Hot on the heels of Audi’s announcement that it would withdraw from Formula E at the end of the 2021 season, BMW has followed suit. The marque has been involved in the series since its inception, however the company says it has now exhausted the opportunities for technical transfer between the road and race programs.
In a statement, BMW noted that the same engineers that develop the drivetrains for electric production vehicles are also responsible for those in the race cars, and unlike brands such as Porsche and Audi, it has little history of dedicated motorsport motor and electronics development. It noted that examples of the successful transfer of technology between the Formula E project and production development include the development of energy management and energy efficiency strategies, the transfer of software for power electronics from racing to production, and an improvement in the power density of its e-motors.
Quite how accurate the claim that development avenues in Formula E have been exhausted remains to be seen. PMW spoke with Dirk Kesselgruber, president of ePowertrains at GKN (which supplies the Jaguar Formula E team) following BMW’s announcement, and he suggested that, from his company’s perspective at least, there was still great scope for learning within the series, particularly on the software and energy management side. Kesselgruber highlighted that, unlike hardware developments, these could be almost directly transposed to road car applications.
Likely, the rapidly escalating costs also had a role to play in BMW’s decision. The generally accepted spend for a manufacturer is €25-€30m (US$31-US$37m) per season, for a series that – while making good progress – has failed to gather a substantial global fan base. Looking at Audi’s choice to instead pursue a Dakar and sportscar program, with a comparable spend to Formula E, it will be able to chase titles in three flagship events (the Dakar, Le Mans and Daytona 24), while still burnishing its green credentials.
While there is work underway within Formula E to establish a formal cost cap structure, it has clearly come too late for two German manufacturers – though following the announcement, Mercedes reaffirmed its commitment to the series.