Last weekend, we visited Berlin for the tenth round of the 2018/19 Formula E season as Lucas di Grassi took victory for Audi in the 2019 Berlin E-Prix. Here’s our impressions of Tempelhof Street Circuit.
All pictures © Andrew Balfour / motorsportguides.com
Berlin has been a constant presence on the Formula E calendar since the inception of the series in 2014/5. All but one of the races in the vibrant German capital have been held on a temporary street circuit at Tempelhof Airport. Once one of the world’s largest airports, Tempelhof was closed in 2008. The runways and surrounds have become a popular city park (Tempelhofer Feld), but the airport buildings themselves have remain largely unused – save for 2016, when the airport was used to house thousands of newly arrived immigrants and the race had to be moved.
Unlike the majority of this season’s Formula E events, the 2019 Berlin E-Prix was run over two full days rather than one. On track, the Jaguar I-Pace Etrophy supported the main event, while the inaugural Greentech Festival, co-founded by 2016 Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg, bolstered the off-track offering at this unique venue. Entrance to the Allianz E-Village and Greentech Festival was just 5 Euro, making for a very cheap day out. An estimated 40,000 fans turned out for the event this year.
After driving from my home in neighbouring Poland, I headed to the track for a few hours on Friday afternoon. Access to the circuit from all parts of Berlin is easy – the airport/track is located near several stops on the sixth line of the U-Bahn (U Platz der Luftbrücke is closest) and a short walk from the Tempelhof Station on the above ground S-Bahn line.
Grandstand tickets were just 15 Euro on Friday (including entrance to the Allianz E-Village and Greentech Festival), so I decided to check out the views from C2, the middle grandstand on the long opening hairpin section of the circuit. It was a good grandstand and I did think about stumping up the 50 EUR for a seat here for the race…but I also knew that I’d be visiting on race day with my wife and 3-year old daughter, who doesn’t like sitting in one spot for too long.
Next up, I headed for the drivers’ autograph session in the cavernous entrance hall of the airport. The queue was pretty short 30 minutes before the session started and I managed to get signed cards from all the drivers without any pushing or shoving. If only Formula 1 autograph sessions were like this! In a nice nod to the history of the building, the drivers each manned their own check in desk. The session was well organized; a bit like checking in for a Lufthansa flight.
There was still some time to check out the Greentech Festival, which was housed in a large hangar adjacent to the grandstands and Allianz E-Village. All the usual suspects were present, including tech companies like Google and established automotive/mobility brands like Tesla, Hyundai, Mercedes, Porsche, Harley Davidson and Deutsche Bahn. They were joined by an interesting array of startups and emerging “green tech” companies exhibiting everything from scooters to drone taxis, 3D-printed e-bikes, electric boats and eco-friendly fashion.
But I was there for Formula E racing, so I headed back for the second practice session of the afternoon. I watched on the big screen while enjoying a cold beer (5 EUR) and pastrami sandwich from one of the many food trucks set up in the main covered area of the old airport; queues were minimal but I knew it would be a different story on race day.
We didn’t arrive until around 11am on Saturday. It soon became clear that there was a lot more people at the circuit for race day. Should have expected that, of course. We walked right into a massive mob of people gathered for the second drivers’ autograph session of the weekend, and there was about 3-4 times as many people as the day before. This was more Ryanair than Lufthansa, but I’d already got my autographs the day before, so we just waited around a few minutes for the drivers to appear before moving to the E-Village.
Naturally, we had to spend some time in the children’s area with our daughter. The event was really well set up for families, though it did become increasingly difficult to get food and drink as the number of spectators swelled before the start of the race. We nabbed a couple of deck chairs with a good view of the podium and TV screen, then settled in for the race.
With so much more room to move at the wider Tempelhof Street Circuit, the passing was clean in the Berlin E-Prix and the race was relatively free of the accidents that have blighted so many rounds this year. Brazilian driver Lucas di Grassi took an early lead from Sebastian Buemi and never looked back, recording his tenth Formula E victory. Jean-Éric Vergne carved his way through the field for a fine third, leaving the drivers’ championship finely poised with just three races remaining.
Final thoughts? Berlin is always worth a visit, especially in spring when the race is held. Formula E is a cheap and thrilling day out for the whole family – our entrance tickets cost just 5 EUR each (and our 3-year old daughter was free). The event was well organized and Tempelhof Airport is a fascinating venue, especially for those of us who appreciate the history of this iconic airport. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed her first experience of motorsport. Formula 1 can wait another year or two.