until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

McLaren in talks over future of Mercedes Formula E team

by Sam Smith
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The Mercedes EQ Formula E team is in talks with McLaren to form a potential independent ‘super team’ so the reigning champion squad can continue in Formula E for the Gen3 era after Mercedes’ factory withdrawal later this year.

The Race can reveal plans for what is currently the Mercedes team to stay in FE in a new guise are almost formed and are likely to include a Nissan customer powertrain to be raced from the 2022/23 season onwards.

This could include the McLaren name in a capacity yet to be fully defined after talks between the organisations are said to have intensified last month.

These discussions are ongoing, as are other options that are still being pursued by the Brackley-based team that won both last year’s FE titles.

The Mercedes EQ grid slot is now set to continue in Gen3, but the ultimate entry name is not yet defined, with a potential McLaren-branded entity believed to be one of several possibilities.

The Mercedes element of the team will disappear this August when the manufacturer itself pulls out at the end of the current season. The decision to do so followed a protracted process that came to a head last summer when continuing the Formula E programme was rejected by Daimler executives.

Ad Diriyah Eprix

The Mercedes EQ Gen3 powertrain design programme, which was being led by former Super Aguri Formula 1 technical chief Peter McCool and had made significant development progress, ceased last August.

That meant that if the team is to continue in Gen3 it would have to seek and form an agreement with a registered manufacturer.

The Race understands that Nissan and NIO 333 are presently the only manufacturers that do not have firm deals in place to supply other teams.

While NIO 333 always only had an outside chance of becoming a supplier, Nissan is presently gearing up for a deal.

Formula E Ad Diriyah E Prix 2021

Mercedes EQ team principal Ian James first met McLaren CEO Zak Brown at last February’s 2021 season-opener in Diriyah, and talks about a possible alliance are said to have gathered more pace from last autumn onwards.

Now, almost a year on from their first meeting, James and other Mercedes EQ executives have again met with Brown to discuss a possible collaboration, and several paddock insiders told The Race last weekend in Riyadh that those talks were intensifying.

“On the Formula E side, they’re [McLaren] biding their time at the moment before a final decision is made,” James told The Race.

“I can’t talk on behalf of Zak or McLaren, they’ll no doubt be also analysing things very carefully, and then taking the appropriate decision at the right time.

“Since that first meeting, we’ve kept in touch and have been in discussions, as we have been with other parties as well.”

However, The Race understands that McLaren is also still looking at the possibility of entering its own team in Formula E.

Brown told selected media including The Race last month that a decision on a potential involvement in Formula E would now likely come “probably late in Q1″, meaning the end of next month.

“Originally I wanted to make a decision by December,” said Brown, whose firm is also adding an Extreme E programme this year and has taken majority control of its Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team.

“That was led by technical reasons, I felt like we had to make a decision. And I think we’ve done enough homework now that we probably have one more quarter to go.

“By our criteria it has to not detract from our other racing, taking on more, it has to be commercially viable.

“Our economics now are very strong from where we started, but I’ve got to make sure I stay on that trajectory.

“I like both series. I think we can be competitive in both series. We know how we would go about doing both series.”

James said the feeling within the Mercedes FE team is now very much that it will definitely continue beyond 2022 in a new form.

“Internally, we’re clear on what the future looks like and it’s very much positive that we will be playing our part in Gen3 and beyond as well,” he told The Race.

“Whatever form we take in the future, we need to make sure that we’re going to be performing.

“For that reason, it’s just key for me that whoever we partner with, whether that’s on the commercial side, on the sporting side, or on the supply side, that it’s the right package and the right set-up to make sure we’re continuing in that vein.”

Partnerships between manufacturers and customer teams for Gen3 have been the focus of frantic speculation in recent months, as the exits of Audi, BMW and Mercedes led to a reshaping of the grid. Audi and BMW’s powertrains remain in Formula E for now with Envision and Andretti respectively but both – like the current Mercedes team – need new suppliers for Gen3.

“I’m confident on that side of things,” said James of Mercedes’ hunt for a powertrain partner.

“Obviously there’s been the ‘dating game’ going on for some weeks or months now.

Ad Diriyah Eprix

“There are various deadlines that you need to meet. We’re not too far away from having to procure stuff for Gen3. So we’re also seeing now a degree of stability in terms of those partnerships.

“For that reason, we’re being very conscientious in our approach and making sure that we’ve taken a look at all the various different options.

“The ingredients are there now, so I’m confident we’ll have the right strategy in place when now when the time comes.”

Nissan’s global motorsports director Tommaso Volpe told The Race last Friday that “we have a plan to be to be able to support”, with his firm having emerged as favourite to supply what is currently Mercedes.

“We haven’t announced anything yet because obviously we are still discussing, and things are not settled,” he added.

Volpe indicated that getting a deal done is a high priority due to long lead times in getting parts for extra powertrain supplies to customers, saying that it “is critical” to confirm plans as soon as possible now.

“We are managing the whole situation in a way that we’ll be able to supply,” he said.

Spacesuit Media Shiv Gohil 279311

A flurry of announcements on which manufacturers teams are partnering with for the first two Gen3 seasons in 2023 and 2024 are expected to begin later this month and into March.

The Race already reported last month that the Avalanche Andretti team is close to a deal to run Porsche cars, while an agreement between Jaguar and the Envision Racing team is believed to have been reached at a relatively early stage in December.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks