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Tech Draft: FE Gen 3 forced out Mercedes, BMW and Audi

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While the news that Mercedes no longer intend to compete in Formula E beyond next season came as a shock to some, it was viewed by many as a fait accompli.

Already in 2021, the fledgling series has suffered the loss of high profile global automotive OEM’s Audi and BMW, effective from the end of the season that has just ended, and even though McLaren have previously indicated interest in entering the series and signed options to that affect for the future, CEO Zak Brown quashed those intentions stating that the exodus of the OEM’s has cast doubt on whether McLaren will bother with Formula E.

For those who are wondering why four premium global automotive manufacturers with high level strategies and stated intentions in electric mobility would preclude themselves from aligning with the worlds highest profile electric motorsport series, they need not look any further than the development of the next era in the series; Gen 3.

Inevitably, as Gen 2 has served its purpose and Gen 3 dawns, the new age brings with it changes to the technical regulations, including but not limited to a new aesthetic design, a significant reduction in weight, an MGU with increased output and regenerative power capacities, and new sole supply batteries from Williams with full race distance and rapid charge capability.

Although the exodus of Audi, BMW and now Mercedes from Formula E is obviously due in part to their misalignment with the regulative definition of Gen 3, the fact that all three had paid the €300,000 homologation fee to the FIA that gave them access to the data they needed to commence development of their Gen 3 designs is indicative of a significant disjoint between the OEMS’s and the Gen 3 regulations with respect to the technological freedoms that were omitted.

Indeed, the development of the Gen 3 regulations was supposed to be concluded in consultation with the organisations that had formally registered with the FIA as an homologated Formula E manufacturer, but that did not seem to have happened.

Through their investments in being manufacturers in Formula E and using it as a live R&D laboratory for their EV technologies the manufacturers wanted certain degrees of freedom that allowed them to demonstrate technologies directly aligned to their road going EV strategies, but many of these that were anticipated, such as electric active suspension, four wheel drive and regen, non-mechanical braking, and software controlled moveable aerodynamic devices were prohibited in the resulting regulations.

The key consideration in BMW, Audi, Mercedes and probably McLaren bypassing Formula E as manufacturers during the Gen 3 era is that the series would only provide value to them to them if they were able to demonstrate technologies directly linked to the road going EV’s that they are and will be marketing. Demonstrating prescribed technology that is irrelevant to their products would be no value proposition whatsoever.

Somehow, as the path to Gen 3 forged ahead, Formula E, the FIA, Alejandro Agag, and Jean Todt seemed to have forgotten that it is those willing to invest their money in using their platform of Formula E to market their products that are indeed the ones that are marketing Formula E for them. Or to put it more plainly it would appear that they have forgotten to not bite the hands that feed them.

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