Prost-Heidfeld collision was perfect for Formula E

Heidfeld wreck

Nick Heidfeld may not agree, but his collision with Nicolas Prost in Saturday's Formula E race was great news for the new series.

When Nick Heidfeld clambered unhurt from the wreckage of his Venturi Grand Prix car on Saturday there would have been some very happy faces among the Formula E top brass.

Naturally, they would have been relieved that the German was okay. Heidfeld’s shunt - caused by an extreme case of brain fade for Nicolas Prost - was scary in the extreme. What’s more, the way his car was launched by the so-called sausage curbs would have put the series in hot water had Nick sustained any sort of injury.

But it would have been more than simple relief that raised a smile. Because that huge, race-deciding accident was the best thing that could have happened from a promotional point of view. Alongside Lucas di Grassi, who cruised past the crash scene to score victory, no one got luckier at the inaugural race than the series itself.

Formula E was receiving fairly good media attention without a headline-grabbing crash. It had been profiled by several noteworthy outlets, including national newspapers and major broadcasters. It’s got plenty going for it, from the green angle to a grid of talented drivers, as well as the less appealing Fan Boost.

But while words on paper or screen are all well and good, nothing beats a bit of TV time. And, for better or worse, nothing gets a race series on television screens quite like a huge crash.

Which is why Formula E was treated to more than a mere mention on Saturday’s news bulletins. It got moving pictures, with the Prost-Heidfeld shunt shown from a number of angles while commentator Jack Nichols got all high pitched and breathless in the background; Dario Franchitti, keeping it typically cool, simply chuckled.

Would a new bulletin have decided to show Formula E footage without the crash? Perhaps. But when they saw what had happened it became a great deal more likely; when they were told it was for the lead at the final corner of the final lap, it became a no brainer. Mix in the fact that one of the drivers involved happens to be named Prost, while the other drives for Leonardo DiCaprio’s team, and you have a made-for-TV clip.

Which is how anyone watching the news on Saturday evening became aware that Formula E exists. And that is a very good start. How many times did A1GP make the TV news? Superleague Formula? Even established categories such as the World Endurance Championship and the WRC struggle to get a mention.

And of course, putting your name out there is vital. It plants a seed in people’s minds that you hope, one day, will grow into them watching your series once, and then on a regular basis. It’s the genesis of new fans. It’s not a guarantee of success, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And it’s more than they would have received if Prost had exercised some common sense and settled for a runner-up finish. For all their promotional efforts, social media activation and big-name drivers, this was Formula E’s greatest media success last weekend.

Let's put it another way: in a series building its reputation on embracing the future, the biggest draw was the oldest story in motorsport: two rivals colliding on-track.