until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Porsche sticks with Formula E - but it wants more

by Sam Smith
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

If you looked closely enough, you saw the hints that Porsche was always going to make a positive decision on remaining in Formula E beyond 2026.

The first came in Rome last July when Porsche extended its commitment to the end of Gen3. One ‘phew’ for Formula E.

Then there was a super-duper new Porsche Taycan safety car at the Berlin E-Prix earlier this month. Another ‘phew’.

Porsche Taycan Formula E safety car

Of course, by then Formula E knew Porsche was staying so that was only a pretend 'phew'. The relief though was fairly tangible in Berlin when embargoed word filtered through that one of racing’s greatest brands was sticking around for at least the next six years.

Porsche’s importance in the overall health of Formula E is significant. It is the greatest prestige racing brand a series can have, bar probably only Ferrari.

What it brings to the promoter is gargantuan. To lose three German manufacturers (Audi, BMW and Mercedes) in the space of nine months between November 2020 and August 2021 was damaging. To lose the remaining one left would have been catastrophic.

But Porsche is staying. For that, Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds was delighted and grateful in equal measure.

“I arrived into the process of Porsche announcing their extension to the end of Gen3,” Dodds, who celebrates his first year in charge in two weeks’ time, told The Race.

“Of course, behind the scenes they [Porsche] were saying to us that, 'There’s a process we follow internally but our intention is to commit to Gen4 and beyond, that’s our ambition'.

Porsche, Formula E

“While we always hoped that would be the case, you never take it for granted until you hear it, but they’re so important for us because they’re one of the motor manufacturing brands that have racing truly at their heart.

“When Porsche signs up and says, ‘We’re committing to you’, it kind of legitimises the motorsport, because they’re part of it, they’re so serious and incredible in that space.”

That’s one of the reasons the Porsche decision was so vital for Formula E: credibility. But with that comes a flipside too, and it's one that needs a lot of political, sporting and commercial management.

A 'challenging' partner

Porsche, Formula E

When the CEO of a world championship starts a sentence with “I’m hoping that this is not a controversial thing to say...” one’s ears naturally prick up!

But that is exactly the gambit with which Dodds opened when he sat down with The Race in Berlin, at Porsche’s home race, 10 days ago.

“I’m hoping that this is not a controversial thing to say, we treat them [manufacturers] all the same but they have to be valued slightly differently based on what they bring to the championship,” elaborated Dodds.

“They [Porsche] are great partners of ours but challenging partners because they push us all the time to do better, be better, go faster.”

The reasonings of why Porsche extended will for sure have had something to do with how Formula E plans to reach out to more people in specific territories in the short and medium term. Also, the expansion of media strategies above and beyond the present suite of imprints will have been a factor.

“Whether [those factors] are the difference between saying yes and no, I don’t know,” said Dodds.

Porsche, Formula E

“I would say it’s slightly more macro for them, so they look at it and say, 'What’s the financial commitment to this? Is this a credible motorsport we believe is growing?' Is this a long-term commitment for Porsche - because they don’t do anything short term, they’re in it for the long term - and, 'Is this an environment where we’re still able to learn something around the technology and transfer tech into our road cars?'”

Have all of those questions really been answered for Porsche?

It’s unlikely - because several spanners were tossed into a variety of works over the last year or so, including a loss of bespoke terrestrial coverage via ProSieben TV, which was heralded as a deal-smoother for many German entities in the all-electric world championship.

Additionally, Porsche’s relationship with FIA officialdom in recent races was also fractious. This, though, was more irritating than damning in any bigger-picture decision-making.

Ultimately Porsche has been thinking long-term. The boundary conditions that Porsche motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach often likes to talk about are analysed like prime data from a shakedown. After all, he is an engineer at heart.

Thomas Laudenbach, Porsche

“We were always thinking long-term, but I think it's quite normal that before you sign a new step you talk about boundary conditions, you talk about what's coming on, and there are just things to discuss, to clarify,” Laudenbach told The Race.

“It was not that we weren't sure, it's not that we went 'hmm'. We weren't in a rush and we just wanted to take the time to go through all the things that were important for us, which route does it go technically-wise, or the other boundary conditions.”

Sometimes you feel like asking Laudenbach the engineer, rather than the motorsport director, what he really thinks about Formula E’s technical future. And to be fair to him he doesn’t dodge many questions about it. It has long been known that Porsche would like to see greater freedoms on particular battery technology.

Yet some previous programmes such as the wild, wonderful and, yes, commercially reckless LMP1 Hybrid era are always at the back of the mind of Laudenbach the executive and his peers.

“If you ask me as an engineer, I will always say ‘let's make this car free and we go racing’. But since I'm also responsible for the financial side, I think Formula E is doing quite good in balancing this,” he said.

“Even so, I have to say, the cost cap [kicking in in the 2022-23 season] is a huge effort.

"I personally do like to think you have a car with a certain amount of freedom in the right area, and this is covered with the cost cap, I think that's good.”

Porsche's ambitions for Formula E

Porsche, Formula E

On the sporting and commercial side, Porsche is in a much happier place, which is saying something considering that it is yet to win a title other than the reflected glory from its customer Andretti team last season.

That though will surely soon be resolved - if not via a drivers' title than through a teams' one or via the new-for-2024 manufacturers' championship.

This is not false modesty from Porsche. It is happier because when Formula E needed to change the qualifying format for 2022, it was changed. When the Gen3 project descended into chaos and safety-related jeopardy, there was a practical and existential reaction.

Moreover, Porsche also likes to compete with the parameters that are on offer via Formula E.

It knows and loves endurance racing, ditto one-make series like the Porsche Supercup or the Carrera Cup. But it also likes learning new things and in Formula E there has been plenty of that since its entry in late 2019.

Porsche, Formula E

“You still can see that the cars differentiate but we don't have the same situation like in other series where all the time the same car wins, so still you can see others winning, still can see always somebody who wasn't that strong, for instance, still on pole because they just did a good job,” surmised Laudenbach.

“That's what we like, and I think that's quite a good mixture to also keep it financially healthy. From our impressions this will carry on, but yes, really long-term thinking of course there are areas which we would like to see opened up, but in a very careful and wise way.”

Porsche is an international company that has mighty ambitions for its all-electric range of cars, particularly in Asia. That’s one reason why its Gen4 commitment announcement has been made on Thursday as the paddock is in situ at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Part and parcel of growing that is for Porsche to be an intrinsic part of something that is still growing. Its return on investment figures are not known in detail but Porsche must be confident that Formula E is worth the investment - otherwise it’d be off to do something else.

“Don't get me wrong, Porsche is a strong brand name without any doubt. I would like to call us probably some sort of core team in the championship. With that, we'd really like to grow [Formula E],” s Laudenbach.

“The development is good, but we should never stop pushing because it will not come by itself and the goal is clearly to grow much bigger.”

That, right there, is a cue, an indicator by Formula E’s ‘challenging’ manufacturer direct to Dodds and the teams he manages.

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