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.