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Analysis

How Formula E’s open-door approach to manufacturers is paying off

ANALYSIS: Lola's announcement that it would commit to the new Gen4 Formula E ruleset was welcome news for the championship and proves that its open-door approach to manufacturers is paying off, following a concerning period of exodus.

Lola, Yamaha Press Conference to annouce FE partnership Heiji Murayama, Managing Executive Officer, Director, Yamaha, Mark Preston, Managing Director, Lola Jeff Dodds, CEO, Formula E Alberto Longo, Deputy CEO, Chief Championship Officer, Formula E

The news earlier this week that the iconic British brand would commit to Gen4 was something expected by many.

Lola only announced in March that it would be returning to motorsport for the first in more than a decade as a powertrain supplier in the all-electric championship, beginning with the 2024-25 campaign.

While that initial commitment was only for the next two years across the Gen3 Evo regulations, realistically things would have needed to have gone very wrong for it not to remain in the championship beyond that period.

Powertrain partner Yamaha is yet to decide beyond the 2025-26 season, though, although it is actively considering also committing to Gen4 and will almost certainly follow suit. Lola Cars becomes the fourth manufacturer to sign up to the Gen4 ruleset following Nissan, Jaguar and Porsche, all of whom have signed up in the last few months meaning half of this year’s powertrain suppliers have committed.

It leaves Mahindra, Stellantis (which powers DS Penske and Maserati MSG) and ERT as the three yet to decide, and even outside of the powertrain suppliers, motorsport heavyweights such as McLaren, Andretti and Penske are key brands that Formula E will be intent on keeping.

But while there is a push to keep all current manufacturers, a greater emphasis is being made to attract new OEMs to the championship, creating something of a juggling act for organisers with only 12 team spots open.

“I would love to have 10 manufacturers all trying to get in, but on the other hand, you’ve got to satisfy the investment from existing manufacturers and there comes a point where they don’t want 10 manufacturers,” Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds tells Autosport.

Lola is the latest manufacturer to commit to Formula E Gen4

Lola is the latest manufacturer to commit to Formula E Gen4

Photo by: Lola

“If you think about the other motorsports out there, I think the World Endurance Championship has nine [in Hypercar], obviously in F1 it's four and then in IndyCar and NASCAR it’s three and two respectively. We’re currently sitting at six - seven if you include Lola as a non-competing manufacturer, so we’re at the top end of the number of manufacturers.

“I’ve always said the balance is between five and seven. Five feels like the bottom end of the range, once you start to go above seven it starts to feel like if you’ve only got 11 or 12 teams, it means there are going to be half of them which only have one powertrain in the championship. That feels like it’s starting to become untenable.

“You start with existing because they’ve already put money in and you want to show them loyalty and clearly I’d love every one of the existing ones to register for Gen4. On the other hand, we have half a dozen live conversations with other manufacturers.”

"We’re currently sitting at six [manufacturers], seven if you include Lola as a non-competing manufacturer, so we’re at the top end of number of manufacturers." Jeff Dodds, Formula E CEO.

Dodds has made it known that this included potential talks with Ferrari as the Italian manufacturer opens an electric powerplant this month ahead of producing its first all-electric vehicle in 2025.

While Ferrari has neither confirmed nor denied any interest in joining Formula E, there’s no question that curiosity in one particular region of the world has been high. The return of Formula E to China for the first time in five years in Shanghai last month cannot be understated, the country is the largest developer of electric vehicles (EV) in the world.

Representatives from some of the country’s key carmakers, including Xiaomi, BYD, LYNK & CO, Zeekr, IM Motor, were introduced to teams and officials over the weekend, while a workshop on the Gen4 regulations offered a glimpse of the championship’s technical roadmap and future direction.

“I first heard of Formula E 10 years ago and the growth of the championship since then is truly remarkable,” says Zhao Yuhui, vice president of Zeekr.

Could China hold the key to Formula E's future?

Could China hold the key to Formula E's future?

Photo by: Andreas Beil

“I strongly believe the series will contribute to the transition to electric mobility and the upcoming Gen4 race car seems to be the perfect platform to showcase the potential of such an innovative technology.”

Currently, both ERT and Envision are Chinese-owned, but only the former produces its own powertrains and even then, it is not a car manufacturer although it has been in the championship under different Chinese-owned guises since the outset.

With Formula E continuing to push the boundaries of electric technology, and the Gen4 machine set to be a major step forward, having a leading Chinese car manufacturer involved would arguably be logical as well as a huge coup.

“I think it’s a win-win because the Chinese development of EVs is so advanced now, they lead the world in EV development, we can learn a lot from that,” adds Dodds.

“Equally what they’re not doing is testing that technology under race conditions so they can learn a lot from this. The fact they’re saying let’s get involved with technical workshops and understand a bit more about where the technology is going, I think is really good for both parties.”

Alongside China as the biggest market for the championship, North America is the second and while there are no manufacturers represented on the grid, General Motors had an involvement in sister series XE until last year through the Ganassi team.

Formula E does have motorsport powerhouses in Andretti and Penske, though, and although neither has yet to formally commit to Gen4, both would be welcomed with open arms – something ironically Andretti has failed to find in its pursuit of a place on the F1 grid.

Formula E CEO Dodds on the grid in conversation with Lucas Di Grassi

Formula E CEO Dodds on the grid in conversation with Lucas Di Grassi

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

The crossover between electric technology on the track and for the consumer on the roads has arguably never been greater, making Formula E a more attractive proposition for car manufacturers again than it was just a few years ago.

“I think it’s a win-win because the Chinese development of EVs is so advanced now, they lead the world in EV development, we can learn a lot from that.” Jeff Dodds

This was the primary reason why Audi, BMW and Mercedes all left the championship within a year of each other, citing that the technology was no longer relevant to the road.

Dodds has presided over the championship since their departure and it’s no coincidence his tenure has coincided with a greater push for more car manufacturers.

While nothing is certain in motorsport, the drive by Dodds and Formula E organisers to appeal to a broad plethora of potential new clients appears to be moving the future of the championship in the right direction.

The championship has recovered strongly from the previous exodus of manufacturers

The championship has recovered strongly from the previous exodus of manufacturers

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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