Why Porsche is trading Le Mans for Formula E
It’s happening again, but it’s even more shocking this time. Another manufacturer is joining Formula E, and this time it’s Porsche. In an announcement today, the German carmaker announced that it will be joining the all-electric Formula E series for the 2019/2020 season. The news is bittersweet for racing fans, because Porsche will be leaving the WEC LMP1 class to do so – and that means it won’t be racing in the flagship class of Le Mans.
Porsche announced the news this morning, and the company says that development of its Formula E car is already underway. Porsche will be keeping its hugely successful driver lineup of Nick Tandy, Neel Jani, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and André Lotterer in tact – although whether they’re going to be in Formula E or the GT WEC class remains to be seen.
“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission E. The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us”, said Michael Steiner, member of the executive board for research and development at Porsche. “Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts. For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”
Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Formula E, added: “If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago, that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it. To have a name like Porsche in Formula E, with all it represents in terms of racing and heritage – and in terms of sport cars – is an inflexion point in our quest to change the public perception about electric cars. The electric revolution continues, and Formula E remains the championship for that revolution.”
Why is Porsche joining Formula E?
The reasons for Porsche joining Formula E are pretty clear, and it’s an explanation I’ve had to write once already this week. The combustion engine’s days are numbered both on and off the track, and in an effort to reposition themselves as EV makers, brands such as Audi, Mercedes are now Porsche are scrambling to Formula E. Although Formula E is a relatively new motorsport, it’s a no-brainer for marketing: positioning your electric-vehicle range as exciting, interesting – and, well, sexy.
There’s a reason for this sudden spate of entries, too. When Formula E first started, it was crucial to get the racing, budget and rules right, so it began as a one-make series. That meant that every Formula E team ran the same aerodynamic bodywork, tyres, batteries and electric motor – with only the drivers and engineers changing.
While that was great for fans and the racing, it meant manufacturers couldn’t differentiate their cars, or showcase their own pure electric technology. In the 2019/2020 however, the rules will give teams a far larger scope in developing the electric motor and battery. That’s much better for road car brands, and great for Porsche’s EV-based Mission E programme.
“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission E. The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us”, said Michael Steiner. “Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts. For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”
Like both Audi and Mercedes, Porsche fancies its chances at out-developing its competitors, and who could blame it? The Stuttgart-based manufacturer has won Le Mans’ LMP1 class with its 919 Hybrid for the past three years, and it has one of the best records at the 24-hour race, well, ever.
But why is Porsche leaving the WEC?
I’m not even sure about this myself, to be honest. When Audi announced it was leaving the WEC to join Formula E, it looked like the Volkswagen Group was splitting its resources. After all, why have Porsche and Audi competing in the same series when you can use them to win two? Today’s news goes against that theory, and just confirms that for most manufacturers right now, Formula E is the place to be.
It’s an exciting time, but it’s sad to see so many other motorsport series paying the price of Formula E’s success. Earlier this week, Mercedes basically killed the DTM series by announcing its departure, and now it looks like Porsche has wrecked LMP1, the WEC’s flagship class, too.
Porsche’s decision is a huge blow to the WEC. With the previous departure of Audi last year, this will leave Toyota as the sole LMP1 Hybrid team in the championship. Porsche has won the WEC’s most important race, Le Mans, a total of 19 times, so it’s hard to deny a huge part of the sport is leaving. Porsche says it’s committed to racing its more conventional 911 RSR race car in the WEC series, but I’m not sure if the series will be able to survive without competition in the innovative hybrid class.
It’s an exciting time for sure, but it’s also a double KO for those who like to watch more than one type of motorsport. Still, at least we’ll still have the 2017 Porsche 911 RSR, probably one of the best-sounding cars on the planet right now.