The manufacturers new clothes: Mercedes, Porsche head to Formula E

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It wasn’t a slow evolution or assimilation over time to create a more diverse group, it was an edict that they’re coming and it’ll be good for everyone. No, I’m not talking about immigration, I’m talking about hybrid technology in motorsport.

The FIA’s massive swing to environmental championing—even eclipsing the normal safety narrative—ushered in electric engines in Formula 1, the World Endurance Championship or WEC (with ACO approval) and eventually a heavy endorsement for their new series, Formula E.

The strongest arguments were made under the flags of sustainability and road relevance. Manufacturers, leading each series with their millions of dollars in investments, threatened F1 if the series didn’t move to electric and the WEC was actually ahead of the game in alternative engine technology with diesel first and then hybrids.

Formula E, despite its over-the-top wave of social media timeline saturation, has grown and depending on which journalist you read, you may think it is eclipsing F1 in viewer numbers and taking the world by storm—albeit this from journalists the series has flown to attend races—and then there are the realistic journalists who know better but treat the series with kid gloves for fear of speaking out of turn.

On the surface, you might say, and you’d be right, that 61 million total viewers for the Formula E season is great and it is. Then you might tether that elation when you learn that F1 has 1.5 billion viewers during a season. Some races during the F1 season can get close to 100 million viewers.

Mercedes and Porsche

Regardless of the lack of viewers and the narrative stating otherwise by paid and non-paid media, Mercedes announced that it is leaving DTM to focus on Formula E. Equally, it is being reported that after four brief years in WEC, Porsche is now leaving to focus on Formula E.

I would like to the thank the motorsport governing bodies for ruining some of the best racing series’ in the world with their hybrid, out-of-control expensive regulations mandating electric in their series.

Formula 1’s hybrid technology bankrupted three teams and ensured that a team such as Red Bull—who invest 100’s of millions of dollars in the sport—can’t get a competitive engine because the two companies that make the best engines won’t supply them and no other engine maker can afford to enter the series due to the outrageous cost of R&D. This left the series with a massively dominant Mercedes for three years and only the slightest hope of Ferrari getting any upper ground on them in the fourth year of these regulations. The rest of the teams make up the also-ran field.

Form the WEC, both Porsche and Toyota LMP1’s could barely manage to finish the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans due to the overly complex nature of their hybrids despite the $200+ million the teams spent on the programs. The best class racing during the famous race? That would be the LMP2 category that bought readily available, inexpensive V8 engines and had a blast racing each other hard and darn near winning the overall race.

Reality

The reality is that formula E has been committed to keeping costs low and unlike F1, that’s been the catalyst for keeping team’s solvent and a full grid. They also have a very robust marketing department and are young enough to engage fans on multiple levels. If there ever was a place for hybrid technology or electric research and development, this is a great series for it, no doubt. I argued this to oblivion years ago when F1 decided it too would be eco-friendly and road relevant. I said then that Formula E was a terrific series for this and that manufacturers should be involved if that’s what they wanted to do.

I honestly didn’t reckon that the manufacturers would pull up roots on terrific series such as WEC and DTM in order to do it. One could argue that they don’t have the budgets for both and fair enough but in the end, they may just reap what they sow. If the WEC LMP1 dries up as well as DTM and possibly F1, then the world is left with all the manufacturers plying their road car development skills in Formula E and looking virtuous doing so. Meanwhile, fans are left with an electric car racing series with speeds averaging 70mph on tracks that are suspect in cars that can’t complete a full race and Fanboost.

If that’s where all the money and attention is, will fans clamor to the fences to watch silent racing at 90mph in cars that are all relatively equal? Will the series evolve and develop over time with faster and more diverse designs? Sure, will that make the difference? Not so sure about that.

Perception

The perception is that F1 has always been a series steeped in technology. That’s true. What I might argue now is moving forward, if manufacturers are going all in on an electric racing car series, then F1 may find roots in what it originally was and that’s not technology and road car relevance.

F1 has always been about drivers in cars that the average fan has no chance or opportunity of driving at those speeds on those tracks and with that level of competition. If everyone goes to Formula E, I say best of luck but if I were Liberty Media, I would stop the FIA from meddling in my sport with outrageously expensive technology and go back to what it was.

A majority of fans will never have the opportunity of driving a V10, V8 or even V12 at those speeds on those track with that level of competition. Just like the incredibly robust LMP2 category in this year’s Le Mans, most fans will never have that opportunity and it was terrific racing.

Want to be innovative? F1 and the WEC could create regulations reducing fuel flow to create more efficient engines and re-construct its schedule to maximize travel to and from far-flung locations.

The other perception is that electric cars are where it’s at and the recent bans on Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) in certain countries by 2040 and a reliance on all-electric is a noble charter but the last I checked, today the world is running on ICE. When a semi-truck can go hundreds of miles, stop to refuel in 20 minutes and go hundreds more on an electric engine, then we may be talking. When I can drive 400 miles, stop to refuel in 5 minutes and go 400 more, now we’re talking. If I have to go 200 miles and stop for 9.5 hours to recharge, I might as well ride a horse. Advancement in technology has normally been to make life better and do more and go farther than we have before, not go backwards while hurting our arm slapping our virtuous backs.

It might be like a new iPhone that doesn’t require a power cable because it is charged by light. Sure, talk time is now less than half of what it used to be and it takes several hours in direct light to fully charge but hey, we’re not using electricity. Why are we so eager to ban existing technology in favor of technology that actually moves us backwards in performance and achievement? The term “disruptive technology” is cute in Petaluma but I’m not buying the notion that it works for the world’s transportation that lives depend on.

Lab rats

I’m also very perplexed by the notion of the FIA and ACO, as well as other series, to treat motorsport as a lab rat for electric car development. Do car makers not have engineers who work on electric car development? Why are racing fans being punished with dodgy racing so manufacturers can fidget away at their rapid prototyping for the next all-electric Mercedes or Porsche when both companies have a phalanx of engineers working on those systems back at HQ?

No one likes live animal testing and yet that’s what we seem to be doing with motorsport. Can we just get back to exciting racing in more affordable cars? I don’t care that Mercedes is now putting their F1 engine in one of their hyper cars. I can’t afford that damn thing anyway. Is this road relevancy? Making super cars with F1 tech? When they put the F1 engine in a C Class, maybe I’ll be impressed with a $40k car that has 800bhp.

I don’t care that Mercedes won three titles with their hybrid engine, I just cared that Lewis Hamilton won two of those three and Nico won the other. I, like most fans, have no idea what the hell is under their hood anyway. I don’t care that Ferrari have seemed to make a better hybrid that has them more competitive with Mercedes this year, I simply care that Sebastian is battling Lewis for the title. It could be a V8 for all I care.

Formula E

I wish Formula E success and good luck to those manufacturers who are diving into the deep end. I hope that works out swimmingly. Meanwhile, will someone grab the damn reins in WEC, F1 and DTM and get back to racing and remind Jean Todt that he has a series for electric cars called Formula E?

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nightryder21

I agree with you… But you also need to be careful because Liberty Media will want to keep manufactures on board.

Negative Camber

No doubt about it and they will need to find a way to keep them interested. It’s a tough situation when the manufacturer is fickle. Although I would be fine with 10-12 teams of privateers like McLaren and Red Bull using engine supplies from affordable makers. :)

zke007

I try to watch a few formula e races. Boring count me out of watching it in the future. Boring. Hobby shop cars. Buy your own 3rd car

simon castle

Surely the only advantage to F1 if the authorities continue their push to develop Formula E, Liberty will have no option but to ‘open’ up F1 to a franchise system and introduce a budget controlled engine cost, so both teams and manufacturers can afford to be competitive? This development by Mercedes and Porsche will force Liberty’s hand to make the necessary changes by 2020.

Negative Camber

that’s a good point, Simon.

jakobusvdl

“I don’t care that Mercedes won three titles with their hybrid engine, I just cared that Lewis Hamilton won two of those three and Nico won the other. I, like most fans, have no idea what the hell is under their hood anyway. I don’t care that Ferrari have seemed to make a better hybrid that has them more competitive with Mercedes this year, I simply care that Sebastian is battling Lewis for the title. It could be a V8 for all I care.” Todd, are you sure you’re following the right series? I don’t think F1 means what you… Read more »

Negative Camber

no, it’s not always been about technology. It’s always been about racing and technology was added if it could make the car go faster. It’s a part of F1 but not the entirety of F1. They put a fan on a car because they thought it may make it go faster, not because fan manufacturers felt they needed to use F1 as a R&D lab to make better fans for homes.

jakobusvdl

So you honestly believe that Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault, Mclaren are spending hundreds of millions per year and employing hundreds of engineers so that they can race closely with each other, rather than to try and achieve technical dominance over their rivals?

Negative Camber

I believe that nothing goes on a F1 car unless it makes it faster. Technology has always been deployed for that reason. I’ve learned that from Steve M. The steady progress for faster cars has been a war of development, war of aero, and a battle with FIA over compensating for HD tires or tires with grooves and so on. Engineers are hired to solve for those issues and make the cars faster and recover lost pace due to regulations…until 2014. That’s when we strapped a electric motor to the car, spent hundreds of millions doing so and bankrupted three… Read more »

Tom Firth

At the cost of good racing is a weak argument. We didn’t have good racing when Red Bull was dominating F1 in the last engine regs either and we are in the midst of a very strong season for F1 coming out of the back of another dominating period by Mercedes. WEC has seen some absolutely fantastic races as a result of the 2014 technical regulations, and the freedom in the development it offered. Le Mans this year was not one of those races admittedly and it was frustrating but on the whole as things stand in 2017. I disagree… Read more »

Tom Firth

Just to make it clear. I’m not too fussed if hybrid powerplants end up in racing cars or not but clearly the world of car manufacturers did. I find what they’ve done in Sportscar racing to be predominately positive for the sport. I find what they’ve done in F1, less of a clear argument for the requirement. Yes it’s ended in tears. it always does for endurance racing fans unfortunately but I’ve loved the WEC since it’s formation in 2012 and I think that had hybrid technology not been at the forefront of the technical regulations, the WEC from 2012… Read more »

jakobusvdl

Great points Tom. Would it be fair to say that endurance racing has had a number of golden era’s, many of which ended because costs got way out of control.

jakobusvdl

Thanks Tom, that provides context and balance to the discussion. Plus a whole lot of interesting information

jakobusvdl

Good grief Todd, hybrids are not the beginning and end of all evil in F1. There have been countless rule changes in F1 designed to slow the cars down, engine capacity reductions, grooved tyres, car width reductions, banning active suspension, etc etc. And before Beelezbub unleashed the 2014 hybrids to bankrupt teams, add mass, unreliability and egregiously slow the cars, in 2009 those FIA b***tards tried to slow F1 with an extra 20kg of KERS device! So, I would agree, within the technical and sporting rules that apply to that season, everything on the car is designed to make it… Read more »

The Captain

” like most fans, have no idea what the hell is under their hood anyway.”

I very much understand what’s under the hood. I can tell the difference between the sound of the V6 and the new hybrid even on my surround sound system. Am I not a ‘real fan’ by your definition then? viewership has defiantly declined over the last few years of the hybrids, how can you arbitrarily claim then to speak for “most fans”?

Skid Solo

It appears as if Formula E is attracting more and more manufacturers. I can see and understand the reasoning why. Personally I have no interest in Formula E and find it boring. However, this could be the kick in the pants that F1 needs. Liberty are going to have to react quickly and do things that will prevent a further bail – out of manufacturers from F1. I hope it’s not too late.

Michael n

Negative Camber you now full well it doesn’t take 9.5 hour to charge an EV to travel 200kms. By you even suggesting that you lose cred. You now the writing is on the wall and Ev racing series will start replacing the 20th century tech formulas. Pull the bandaid off quickly as there’s less pain. Ev racing will develop in both speed and quality once the big manufacturers start getting their hands grubby or if you’re working on an EV, clean,

Negative Camber

A quick read says 9.5 hours for a full charge. Looking at Tesla, 200 miles is a 5:48 charge…either way, 400 miles, stop for 5 minutes and refuel, drive another 400 miles. When EV gets there, we’re on to something. Banning existing tech to force people to buy less performance vehicles is draconian at best. The adoption rate for technology is at play here and typically people will not adopt a new tech if it doesn’t perform better, go farther and offer a superior UX. Making laws to ban existing tech in order to force or artificially impact the adoption… Read more »

jakobusvdl

Is climate change ‘false news’ in your world view?

Negative Camber

I’m not making any points about climate change, I was speaking about the move toward EV technology and while I understand the cool tech features, it’s not a replacement for current ICE technology en masse. Leaving other racing series in order to work on your EV is damaging current racing and reducing opportunities for drivers. Now three drivers are looking for jobs in WEC LMP1. Drivers are looking for jobs in DTM. We’re narrowing the field to one series where manufacturers are all heading to pour cash in. One could argue that this is why all series need to have… Read more »

Meine Postma

So, is climate change ‘not real’ in your view ;-)

jakobusvdl

My comment was in reaction to the section of your post below. It doesn’t refer to, or obviously relate to, motorsport. It looks just like you’re saying you disagree with actions by governments to encourage manufacturers to move away from fossil fueled vehicles. In fact the changes are all driven by countries taking action so that they can meet ‘greenhouse gas’ emission reduction obligation. That’s all about making life better in the long term by mitigating the threat to all our lifestyles from ‘climate change’. “The other perception is that electric cars are where it’s at and the recent bans… Read more »

Michael n

Negative C a quick read and better insight, as I’ve had an EV for 2 plus years, will show working with the tech boundaries of an EV is only a matter of habit. The charging you refer to is the lowest watt option and one which may be best used when at home sleeping. My EV takes 3.5hours to charge at home and it’s only a number of times a week I may have to do that. The other times when traveling longer it’s a matter of quick charging, which allows my wife and kids a toilet break, and a… Read more »

Jim Brackeen

I have to agree with you Todd. Formula E is technology, but it’s not F1. FE cars are boring and slow. They aren’t road relevant, the battery technology is coming so very slowly. We’ve all read articles about traveling long distances in a Tesla. It leaves a lot to be desired, I wouldn’t do it. Banning the evil IC engine isn’t going to work in the near future, the infrastructure isn’t there and the amount of toxic chemicals needed to produce and dispose of old batteries is less environmentally friendly than carbon monoxide. At this point they end up in… Read more »

The Captain

61 million versus 1.5 billion pretty much says it all doesn’t it? Fans are not flocking to FE. I’ve read multiple race reports from FE that describe the crowds as pretty much just ‘mildly curios’ residents of the city the events are in who come out mostly to see why the streets are closed and look at their phones the who time. To put that 61 million number in prospective, the Drone Racing League got almost 30 million viewers last season. I also find myself wondering how much of the manufacture enthusiasm for FE comes from a desire to ‘look… Read more »