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Formula E and why manufacturers aren’t your friends

Where to now for Formula 1, as Formula E rises? (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
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28th July, 2017
1

It seems in the case of Formula E that lightning can strike thrice.

After first luring Audi away from their highly successful Le Mans program to compete as a full factory team from Season 4, the young series tempted Mercedes AMG to end their 30-year affiliation with the DTM touring car series.

The latest bombshell was dropped on Friday. Porsche, who previously had little interest in joining Formula E, announced that they will join the series from Season 6 onwards, subsequently abandoning their LMP1 team, which in four short seasons won the 24 hours of Le Mans three times, along with two World Endurance Championships.

The reaction from motorsport fans who don’t follow Formula E has been predictable.

They could have acknowledged the harsh truth that electric cars are inevitable, as seen by the recent announcement from the UK that the country will phase out internal combustion engines by 2050, with a diesel tax to be introduced.

They also could have acknowledged that there are long standing problems that have been festering inside DTM and the LMP1 class, that have been wilfully ignored by their respective governing bodies and it is unsurprising that some manufacturers eventually ran out of patience.

But instead they took childish swipes at Formula E, labelling it boring and uninteresting, primarily for auditory reasons, and called the decision to move to electric racing ‘idiotic’.

Now I’m not going to criticise you for not enjoying a Formula E race if you’ve made the effort to watch a few from start to finish. Like all racing series it has its good races and bad races. I personally think the good outweigh the bad and on a race by race basis you get better value for time (and often money) than Formula One.

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

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Of course, there are many petrol-heads who tried watching a Formula E race and turned off after five minutes because of the sound, or lack thereof. Now I understand that to many fans the sound of a race car is incredibly important, sometimes more so than its aesthetics or its speed. But I’m disappointed that some people found that their need for shrieking internal combustion engines spoiled their enjoyment of the race.

Maybe I just don’t have an appreciation for the auditory aspect of Autosport. Perhaps it’s because I only got back into Formula One in 2014, when the turbocharged V6 hybrids underwhelmed many fans. That said, I’m going to my first Supercars round over the weekend, so my experience with the sound of motorsport is set to be somewhat enriched.

But while I understand the gripes of some fans when it comes to Formula E’s appeal as a series to the masses, I simply cannot fathom why some fans believe the decisions of Porsche, Mercedes and Audi is incredibly thoughtless. It is an extremely rational business decision, and I’ll explain why in a few simple words.

Manufacturers are not your friends. They are unlike any other sporting team in the world.

It is not the job of a manufacturer to entertain you. That is the job of the organising body and the race promoter.

It is not the job of a manufacturer to produce exciting, close racing. That is the job of the governing body and the people who write the regulations.

It is the job of a manufacturer to produce a competent racing vehicle that fulfils all the obligations of the regulations. That’s it. Those are the only responsibilities they have to the fans.

They aren’t competing for the money. The amount of prize money they gain is minuscule compared to their yearly revenue from selling cars.

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They aren’t competing for the reputation. Volkswagen, the largest manufacturer in the world, who are also the owners of Porsche and Audi, might have an incredible track record in motorsport, but it means nothing when you’ve been caught out for manipulating emissions tests.

Why then do they compete? To build better cars for the road.

The harsh truth is that the internal combustion engine (ICE) is dying out. Petrol is getting more expensive and the air is getting dirtier. The future is not in petrol, but in electricity. With deadlines now in place in the UK and in France to switch from ICE powered cars to EV powered cars, it is of vital importance to car manufacturers that they get their act together as soon as possible.

Electric cars today are good, but they are far from perfect. In a little over 30 years, they need to be flawless. The best way to test the limits of electric cars? To put them in a high-pressure environment, where every component is being tested to the limit. And of course, the perfect environment is racing.

Why did Porsche leave the WEC and join Formula E? Because they can compete in a series which fits in their business plan for the future, for a much cheaper cost. They get more bang for their buck.

The reason that six manufacturers have entered Formula E is purely a business decision. The industry is in the midst of an EV arms race, to get the best electric car possible ready for the 2050 deadline.

Manufacturers don’t care about your opinions that the Formula E cars are too quiet, or that the racing is boring, or that the drivers are all Formula One rejects.

Because manufacturers don’t care about you, the fan. They never have. For them, Motorsport is not the romantic past time of generations. It’s public testing to raise their bottom line.

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So please, don’t act surprised when a manufacturer flocks to a series like Formula E. Because that’s the future, whether you like it or not.