Adapt or be left behind is the clear message given to Formula One when Mercedes announced they had signed an option to race in season 5 of Formula E. Since that bombshell, the Silver Arrows has been reticent about their intentions, declaring that - at this stage at least - they are merely ‘interested observers’, but their intention is nothing but seismic for Formula One’s younger cousin in battle to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.
But, as has long been the case with elite motorsport, half the purpose of the competition is development. This has long been one of Formula One’s key pillars. Manufacturers would enter the sport to show off their technical abilities and learn new skills as they conceive new ideas in the competitive arena. Some of the current energy recovery and internal combustion technology in a modern F1 car is certainly an example of this.
Formula E, though still small, is rapidly moving to challenge to supersede Formula One in this regard.
“We have been watching the growth of Formula E with great interest,” said Wolff.
“Racing has always been a technology research and development platform for industry, and this will make Formula E very relevant in the future.”
Mercedes wouldn’t be the first to draw this conclusion, either. As Agag notes, its potential entry in the 2018–19 season would make it just one of many leading manufacturers.
Even Sauber seriously considered taking up an entry slot for the inaugural Formula E season and is still considering it’s options according to team boss, Monisha Kaltenborn.
"It’s something we looked at right at the beginning and right to the end they kept a seat for us, but we had other issues to sort out and you don’t want a new one coming up.
"We were on to it for a long time, since the time when they started talking about it.
“We were really into it but if the time is not right, one shouldn’t force it.”
“Formula E is becoming an exciting mix of consolidated manufacturers, like Renault, CitroenDS, Audi, Mahindra or Jaguar, and new futuristic brands like Faraday Future, NextEV. Mercedes would be a great addition to that growing line up” added Wolff.
Even if the manufacturer were to persist with both entries, it seems inconceivable that Mercedes could justify a continued significant spend on Formula One while pursuing research and development in another category. The company could conceivably press on with a reduced budget, but with its chief competitors outspending it, the days of Silver Arrows leading the pack would be numbered – and when results don’t come, boards pull the plug.
- Additional material, Michael Lamonato