Porsche will compete in the all-electric Formula E series from 2019, joining Mercedes as the latest giant to convert to motorsport’s latest pillar.
When a giant like Porsche decides to end its involvement in the top category of Le Mans sportscar racing you should sit up and take notice. Porsche’s prototype 919 Hybrid won the Le Mans 24 Hours in each of the past three years and also won the 2015 and 2016 World Endurance Championships–so its hardly an ailing producer jumping from a sinking ship.
The manufacturer will halt its Le Mans programme at the end of this season, a year before its existing contract ends. Does this reveal a sense of urgency triggered by the recent announcement from Mercedes? Porsche’s German
cousin rival jumped on the bandwagon earlier this week, instantly validating the status of Formula E–yes! you petrolheads, this is a thing now, whether you like it or not. And that’s the end of it.
Michael Steiner, of Porsche’s research and development board, said:
“Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”
Formula E chief executive Alejandro Agag added:
“If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago, that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
This puts the LMP1 series in jeopardy, and also calls into question the future of Toyota–now the only team left in the series. Audi, like Porsche also part of the Volkswagen Group, announced last year that it was quitting Le Mans and the WEC to shift resources to Formula E. Other manufacturers already involved in the electric series include BMW, Renault, Jaguar and Citroen.
Formula E is making a serious assault. With top speeds of 140 MPH over race lengths of 50 minutes, the sport has been doing well to attract the core Motorsport audience, but the true success lies in the way that Formula E engages the fan-base like no other Motorsport. The advent of social media and on-demand content has proven to be a disruptive technology to even the most stable and sometimes entrenched series–such as Le Mans.
Formula E thrives on the fact that its races are primarily conducted on temporary street circuits erected in many metropolitan cities. Not only do vast skylines and towering buildings provide the perfect backdrop that FE is striving to cultivate for itself, but any event that forces the centre of a city to shut down for a weekend will draw plenty of attention, and plenty of potential new fans as well.