Hainan Province is China’s only tropical island, and a good fit for the racing series. While coconut and banana trees abound, so do skyscrapers, electric transport, and China’s largest space rocket launch facility.
The rumoured host city is the province’s capital, Haikou. Visually this is a ‘typical’ Formula E venue, with a mix of wide avenues and plazas alongside narrow, picturesque streets, in this case with 1930s style colonial and trader architecture. The city sprawls but a real downtown location could also approach a river and a park. When it comes to driver challenges, gradient is probably all that Haikou lacks.
There are a few solid reasons for Formula E to visit Hainan: there are two Chinese teams in the series, Techeetah and NIO; the island is a major tourist destination within China (and the Russian Far East); and China is the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. This is very obvious in Haikou, where combustion-engine motorbikes and moped have been banned. The result is that electric mopeds are among the most common vehicles in the city–far more common than bicycles, and they cross the large junctions in peaceful throngs of fifty or more.
In April 2017 I saw a supermarket ran a promotion where customers spending more than about €80 could win free access to an EV sharing scheme. The cities of Haikou and Sanya are well suited to such schemes and there are cars plugged-in and charging on many street corners. There are locally produced electric cars too: previously a joint-venture with Mazda, Haima is slowly adding EVs to its catalogue.
The island is also the first in the world to be encircled by high-speed rail. The network there is not the fastest in China, but at up to 250 km/hour you could go all the way round the island and back to where you started in four hours.
As well as working towards sustainability, Hainan holds a particular importance for wildlife conservation. Perhaps we will see some canny Communications efforts relating to the world’s rarest ape—the Hainan gibbon, which lives exclusively in a nature reserve there. There are only about 30 of them left–an even more extreme example than the cheetah championed by the Techeetah team. And in a series that celebrates the particular sound of its cars, the gibbon provides a nice parallel, being famed for its song that is heard piercing the forests.
On the whole Hainan and Formula E have a lot to offer each other, and I hope the speculation is well-founded. If it does happen and you attend, here’s a practical tip: Hainan is noted within China as the place where people retire to from the icy northwest. If you’re British that fact may help with pronouncing the island’s name: ‘Hainan’ is two syllables, approximately ‘hi’ and ‘nan’, so just think greeting your grandmother, and you’ve got it.