Formula E hasn’t always had technology on its side. Or the calendars, or the manufacturers, or the general goodwill of the motorsport community. But he always had a way of capturing talent that was overlooked or rejected elsewhere. Ahead of a massive grid overhaul ahead of the Gen3 car’s introduction for 2023, what happened to the outcasts it turned into stars?
There was – and still is – a reputation that haunted Formula E in its early years, that it was where Formula 1 talent would be sent to cosmopolitan, electric pasture. Aside from the fact that few riders voluntarily quit this series before they were ready, it was never really a fair assessment of the field, most of which actually came from endurance racing.
Formula E’s first season saw better racing than it was likely entitled to, given the technology at the time and the speed at which the series had been set up – from the proposal on the back from a towel to the functional world championship in three years. The initial decision to create a Drivers Club, which allowed teams to choose from a pool of talent, meant the cars might not be fast and the batteries might be compromised, but racing was still competitive .
And that has always been one of his strengths. This is partly because Formula E demands a lot from the drivers; the lack of pit wall telemetry means car management is left exclusively to the drivers during a race, and they have to adapt to a completely different style of racing than in other series.
Standout talent isn’t household names in the way F1 drivers might be, but Jean-Eric Vergne, Lucas di Grassi, Sam Bird, Stoffel Vandoorne and other leaders have earned their reputations in the series. The strength of the peloton attracts other pilots.
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Most newcomers to the grid have found a way to join their friends there, which is surprisingly healthy for the political maze of single-seater motorsport, and also motivates them to stay in the series – beyond any loyalty to their teams. . The attraction of being able to compete with the riders already present has strengthened the peloton over time.
At the end of the Gen2 era, which ends in August at the season finale in Seoul, there will be a massive grid shake-up. Giant German manufacturers Mercedes, Audi and BMW are all leaving the series, and while that doesn’t necessarily cause a crisis, with privateer teams and a new factory entry from Maserati filling in the gaps, it does create big change.
In announcing its exit from the series, BMW said it had “exhausted the opportunities for this form of technology transfer” when it comes to the auto industry’s shift towards electric vehicles. Mercedes has explicitly said it is reallocating its resources from Formula E to developing on-road electric vehicles. Audi shifted its funding from Formula E to an electric entry at the 2022 Dakar Rally, where its RS e-tron was a novelty, setting itself apart from its fossil fuel-dependent competition.
As such, Formula E is not where it would have liked to be as it stands on the brink of its next generation of cars. The delayed, delta-shaped Gen3 car failed to impress in the way that the Gen2’s unveiling did in 2018, and big-brand departures may not threaten the series, but entice fans (and d ‘other manufacturers) to wonder about its future. Without a great year in 2023, Formula E faces an existential crisis.
Paddock insiders rarely engage in official quotes regarding the state of the series, but there’s undeniably been a weird vibe around it for some time. Teams had to commit to Gen3 on a deadline before the car or details were shown, and there is still no agreed race format, with five months until pre-season testing. It’s no coincidence that Audi and BMW are already gone, and Mercedes is leaving after the final Gen2 season, otherwise thrust into an extended stay on an uncertain platform.
The departure of the three German manufacturers probably seems more dramatic than it actually is. Formula E, with its €12m budget cap (excluding driver salaries), is relatively easy for teams to come and go as they please.
Take McLaren’s entry into the series, for example. He bought the Formula E team from Mercedes, will keep all of its staff except the drivers and will essentially continue as the team was – just in different colours. Compare that to F1, where the Volkswagen Group – the world’s second-largest automaker, owner of Audi and Porsche, among others – takes a cautious four-year run at an entry, despite its enormous engineering might, with a la resetting the regulations was necessary to coax them into the paddock.
Being a low-cost way to instantly develop electric vehicles was part of Formula E’s appeal: the big German manufacturers came in after dieselgate and left once they had electric road cars. With each brand now electrifying its lineup, the series may seem like an easy win, but the boardrooms of the world’s biggest automakers view motorsport as a waste, and the Formula E platform is far from be as important as F1’s growing audience.
For the brands that have remained, like Jaguar, there is an opportunity to be there at the start, a feeling of entering the ground floor that compensates for the relatively low profile of Formula E.
“Basically what justifies why we came to this sport, what continues to justify why we wanted to commit to the future, are the basic ingredients that are absolutely correct for the future,” said the director. of the Jaguar team, James Barclay, to ESPN during the Gen3 Launch. “The fact is we are the pinnacle of all-electric racing, and there will be other categories in the future, but Formula E is the pinnacle of electric racing.
But that requires a waiting game that brands – which are undergoing colossal changes in the way they make cars – might not have time for, as was the case with the departures of Audi and BMW. Mercedes, meanwhile, has a pretty broad profile elsewhere.
Volkswagen’s announcement earlier this year of its intention to enter F1, with the colossal costs of buying an existing team, could go hand in hand with its decision to withdraw Audi from Formula E. A team costs a Just over 10 million euros to operate, F1 entries for Audi and Porsche will cost hundreds of millions, even if they buy Sauber and team up with Red Bull respectively, as they say.
However, F1 has a huge following, while Formula E requires teams to invest in their own marketing to make it worthwhile. It’s also far from a sure thing; Porsche only won its first Formula E victory in Mexico this year after being frustrated for two seasons. There’s nothing for sale about being at the back of the field.
But Gen3 is a total reset. A new car, new power units and a new racing format will mean the next Formula E season will have minimal continuity with previous ones. 2015-16 world champion Sebastian Buemi could be a lesson for the grid: the most dominant driver in Gen1, by far, never found his form in the Gen2 car.
It’s a bold new start, and Formula E has a chance to reclaim the ground it lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, just as Gen2 was gaining momentum. It would be unfair to call the series a last-ditch saloon – drivers don’t make it to Formula E after burning through other opportunities, so much have they fallen through the cracks of F1 and endurance racing – this is a crucial moment for the protagonists of the series.
Formula E technology is finally catching up with the talent in its field. If the drivers who have made the series competitive from the start can continue to do so, with the massive power and energy recovery increases of Gen3 and a smaller, lighter car, then Formula E has a chance to make it happen. that builders who strayed resemble those who chose poorly.
Automobile brands will always be important to motorsport, and Formula E needs them, but its resilience in the face of the loss of three great brands, at the start of a new era, rests on the talent of its grid.
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