Battersea Park's circuit brought the new the Formula E Championship to London for its first series finale in June 2015. The track, using the perimeter roads of the park, proved a challenging layout, with a number of sweeping corners interspersed by the temporary chicanes which characterise Formula E tracks.
Narrow, bumpy and with trees obscuring much of the views for the spectators, it was never the most successful of Formula E's plethora of street courses.
Opposition from local residents groups and the threat of judicial review of the decision to allow racing ultimately brought proceedings to a halt after only two years, since when the event has been re-established at London's ExCeL centre.
Plans for a London round were announced at the series launch in 2013 but a number of possible locations were considered before Battersea got the go-ahead. Crystal Palace and the O2 Arena were fairly quickly discounted but when possible objections to the use of Battersea Park for motor racing emerged, an alternative location was sought. The ExCeL exhibition centre in East London put forward a proposal which combined external sections on private roads around the site with a loop through one of the facility's exhibition halls.
Battersea remained Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag's preferred choice and detailed negotiations began with Wandsworth Council, which runs the park. In June 2014, Battersea was formally announced as the preferred site, but negotiations with residents groups continued. A test drive by Formula E racing car piloted by Lucas di Grassi was carried out along the proposed circuit route at 5am on August 14, with no complaints received from local residents.
A decision of the full council to back the plans was deferred in October to allow time for the Heritage Lottery Fund, which had made a major investment into the park's infrastructure between 1998 and 2003, to have its say. In early December 2014, the Lottery Fund gave its blessing for the race, saying it considered motorsport an appropriate use for the park, paving the way for the council to give its backing. This was duly granted by Wandsworth Council in February, when it was also announced that Jonathan Palmer's MotorSport Vision Racing organisation would become the race promoter.
Small changes were made to the original layout proposals for the track, designed by FE’s London Event Team together with British architect Simon Gibbons. Additional chicanes were required to slow the course and possibly add overtaking areas. The circuit direction was also reversed from that which was originally proposed - with Formula E cars lapping the course in an anti-clockwise direction.
The race was not the first notable sporting event held in the park, however; that distinction took place in 1864 when it hosted the first football game played under the rules of the recently-formed Football Association. Soon it became home to the leading amateur football team Wanderers F.C., winners of the first FA Cup, in 1872. Today the park boasts sporting facilities including tennis courts, a running track and football pitches. Four West London hockey teams use the all-weather Astroturf pitches, the most prominent being Wanderers Hockey Club, while on the western side there are two cricket pitches, home to the King's Road Cricket & Social Club.
Even before the park was created the land was used for competition of a different kind, as it was a popular spot for duelling. On 21 March 1829, the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea met on Battersea fields to settle a matter of honour. When it came time to fire, the Duke aimed his duelling pistol wide and Winchilsea fired his into the air. Winchilsea later wrote the Duke a grovelling apology.
Troubled first race sets the tone
The 2015 race proved that it was a tricky and bumpy course with little room for manoeuvre (overtaking being very much at a premium and the tree-lined course being difficult for spectators to see much action), but nevertheless a decent crowd turned out to watch. There were problems with the track itself, however, as a severe bump at Turn 1 caused the failure of a rear pushrod on Jerome d'Ambrosio's Dragon Racing entry and brought widespread criticism from the drivers . A new barrier was added after first practice to alter the racing line, meaning the Saturday race had to be started under the safety car, with overtaking banned at the corner altogether. The bump was ground down and resurfaced overnight, allowing restoration of the original corner for the Sunday race.
The duel with the protestors had not been ended either. While the cars may have been quiet, the helicopters that flew overhead to capture the race action for TV were not, causing further unrest with opposition groups. Rather than the first race calming things, it only served to harden the protest group's resolve, despite the council arguing the case that it would make £2.85m from the 2015 and '16 races, which could be reinvested for local benefit - including £400,000 for the park alone.
The uneasy relationship with local protestors came to the fore when the Battersea Park Action Group announced it was to seek a judicial review of the decision to hold the race, arguing it was harmful to the environment and that the disruption to normal park users left people "deprived of the tranquillity of this urban oasis".
Clearly the threat of judicial review worked: in May 2016 Formula E bosses and Wandsworth Council announced that the July double-header would be the last held at Battersea Park, with the series looking to find a new street course elsewhere in London for future years. The action group had agreed to drop its judicial review provided the 2016 race was the last.
Formula E boss Alejandro Agag put a brace face on it, saying afterwards: “The economics of the race in Battersea was not ideal for us. It was quite an expensive race to put in place. It was never really our preferred location. We like to be in the streets. So sometimes, you make a virtue out of necessity.”
So ended Battersea's brief flirtation with motor racing and, like Crystal Palace before it, there will be little to show in future years that it ever hosted the sport at all.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
- Battersea Park, London SW11 4NJ
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Battersea Park is located in in the London Borough of Wandsworth, on the south bank of the River Thames, opposite Chelsea. The nearest main international and domestic airport is Heathrow to the west of the city. Stansted, Gatwick, Luton and City airports are also no more than an hour outside of the city with many low-cost airlines offering cheap, regular flights in and out of the UK.
The park itself is on the south side of the Thames, between Albert Bridge and Chelsea Bridge. There are a number of car parks in the park, all pay and display. The roads around the park are generally residents only or pay and display.
By rail, the nearest stations are Battersea Park on the Southern and London Overground networks, with services to London Victoria. From the station building, exit right along Battersea Park Road, walk 50m to traffic lights then turn right into Queenstown Road. Walk 150m and the park is on the left. Alternatively, Queenstown Station offers services on the the South Western Main Line to London Waterloo. Exit the station to the right along Queenstown Road, walk 300m and the park is on the left.
The nearest tube station is Sloane Square, from where you can either take a short taxi ride or walk 1km south, via Lower Sloane Street and Chelsea Bridge Road. The 137 or 452 buses also will take to the park from here.