Formula 1 has announced the addition of the Madrid Grand Prix to the calendar from 2026, introducing another city circuit to an already extensive list. In contrast, Formula E is taking the opposite path, gradually moving away from city events in favor of permanent tracks. Let’s explore the reasons behind this role reversal and why these two categories are heading in opposite directions.
The announcement of Madrid’s entry from 2026 adds another city circuit to Formula 1’s calendar, which is progressively shifting more towards major cities, abandoning permanent tracks. While city circuits have always been part of the championship, their numbers have significantly increased in the last decade, occupying a growing percentage of the calendar.
Recent additions like Baku, Las Vegas, and Jeddah join the championship, even though Jeddah’s original plan was to move to a permanent track once construction plans in Qiddiya were completed. However, delays secured a spot for the Arabian city circuit in the calendar until at least 2027. In cases like Singapore, city races have proven opportunities to expand Formula 1’s global market, opening up new sporting and commercial scenarios relatively quickly in already developed contexts.
There are unique cases, such as Miami, with a semi-permanent track built in the Hard Rock Stadium parking lot. This emerged from a project intending to bring F1 to a city circuit, thwarted by local opposition. Hanoi’s street circuit in Vietnam was another failed program due to the pandemic and corruption issues involving the event organizers.
Exceptions exist, like Imola and Zandvoort’s return, driven by Max Verstappen’s popularity, and Qatar’s entry, which considered a city circuit alternative to Lusail.
Liberty Media’s Target Model
Although this trend didn’t start under Liberty Media’s era, the American company, upon acquiring F1 rights, expressed a clear interest in increasing interest by focusing on “destination cities.” This aimed to bring motorsport to well-known metropolises frequently visited by millions annually. Since then, the inclination towards city circuits has become more pronounced. Several motivations, including economic ones, drive this trend.
Arabia Saudita and Azerbaijan invest substantial amounts annually to host a race, aiming to boost local tourism. Bringing races to already developed cities makes sense in this context. For example, the NEOM project in Saudi Arabia plans extensive cities and sponsors McLaren in Formula E and Extreme E, but these are long-term goals. Therefore, creating a city circuit becomes a cost-effective short-term solution.
For Formula 1, there is a financial aspect, with Liberty Media seeking economic impact and profits through sponsor visibility. Additionally, there is a spectator engagement factor. Hosting activities in city centers during the Grand Prix week fosters a sense of involvement and expansion, creating commercially significant events.
However, the risk is having an increasingly city-focused calendar, potentially jeopardizing the survival of some permanent tracks. Despite F1’s declarations not to sideline historic events, a balance must be struck in the future, with some permanent venues making way for new destinations, risking their survival by losing a primary revenue source.
Contrast with FE Taking the Opposite Path
Interestingly, this is a reverse path compared to Formula E, a series initially designed to bring racing excitement to cities worldwide, leveraging its status as a zero-emission series. Technical reasons were also behind the decision to run on city circuits, tied to the constraints imposed by the technology.
The FE focuses centrally on energy recovery and efficiency. In its early stages, tracks needed short straights and numerous braking zones for battery recharge opportunities. Monaco, until 2019, used a shortened layout. It transitioned to a layout similar to F1 in 2021 and fully converged in 2022. This seemingly small step represented significant progress for FE, moving towards more “traditional” tracks.
The Mexico City race also witnessed substantial changes, increasing the track’s length over the years, limiting slower sections, and, in 2023, reintroducing a chicane for battery recharge. This change aligns with the Gen3 car’s different characteristics, focusing even more on efficiency.
Choosing more traditional circuits is part of the desire to test increasingly competitive cars on tracks better suited for the purpose. With the new Gen4, expected to debut in the 2026/27 season, there will be a significant leap in terms of power and car performance. This shift may also increase safety requirements for circuit construction. Formula E tracks do not require FIA Grade 1 certification, only Level 3E, although some events have a Grade 2 license.
However, a logistical reason is also behind this transition. Formula E has struggled to maintain calendar continuity, especially with the pandemic, due to the impossibility of racing in cities. Several races in China, Italy, France, Korea, England, and the United States were canceled, replaced by six consecutive races in Berlin. The Tempelhof airport hosted these races, providing the stability that Formula E needs for future prospects.
Formula 1 and Formula E are heading in very different directions, each for its unique reasons. Formula 1 eyes the “destination cities” model and the potential for high economic returns, while Formula E seeks stability, which it has rarely found in the past decade in terms of the calendar.