We’re used to reporting car makers joining Formula E rather than quitting the electric single-seater series, so the news this week that both Audi and BMW will leave at the end of the 2021 season is something of a novelty.
To lose one may be regarded as a misfortune, to plagiarise Oscar Wilde; to lose another – well, is it carelessness or something deeper and potentially more sinister for Formula E?
In Bahrain, Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff has already reaffirmed his company’s unwavering commitment to Formula E, but he has also indicated that an F1-style budget cap would go some way to shoring up the series’ future.
It’s too early to start talking about a crisis, I’d say, although BMW’s assertion that is has “exhausted the opportunities” to develop e-mobility technology in Formula E represents an indictment of its main calling card to emissions-obsessed car makers.
It’s important to consider a couple of points on the withdrawals. First, BMW is notorious as one of the most fickle and unreliable major car makers when it comes to motor sport. In F1, sports car racing and the DTM, it has plenty of ‘previous’ when it comes to committing and then withdrawing at short notice after relatively brief campaigns.
It’s just two years since BMW pledged full works support to Michael Andretti’s Formula E team and announced its bombshell on the same day it had topped the 2021 pre-season test in Valencia, ahead of series’ first campaign as an official FIA World Championship. How odd, but also how very BMW.
On Audi’s pull-out, announced just two days prior to BMW’s, it’s worth clarifying that while it will no longer back the Abt-run works team after this season, it will continue supporting its customer programme for the Envision Virgin Racing team.
But again, the timing of its announcement, as the Valencia test was getting under way, was an unpleasant kick in the teeth for the series and overshadowed Mahindra’s announcement that it's the first to commit to Formula E’s more powerful Gen 3 era, which is due to begin in 2022.
The withdrawals highlight once again that race promoters, even for one that has been so ‘hot’ in terms of relevancy to car makers in recent years, should never rely too heavily on the support and commitment of the big car makers. When it comes to motorsport, they can rarely be trusted to stick around when the going gets tough.