Car manufacturers are rapidly embracing Formula E

When Porsche announced it was abruptly ending its LMP1 program to focus on Formula E it helped show how enthusiastic car makers are about the relatively new electric series. Porsche is joining Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Renault, Jaguar, DS Automobiles (PSA Peugeot Citroen) and Mahindra in 2019 giving Formula E a line-up of major manufacturers* that other categories can only dream of. Not only that, but the Fiat/Chrysler group has also expressed an interest in joining and the series is chasing down support from US and Japanese companies. McLaren Applied Technologies is also supplying equipment to all the teams so it is surprising how strongly the wider car industry has embraced Formula E.

It is a wonderful boost for the championship, but it also comes with a risk that needs to be managed.

Manufacturers in motorsport
History suggests that when car companies flood into motorsport they increase costs and ultimately reduce the level of competitiveness. The teams with larger budgets enter an arms race and that widens the gap between the big factories and the smaller independents. Once costs get to a less sustainable level and the competition isn’t so equal, the series loses its appeal and the manufacturers start dropping out. If the smaller independents haven’t been looked after during that time the sport is left in a real mess. This has repeated itself through Formula One, sportscars, touring cars, rallying, and is playing out right now in the World Endurance Championship.

Formula E bosses have so far adopted a sensible and measured approach to developing the series and will be well aware the risks of heavy manufacturer involvement. The sport cannot rely on the car companies to support the series forever because they will leave as soon as it no longer suits their brand. Given that only one of the eight companies can win at any given time, this will hit some harder than others. Formula E needs to remain viable for independent teams and this can be managed through cost controls, spec equipment, and other artificial measures to keep the competition close. The short-term future looks very exciting but the long-term picture is also quite fascinating.

The impact on Formula One
The surge of manufacturer interest in Formulas E means that is where car companies are now looking to showcase their new technology instead of Formula 1. This even includes three of the four companies currently involved in F1!

With this in mind, it is an opportune time for F1 bosses to examine the sport’s focus on road relevance. Formula 1 has always been the pinnacle of automotive technology and has historically built the regulations to facilitate this. For example, the current turbo-hybrid engines were introduced because that was identified as the future direction of road cars. However, now that Formula E is where car companies want to experiment and showcase their new technology, does Formula One need to keep a link to the wider automotive industry? In a recent interview, Ross Brawn (Formula One Managing Director of Motorsports) suggested pure sporting entertainment was now more of a focus for F1 than road relevance. The rush of manufacturers into Formula E could speed up this change in Formula One Management’s philosophy.

Another possibility is that one day, long into the future, Formula E will simply merge with Formula 1. The petrol engine will not be around forever and once all cars are running with electric motors it’s inevitable that Formula 1 and Formula E will become the same thing. The fact that Liberty Global owns F1 and also has a minority stake in Formula E could make that more of a possibility.

*If you think Mahindra isn’t a major manufacturer, keep in mind the company has been around since 1954 and generates four times as much revenue as Ferrari.

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Vale Angel Nieto

The Jerez circuit will be renamed in honour of Angel Nieto who lost his life in a traffic accident last week. Nieto was the first Spaniard to win a motorcycle World Championship and he went on to become the 3rd most successful Grand Prix rider of all time. Nieto popularised the sport in Spain and helped pave the way for younger Spanish riders to follow the same path. Since then Spaniards have won a massive 46 world titles which means naming the Spanish Grand Prix venue in his honour is a very fitting tribute.

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Esapekka Lappi just won his 4th ever event in a WRC car

Esapekka Lappi is a new rally superstar. Importantly, Lappi’s surprise victory in Rally Finland wasn’t due to luck as he took the lead well before the regular frontrunners hit trouble. Rally Finland was a crazy event (none of the top 5 finishers had won a rally before) but Lappi kept his head and marked himself as a star of the future.

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The latest Formula E season finale was remarkable for several reasons

  • In all three seasons of Formula E the championship fight has gone down to the very last race.
  • Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi have been contenders in all three of those title-deciders.
  • Di Grassi won the championship despite being further behind Buemi on points than during the previous two seasons.
  • Buemi was overcome with frustration on Saturday when he walked down the pitlane ranting at several drivers. His public outburst shows how emotionally raw elite sport can be.

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2017 has been a brilliant year for GT endurance racing

The recent Spa 24 Hour featured a close fight for victory right into the final hour, but that’s still nowhere near being the closest GT endurance race in 2017. The previous two 24 hour races for GT sportscars (at the Nurburgring and Le Mans) featured incredible last lap battles for victory. That’s amazing! Not only that, but the GTLM class at the Daytona 24 back in January also produced a very close finish, so there has been an amazing trend of nail-biting GT enduros this year.

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DTM: Three interesting stories from Moscow Raceway

Maro Engel’s victory on Sunday was a monumental surprise
2017 is Maro Engel’s fifth season in the DTM and up until Sunday his best result was a solitary sixth place back in 2009. He started Sunday’s race from second last after a mistake in qualifying so there was nothing to suggest he would be fighting for victory. However, Engel made a pitstop at the end of lap one and when most of the field was subsequently delayed by the Safety Car he was given a very surprising (and lucky) shot at the win.

Timo Glock and Mattias Ekstrom renewed their feud at the same circuit
Two years ago at Moscow raceway a high-speed collision between Timo Glock and Mattias Ekstrom took both drivers out of the race. Glock had plenty to say at the time, telling Ekstrom on social media to “watch the race from Wehrlein and learn you Idiot! How stupid you need to be to overtake in that corner!”

Fast forward to 2017 at the same circuit and the pair managed to collide again during Saturday’s race. This time it was Eksrtom with some choice words, jokingly telling Motorsport.com “What happened in Turn 3 was just Timo running out of talent and making a mistake… the day when he is championship contender, I will also run out of talent.” He later added “You know, what goes around comes around. I’m not angry with him, everybody here tries to do the best they can, score as many points as they can, but I think, it’s just like I said, what goes around comes around.”

Audi’s tactics drew criticism from BMW and Mercedes
When an early Safety Car hurt Mattias Ekstrom’s chances of victory on Sunday, Audi came up with an alternative strategy to keep him in the hunt. The team had one of their other drivers, Nico Muller, stay out during the pitstop cycle so he could take the lead when everyone else made their mandatory stop. From the lead Muller could back up the field into Ekstrom who was then able to regain 20 seconds in 20 laps.

Despite a long history of team tactics in the DTM, Audi’s rivals weren’t impressed. BMW Motorsport Director, Jens Marquardt, stated “this is not the kind of racing we really want to see, this is nothing for the fans” whilst Ulrich Fritz from Mercedes said “we have to ask the question if we want to play chess or if we want to go racing….I don’t really get it, I have to say.”

Audi claimed a late pitstop had always been their strategy, and Nico Muller himself said “They had DRS, I didn’t and they didn’t manage to get past on such a long straight. They first have to sort their stuff out and then we can talk.”

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Valtteri Bottas was lucky to avoid a jump-start penalty in the Austrian Grand Prix

As this GIF shows, Bottas actually got going before the lights went out, but cars are allowed to move the tiniest amount before the start because they’ll often shake or jolt a little when the drivers select first gear. By pure luck, Valtteri’s early movement was within the tolerance allowed, which the stewards described as “fortuitous”.

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Sunday’s Japanese Super GT race was an absolute thriller

The two hour race at Sportsland Sugo came down to a wheel-banging fight on the very last lap. After a close battle in the dying stages the leader actually ran onto the grass with only two corners remaining. Incredibly, his closest rival followed him off and it all came down to a single moment of high pressure as they rejoined the circuit.

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Sebastien Buemi had to endure a uniquely frustrating weekend

Sebastien Buemi is fighting for both the Formula E AND World Endurance Championships this year, but with the two different series taking place last weekend he could only compete in one. Buemi ended up missing the Formula E round in New York to compete in the German WEC race, but he was out of contention before the race even began with fuel pump failure on the warm up lap. Watching his rivals take easy points away from him in two different championships must’ve been especially hard to take.

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