This week’s news that Mercedes are dropping out of DTM in order to concentrate their efforts on Formula E has proven once again that the all-electric series is on course to become one of the largest motorsport series in the world.
The announcement adds yet another major manufacturer to their already impressive roster, with Renault, DS, Audi and BMW already involved.
The challenge posed by Formula E was even enough to draw Jaguar out of their self-imposed motorsport exile, with the British marque entering their own team at the start of this season.
And with Audi confirming their takeover of the Abt Schaeffler team, and BMW doing likewise with MS Amlin Andretti, the race was on to grab your place on the Formula E grid.
Even Ferrari have stated an interest, saying they ‘need to be in Formula E’, meaning that there could be as many as seven major car manufacturers represented on the grid.
So what is it that is making companies like Audi (WEC) and Mercedes (DTM) choose Formula E over already established racing series?
The over-riding appeal at the moment is the technological challenge.
With road cars veering towards electric propulsion, Formula E offers teams the chance to develop transferable technology at a faster rate that will have a direct benefit on the product they offer their customers.
Speaking at the launch of the new Jaguar team, Nick Rogers, the Group Engineering Director at Jaguar Land Rover said, “Formula E will give us a unique opportunity to further our development of electrification technologies. The Championship will enable us to engineer and test our advanced technologies under extreme performance conditions.
“It is my belief that over the next five years we will see more changes in the automotive world than in the last three decades. The future is about being more connected and more sustainable; electrification and lightweight technologies are becoming more important than ever as urbanisation continues to increase.
“Formula E has recognised and reacted to these trends and the championship’s exciting and pioneering approach is the perfect fit for our brand.”
Similarly Toto Wolff said of Mercedes’ decision to enter, “Electrification is happening in the road car world and Formula E offers manufacturers an interesting platform to bring this technology to a new audience – and to do so with a completely new kind of racing, different to any other series.”
And speaking about why Ferrari would be interested in Formula E, Sergio Marchionne said, “We have already developed a hybrid supercar, La Ferrari, and on future Ferrari models we will leverage new technologies as well as electrification.”
It’s clear that Formula E is ahead of the curve in terms of the technology car producers want to use, and they are reaping their just reward for that in having these manufacturers fight for a place on the grid.
Season five of Formula E is quite rightly being seen as a watershed moment for the series, when it will allow teams to compete with just one car per race.
This eliminates the need for two car races, and the still clumsy looking pit stops were a driver has to ditch his now powerless car and sprint into another fresh one.
The change will not only provide a useful challenge for manufacturers, but will clearly be an opportunity to show off their electric credentials on a new stage.
When you tie this in with the relatively low costs of running a team and the glamorous city centre locations, which this season have included Hong Kong, Marrakesh and most recently New York (something even Formula 1 hasn’t managed), you have a burgeoning series that is set up for investment.
The only problem for Formula E at present is fans.
At the moment the interest from the motoring industry is outstripping that of ordinary punters, with the series’ social media channels having just a little over half a million followers across their platforms.
When compared to the over nine million followers supporting Formula 1 or NASCAR online, it’s clear that the series has so far failed to build up a fan base.
This is not due to lack of trying, with race organisers at pains to provide the best possible fan experience at races, and ideas such as the much lambasted FanBoost designed to give the viewers an active part to play in the races.
However so far this has had little effect, and with the sport struggling to find broadcasters to show races (with Channel 5 providing a low budget effort after ITV decided to ditch it), there are clearly still problems.
The question is whether the prospect of having these titans of industry go head-to-head against each other will help draw more fans in.
There’s no reason to think why not, and here’s hoping that the battle is every bit as tight as we expect it to be when Mercedes pitch up for their first race in 2019/20.