Is Formula E’s confidence simply hubris? Last month, Aston Martin chairman Lawrence Stroll was asked if the series was on his radar, and his answer was hardly a ringing endorsement. “We want to get up and running with F1 [from 2021] and are focused on that,” he said. “But a Formula E entry could be a very good marketing initiative. It’s very different to F1: no TV coverage, no fans at races… It’s a very different experience. And our plate is full for the next couple of years.”
That would be a no, then – for now. But after a strange December and a difficult year for everyone, there’s still too much strength in depth to start labelling this a Formula E crisis. Instead, there’s some motor racing to look forward to.
The world championship will kick off with a double-header in Santiago, Chile, on 16/17 January, as reigning Formula E king António Félix da Costa and double title winner Jean-Éric Vergne once more head the benchmark DS Techeetah team. Elsewhere, there has been some significant seat swapping as Britain’s perennial Formula E ace Sam Bird switches from Envision Virgin to Jaguar and ex-Sauber F1 racer Pascal Wehrlein moves from Mahindra to Porsche, with genuine EV evangelist Alexander Sims taking his seat at the Indian team.
Sims quit BMW, with which he had had a long allegiance, to join Mahindra not long after the end of season six last summer. That raised eyebrows at the time, but it has already proven a canny move. Then again, promising Brit Jake Dennis is grateful for the chance as Sims’ replacement at BMW, especially as Andretti plans to continue after 2021, with or without factory status.
As you might have already read in Autocar, Sims is dedicated to EV propulsion in a manner beyond any of his rivals. But like all racing drivers, he is also a realist who survives in this sport on his instincts. When I spoke to him in August last year about his reasons for joining Mahindra, his response proved prescient.
“Weighing up the situation, it was difficult when you read about a spate of motorsport programmes finishing and professional drives being lost in fairly significant numbers at the moment,” he said. “The priority is to be in Formula E next season, and the Mahindra offer was the first and only option I had to guarantee that, even if I felt comfortable BMW would come up with something. It was really just the timing. They couldn’t commit to a contract I could sign, so I took the decision to move.”
It is likely he would also have known that Mahindra is the first company to commit to the promise of the more potent Gen 3 era that is due to begin in 2022. But how many will join it? In the wake of the Audi and BMW double blow, the answer will be the real indicator of Formula E’s future, beyond its status as a bona fide world player.