"The third track will be more technical, so totally different again in terms of energy management and what the teams might be used to or expecting.
"All along, we aimed to make their lives as tricky as possible in Berlin, limiting the effectiveness of their simulation work and throwing strategies up in the air. Car setups will all need to change, energy management and regen will be completely different and teams will have to think on their feet. There will be a lot for drivers and engineers to get on top of before we go green and I feel the Formula E spectacle fans are familiar with will be pushed a step further still with this additional bundle of unknowns."
The 'NILREB' project to reverse the Tempelhof layout was in the pipeline prior to the global pandemic, with Formula E's Sporting team always looking to spring a surprise on competitors and the fans watching on.
"The FIA and the German motor racing authorities have supported us constructively all the way, allowing our experienced team of track engineers to make this happen and we are grateful for their support and co-operation," said Espinos. "NILREB was in progress before the current situation. Our idea was to do one day clockwise, one day anticlockwise. We started to work on it at the turn of the year and set up a working group end of February.
"We were juggling some super good and cost-effective ideas. We were working on this idea prior to the current circumstances as we are always trying our hardest to surprise people and do something new and groundbreaking."
The Berlin ePrix is located at the former Tempelhof Airport in south-central Berlin. The closest and main airport is Tegel (TXL) located just three miles (5km) from the city and well connected via the underground system. Alternatively, there's Schönefeld Airport (SXF), situated in the south-east around 11 miles (18km) from the Ost district. Both offer easy access to the city via public transport.
Getting to Tempelhof is probably easiest by public transport as Berlin benefits from one of the best networks in Europe (www.bvg.de), consisting of buses, trams, U-Bahn (underground) and S-Bahn (elevated) trains. A standard ticket (BVG Einzelfahrschein) costs around €2.70 and is valid for two hours in all directions and on all forms of public transport. A 24-hour ticket costs around €6.90, or for those staying for longer you can purchase a Berlin Welcome Card (€26,70), which entitles holders to 72-hours use on public transport.
The nearest U-Bahn station is Paradestraße on line U6, although Platz der Luftbrücke is also a short walk from the entrance. If you want to take in the public park area, Tempelhof station is best as it is only a short distance from the park gates on Tempelhofer Damm.
By bus, take service 104 to Platz der Luftbrücke while on the S-Bahn services S41, S42, S46, S47 will take you to Tempelhof station from where it is a short walk.