Perception is everything for motorsport championships: they’re only ever as strong as people believe them to be. And the sudden announcement by Mercedes-Benz that it will quit the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship at the end of next season is a blow to the perceived strength of the electric single-seater championship.
For starters, Mercedes has only just competed its second season as an official Formula E entrant, and it has also just won the drivers’ and teams’ championships. Its withdrawal came just days after Audi and BMW both competed in the championship for the final time. Losing one manufacturer is unfortunate; losing three is undeniably a trend.
So how worrying is this for Formula E, a championship that has grown incredibly in its seven seasons largely due to an influx of support from manufacturers eager to showcase their electric ambitions?
Certainly, losing three high-profile manufacturers isn't good news - and championship bosses need to look closely at why they've quit, particularly at a time when car firms are investing so heavily in electric road cars.
Notably, Mercedes specifically cited the need to focus its resources on the ramp-up of its electric road car development, and the fact that it's quitting Formula E to do so implies that it doesn't see the championship as a true testbed for EV technology.
That suggests concerns with Formula E’s four-year generational rules cycles, which are used both to keep costs in checking by preventing a manufacturer-fuelled development race and ensure the on-track technology is reliable. That relatively controlled pace, along with limiting manufacturers to only developing the powertrain itself, doesn't reflect the rapid pace of EV development. Just consider how far roadgoing EVs have come in the past four years.