While Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz racers dominated the fossil-fuelled Australian Grand Prix last month, it appears BMW is heading down a different racetrack.
The German carmaker has signed on officially as a works entry in Formula E, joining rival manufacturers Audi, Jaguar and Renault in the all-electric car racing series. The move extends BMW’s sideline involvement with the MS Amlin Andretti team.
BMW has supported the FIA Formula E Championship as the official vehicle supplier since the first season in 2012. The BMW i8 sports car is run as the formula’s safety car, the BMW i3 as the medical car and the BMW X5 xDrive40e as the rescue car.
Now BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt says it’s time to step up the involvement with the single-seater formula.
“Since its inaugural season, Formula E has enjoyed rapid development and is now regarded as a high-level racing series,” Marquardt says. “Everyone involved (at BMW) is delighted to be taking steps to get involved on the sporting and technological side of Formula E.”
BMW I, its electric car division, began its move to become a Formula E works entry by tying up with champion American racer Michael Andretti’s motorsport outfit at the beginning of this season.
BMW Motorsport provided MS Amlin Andretti with works driver Antonio Felix da Costa and that, plus the exchange of information between the Indianapolis and Munich outfits, has led to a quick start-up; BMW engineers have begun work on a Formula E powertrain.
“We still have a lot of work to do but we have taken the first steps,” Marquardt says. “If the series continues with this positive development, we want to be perfectly prepared for the potential works entry in season five.”
BMW sees a Formula E works entry as part of a long-term global motorsport strategy.
There are now 10 Formula E teams running with 20 drivers, including former Formula One racers Nick Heidfeld and Nelson Piquet Jr, whose father won the 1983 F1 world championship in a BMW-powered Brabham.
Formula E races are run at speeds up to 225km/h over 50 minutes with one compulsory car swap. The 170kW single-seaters will race over 14 rounds this season and organisers reportedly are very keen to see an Australian meeting on the calendar in the future.
Last weekend’s race in Mexico City, the fourth round in the 2016-17 season, was won by Lucas di Grassi and the ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport team. Audi is ramping up involvement in Formula E since quitting the World Endurance Championship for sports cars at the end of last season; some racing technologies could well be harnessed for three battery-electric road cars Audi is readying for production by 2020.