German automotive giants Audi and BMW have both announced their plans to step up their involvement in the Formula E Championship over the next two seasons.
Audi will become a fully-fledged factory team from next season (2017-18), taking over the entry held by Abt Sportsline. Audi have been a technology partner of the team currently known as ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport from the inaugural 2014-15 season, with Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt driving. Di Grassi has taken five victories for the team and challenged for the Drivers’ Championship title in all three seasons to-date.
The factory team will be known as Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler, reflecting Schaeffler’s continued involvement as a technical partner while Abt Sportsline will also remain involved, running the factory team – similar to their partnership with Audi in DTM.
Audi’s move to become a manufacturer in Formula E is not unexpected, as a plan to increase their involvement in the series was listed as one factor behind their withdrawal from the World Endurance Championship at the end of 2016.
According to Dr. Peter Mertens, Member of the Board of Management – Technical Development at Audi, the transition to full manufacturer status in Formula E links with the brand’s road car strategy and was a logical next step for the carmaker.
“We’ve been supporting the Formula E commitment with increasing intensity in recent months – on the race days, in the development of the new powertrain and in numerous off-track activities as well,” he explained.
“That Audi will be the first German automobile manufacturer to be actively involved in the racing series starting next season is also a clear commitment of our brand to electric mobility, on the race track as of December and next year on the road as well with the new Audi e-tron.”
From season five (2018-19), BMW will also become a Formula E powertrain manufacturer. Like Audi, BMW has pre-existing links to Formula E dating back to the inaugural season as the official vehicle supplier to the series and has also been a technical partner of the Andretti team (pictured top) since the 2015-16 season.
It is with Andretti that BMW will run its powertrain, with the American squad becoming the BMW factory team. Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti – proud of the work completed by his team with BMW so far – welcomed the expanded partnership with the German brand.
“We are excited to expand our partnership with BMW and serve as BMW’s official Formula E works team beginning in Season 5. The ongoing collaboration between BMW and Andretti Formula E has provided a strong foundation for BMW’s entry as an official manufacturer,” he said.
“We look forward to running BMW’s first all-electric racing drivetrain and competing for the Formula E Championship. BMW is leading the automotive future with the BMW i line and their innovation in electric car technology. I couldn’t pick a more prestigious or historic manufacturer to work with in Formula E.”
For BMW, the upcoming season is the ideal time to join as a manufacturer, with the technical changes due to be introduced to the series at that time aligning with the brand’s road car philosophy.
“Formula E has developed fantastically as a racing series and, as a new, technology-based project, is perfectly suited to the BMW Group and BMW Motorsport. Forging new paths and driving innovation – these are values shared by BMW and Formula E,” BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt explained.
“Because it is very important for us to demonstrate our technological expertise, we have shown a firm commitment to this project through the registration of BMW AG as an official manufacturer and are facing up to the growing competition there. The changes we required for our involvement will come into effect in Season 5 – these include, for example, the omission of the car changeover.
“We are already seeing in our development work that colleagues from the production and motorsport departments are collaborating in a completely new way. The result is new paths, which we are forging together in the matter of electric drivetrains.
“In Formula E, we will demonstrate both our innovative expertise and our sporting spirit. The series represents a completely new challenge for us – a challenge we are happy to take on together with Andretti Formula E.”
While the Audi and BMW announcements are major developments for future seasons of Formula E, the championship’s third season resumes this Saturday, July 15, with the inaugural New York City ePrix.
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Images via FIA Formula E Championship