Confirmation that Porsche has extended its commitment to participating in Formula E until the end of the 2026 season is easily the best existential news the all-electric series has had since the beginning of the present decade.
Doubt around the Formula E programme had started to be cast in some quarters last year when Porsche looked to be heading to Formula 1 with an engine programme. When it tied itself in knots over that and clearly had no viable plan B, something that still astounds to this day, the die was cast for a continuation in Formula E.
It’s a programme that has yet to deliver the big prizes and featured a first three seasons that ranged from flattering to deceive to carelessness, especially in 2022 when it scored just 18 points from the last six races.
That brought forth questioning from some quarters as to whether Porsche would see the Gen3 era through because it was highly critical of the issues that surrounded the coordination and application of the Gen3 project from last autumn onwards.
As The Race alluded last week, Porsche is a very different proposition corporately and strategically to that of a decade ago when it embarked on its Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 project. That car became a modern classic, with a trio of World Endurance Championship titles and a hat-trick of stunning Le Mans 24 Hours wins.
The constituent parts of this programme in commercial, operational, sporting and technical aptitude are growing stronger but the overarching feeling within several of these is that of Porsche being a manufacturer still not lithe enough to react.
It was the first to get its Gen3 on track in June 2022, but while it made strong progress despite the often infuriating issues on spec parts of the ambitious car there was still a feeling that others were reacting quicker to issues.
That didn’t play out in the early races of the present season where Porsche-powered cars dominated. But from Hyderabad onwards it was caught by Jaguar in particular, and then when the familiar errors that had pebble-dashed its 2019-22 period started to resurface the title momentum was eventually lost in limp fashion at Rome earlier this month.
That was on the ‘racing stage’. Behind it there were intense talks with Formula E about what it could offer in the future for Porsche and indeed other manufacturers.
Matters came to a head, for Formula E, around early spring when questions arose about its future direction, the largely undelivered expansion of the world championship from a media points of view around live terrestrial TV coverage, and delivering a true ambition to expand its product, and a key change was made.
That was the enforced departure of Jamie Reigle as CEO and the insertion by Liberty of Jeff Dodds. For a few weeks, Porsche was concerned a change could destabilise its ongoing negotiations but by the Portland weekend in late June, just three weeks after Dodds had officially begun his role, the decision was more or less taken, the paperwork had started to be drawn up, and an impromptu photo opportunity was taken on the Rome grid to be used for Monday’s announcement.
Just prior to that, Porsche motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach told The Race that “one of the factors that will have a huge impact on the decision will be how stable is the championship”.
“Are we convinced that the owner of the championship is prepared to invest? Because we’ve got to build up more awareness in public, we still are in a phase where we need to build up,” continued Laudenbach.
“So, we need to be convinced that the owner of the championship really have a long-term commitment and are willing to invest in that because it still needs investment.
“That’s, for sure, one of the big things that will have an influence on our decision, because one thing is clear; we need to push it, we need more awareness, we need more reach to increase media, TV, whatever it is.”
Porsche executive board members such as Michael Steiner, Oliver Blume and Detlev von Platen had been to races in Berlin, Monaco and Rome. The support for an extension to Porsche’s electric adventure was clearly building but it was no given it would happen.
There are several key names to Porsche’s Formula E programme, the most noticeable of which are Laudenbach and Florian Modlinger, the director of factory motorsport for Formula E. But additionally, Carlo Wiggers, Porsche Motorsport’s director of team management and business relations, has been instrumental in forging the commercial structure of the operation and maintaining and moulding it to evidence Porsche’s electrically powered products.
At March’s Sao Paulo E-Prix, Wiggers, who was talking at a Porsche event that The Race attended, said that “electrification is unstoppable. Electrification is our future”.
“But see, for everyone who grew up in motorsport we didn’t grow up with electrification, we now learn electrification just like society does,” continued Wiggers.
“Formula E is the perfect platform and to be very honest, currently Formula E is holding the only platform on this level of competition, which is fully electrified.
“So, I think it’s a no-brainer for every member in society or in the automobile industry to join Formula E to not only improve prove our new technologies, but also to create a platform where we can bring clients, customers, target groups, all of us in our daily life bring us closer to what electrification means in sport, and hence means for us in daily life.”
The presumption then is that there is confidence in Formula E, under the Dodds leadership, will get further resources from Liberty Global to grow as many feel it should into a sports entertainment business that can deliver as much off-track as it consistently does on it.
Will more manufacturers take ‘no-brainer’ decision for Gen4?
Could Porsche’s commitment until the end of 2026 trigger a momentum surge in additional manufacturers joining Formula E, thereby redressing the balance of the all-electric series’ heyday of 2019-20 when eight brands took part?
It would be too simple and premature at this stage to suggest that is what will happen. The bigger question will likely be if Jaguar, Nissan, DS, Mahindra and NIO 333 follow suit and continue.
Of those five, Jaguar would appear on the surface to be the most likely to continue, while the Stellantis (DS) and Nissan behemoths could juggle their brands around to introduce fresh names and marketing initiatives.
Only Formula E knows how many outside of the current group of manufacturers are really interested in potentially being part of motorsport’s newest world championship.
Outgoing CEO Reigle was said to have visited several manufacturers in May just before his departure and Honda is known to have been among these.
But the most likely candidate for Gen4 could be Hyundai. The Korean manufacturer, which currently competes in the World Rally Championship and supports customer touring car racing programmes, is known to have conducted feasibility studies into several possible programmes including F1, Formula E and endurance racing.
No decision has been taken yet on which direction it will go but its high-profile motorsport boss Cyril Arbiteboul did visit the Monaco E-Prix in April and held informal talks with senior Formula E and FIA personnel.
The only other manufacturer that is known to have shown serious interest in Formula E in recent years is the electric specialist engineering manufacturer Atieva, which currently supplies the spec front powertrain kit.
The so-called 12th Formula E team licence is available for the right price in Formula E but as of now no deal appears to be likely for the second tranche of Gen3 racing, which will commence at the start of 2025.
Audi was unable to sell its slot on the grid in 2021 after it gave notice of its intention to leave with an initial announcement in November 2020, whereas BMW’s licence was already in the hands of Andretti and Mercedes’ was melded into the McLaren entry.
A big influx of new manufacturers seems unlikely, yet at the same time Porsche’s renewal may prove to be a decent spark. It should at least give Formula E a chance to replace Porsche should it not continue beyond 2026 as the world championship gets set for its fourth iteration of rules.