The City of Vancouver has approved a motion declaring the City’s support to bring a Formula E World Championship event to the city’s downtown, paving the way for Formula E’s return to Canada with the inaugural Vancouver E-Prix next year.
The motion, submitted by councilors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Michael Wiebe and approved by City Council on Wednesday by an overwhelming margin after robust discussion and debate, is part of the municipal government’s effort to reinvigorate Vancouver’s battered tourism and hospitality industries, which have seen record job losses and local businesses shuttered as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed Vancouver E-Prix, projected for a 3 year term, marks the return of a large scale, tentpole sporting event to the city since Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic games back in 2010. The E-Prix, tentatively scheduled for July 2022, will anchor a 3 day festival style event billed as Canadian E-Fest. This will include a 2 day sustainability and climate change conference and an E-Prix round held on a single day which, according to the motion, “would generate significant economic benefit to the city and support recovery of the gutted tourism sector”. Organisers estimate the event will bring in approximately $83 million in economic impact and generate 3000 jobs locally.
Royce Chwin, the President and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, said the E-Fest is more than just about bringing Formula E to the city. It is also about focusing on new opportunities while preserving what is left of the tourism and hospitality industries who are still reeling from the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The tourism sector has taken an absolute beating in Vancouver,” said Chwin during the City Council meeting when asked about the state of the local tourism industry. “They are devastated. They are frustrated beyond belief.”
“They are looking for hope – announcements that will indicate the support for future investment activities that will start to rebuild and generate that economic activity and get people back to work with purpose. Something like this is a major signifier of that hope and forward progress and effort. It’s not just about this event, which is great. But it holds a lot more weight and a broader, stronger message for our tourism community that has been pummeled.”
The E-Prix and festival are being spearheaded by the One Stop Strategy (OSS) Group, founded by former Lotus F1 CEO Matthew Carter and Philip Smirnow, who worked for the promoter for the now-defunct Montreal E-Prix. Vice president and co-founder Anne Roy, who worked as press agent for former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, will be in charge of marketing and communications.
Alberto Longo, Formula E’s co-founder and chief championship officer praised the approval: “Today’s outcome is another positive move towards bringing the all-electric racing series to the city of Vancouver and we thank all those who are supporting Formula E,” said Longo. “The city of Vancouver has sustainability and electrification high on its agenda, and through our platform of intense, unpredictable and highly competitive racing, we hope to collaborate with the government and local authorities in accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. We are delighted to once again be working with event leaders OSS Group on this project and ensure that Formula E works with residents and local businesses to create a world-class event with a legacy project that will benefit all.”
News of the motion for the Vancouver Formula E event was first reported by the DailyHive.
Vancouver has played host to motorsports in the past. The Molson Indy Vancouver, which was a CART (and then Champ Car World Series) motor race held during the summer, ran for over a decade from 1990 to 2004, racing alongside the picturesque False Creek / Science World area in a short 2.865 km long temporary street circuit.
Years in the Making
Rumours of a Vancouver Formula E event have been around since 2014, around the same time when the series was founded. A motion was brought forward before City Council in 2014 but did not result in any concrete proposals that City Council could evaluate and would have required taxpayer investment towards the project. At the same time, Montreal was also pursuing its own E-Prix, which would have made another Canadian round redundant.
Things did not end well the last time Formula E raced in Canada. The embattled 2017 Montreal E-Prix was championed by then-mayor Denis Coderre, who had a penchant for big spending on flashy projects. Coderre was determined to see the Montreal race go ahead, against the advice of his inspector general and from the promoter Evenko, who projected it would be a financial fiasco. Those predictions were realised and Coderre was defeated during re-election. His successor, current mayor Valérie Plante, quickly cancelled the race, leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions in unpaid debts from the bankrupt organiser and hundreds of thousands more in litigation costs with Formula E Operations.
OSS Group, the promoter of the proposed Vancouver event are looking to avoid the costly mistakes from Montreal, promising that there will be no City investment necessary to “conceptualize, facilitate and fulfill the three-day event”, as outlined in the motion.
“It’s our mission to bring this event at no cost to Vancouver,” said Carter, who represents the promoter. “We are the private company taking on all of those costs, and we’ve said that from day one. So everything from civil works, security, through everything that needs to be spent, everything that needs to be covered by us as a private company. It’s a pledge that we’ve given – 100%. We are looking for no additional funds from Vancouver whatsoever.”
Carter revealed that OSS was approached by Formula E to look for a suitable city to host a Formula E race in Canada. The promoter did their due diligence back in 2019 and shortlisted a few candidate cities before Vancouver was selected. “We as a company decided Vancouver was the best fit for many reasons – because of aspirations to be the greenest city in the world, the number of electric vehicles on the streets, it just made a lot of sense.”
The approval is the first in a series of steps that have to be taken in order for the race to become a reality. the False Creek area is a dense residential and commercial neighborhood. As is the case for hosting any large scale event in a city centre, ongoing engagement with residents and nearby business owners will be required to gain the necessary approval for the event to go ahead. In addition, OSS will have to formalise an agreement with Formula E Operations to host the race, and officially submit a race date to the FIA for World Motorsport Council approval in June.
“We had discussions with the False Creek Residents Association, and we have taken time to listen to their concerns, and also get them involved in the process going forward,” explained Carter. “We are more than a year out from when this event is likely to take place. We felt that it was poignant for us to reach out to the residents, to make sure that they understand exactly what we are proposing, and they can be involved in solutions and they can be involved in how exactly we are going to put this event together.”
Vancouver is uniquely suited to host a Formula E race. The city is located in British Columbia, the province with the highest per capita market share for electric vehicles in North America , surpassing California and Quebec. Battery EVs account for about 9% vehicle sales in the province, and that number is expected to increase in the coming years. This aligns with Formula E’s founding social mission of counteracting climate change by accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles.