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Formula E race weekend in New York: Why the A-list are obsessed

From New York to China, Mexico to Monaco, Formula E weekends are a hit with the celebs

Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon

If you’re fancying a taste of life in the fast lane, there’s no better way to experience it than by jetting across the pond for a weekend of sun, fun and fast cars in New York City. Welcome to the world of Formula E – the eco-friendly version of Formula One - which hosts pop up events across the globe during race season (Dec-July next year) culminating in one amazing finale in the Big Apple.

Liv Tyler took one of the Formula E cars for a spin

The 2018 series attracted stars like Idris Elba, Kylie Minogue and Leonardo DiCaprio, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find myself rubbing shoulders with Liv Tyler as I made my way towards the race track for my first taster of Formula E racing. This was already my second day in NYC – one of the great things about Formula E is they try to base their pop-up track within a city so a trip to the racing can double up as a long-weekend city break, and having left London on Friday morning, I’d already managed to squeeze in a spectacular helicopter ride over Manhattan Island, and a trip to the shops and fine dining spots of Battery Park which had changed so much since I’d last been in town.

Sunset over Battery Park on my first evening in the city

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Now I was experiencing (in some serious heat I might add, we’re talking 40 degrees and it was sweltering) my first taster of what Formula E was really like. I have to admit to being a bit of a car race novice – I’ve watched F1 on the TV but that’s as close as I’ve ever been. According to everyone I met, however, many who were able to compare the two, the Formula E experience couldn’t be more different.

It's an exciting feeling stepping foot on the grid

From wandering around on the grid right next to the cars before they set off (ice being pumped into the vehicles to keep them cool and drivers receiving pep talks before helmets went on) to exploring the garages on a post-race pit walk, everything felt very accessible. There was a real family vibe, with loads of kids enjoying a day out with their parents, the background hum - which sounds more like that of a pod racer on Star Wars than the thundering noise associated with Formula One - not a bother at all.

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The fact that my minimal motorsports knowledge was not at all an issue is, to me, what what makes Formula E so cool – and it's probably part of the reason it's attracting the attention of such a wide range of celebrity fans too. Liv Tyler told me she also knows very little about cars but was intrigued by the sport’s eco-friendly reputation. "I’m very interested in the electric aspect of it," she said (the technology being developed to make these cars exceptional, then trickles down into the kinds of electric cars you or I might buy). "I’m really not a big car person to be honest, I’ve had one car for 15 years! But in life you get asked to be a part of things sometimes and you just think, 'I really want to have that experience, I want to meet those people and learn about all the innovative things that they’re doing.' It’s sort of an education and for me in my life."

That was the same for me, and I’m definitely a convert. There was such a range of people there – from the celebs (Uma Thurman and Patrick Dempsey were also among the VIPs, many of whom crossed from Manhattan to Brooklyn by private boat and enjoyed swanky hospitality as the cars raced round) – to families bringing sandwiches and drinking lemonade in the grandstands. It felt to me like the perfect mix between a starry yet down-to-earth event.

There's nothing like a roof-top pool on the Lower East Side

And of course, it was in New York – so when I wasn’t watching races, I was enjoying the other highlights the city had to offer. Walks along the stunning High Line, chasing down the addresses of my favourite Sex and the City characters and sipping cocktails in rooftop pools at my fancy Lower East Side hotel, feeling like I might just be living inside an episode of one of my all-time favourite shows.

Where to watch Formula E in 2019

Exploring the pits is also great fun

The 2018-2019 series kicks off in Rihadh on December 15, and then travels through Marrakech, Mexico City, China, Hong Kong, Rome, Paris and Berlin to name a few. The finale weekend will be held, once again, in New York City – so if you’re fancying a pre-Summer break excuse to head to the Big Apple (it’s totally doable for a quick weekend hop; British Airways flies to JFK in just seven hours so you can jump on the plane after work and arrive in Manhattan in time for cocktails), this is the perfect one.

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