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Magic Moments of 2017: The Manufacturers’ Summer

In the third of our four magic moments from 2017 we look at the extraordinary week in July which saw both Mercedes and Porsche commit to the all-electric championship…

Photo: Sam Smith

It’s all about the timing. Rarely does so much change occur in such a short period, particularly in the motorsport industry.

Yet Formula E was its epicenter in late July 2017.

In the space of just a few weeks, Porsche and Mercedes had done what Audi, BMW and Jaguar had already fathomed. A future electric race car program was now not merely a consideration: it was a necessity.

Behind the scenes, multi-manufacturer interest in Formula E had long been high. As early as the London race at Battersea Park in 2015, several key players had been on the ground in a low-key fashion and they were eyeing up the series which had almost died on its feet just a few months before.

Around this time, the Manufacturers’ Advisory Working Group was formed and the momentum started to grow.

By the start of season three in October 2016, the energy and impetus was mounting and by midway through that season, both Mercedes and Porsche personnel were openly attending races and becoming more entrenched in manufacturer group discussions.

The week between the New York and Montreal was a pivotal one for the series. This was when Mercedes accelerated their announcement plans and confirmed their take up of a pre-arranged option to join in 2019.

Just a few days later, Porsche confirmed its LMP1 exit and subsequent entry in to Formula E. The axis of international motorsport was shifting.

At Montreal the atmosphere in the paddock was a curious mix of excitement and trepidation. Yes, the prognosis for Formula E’s continued health was off any kind of registered scale, yet those who had been around the block of this industry recalled such spectacular collapses as Group C, the ITC and indeed 2008/09 era of Formula 1.

The on-track action in Montreal soon pushed the future away for a few days. Still, the after race awards ceremony and subsequent season ending party saw the Mumm champagne flow freer than ever.

The chasm between the series at this juncture compared to 2014 when it started was so stark it was hard to quantify.

At Punta del Este that year, there were barely a dozen people sat with me in the grandstand for free practice, and the quality of the entry list was workmanlike rather than even approaching stellar.

At Miami a few months later, the whole event came within a few hours of being canned altogether through a logistical and operational nightmare. The weeks following Miami saw the championship’s accounts department near Armageddon.

Two and a half years later, after the investment by Liberty Global and the snowball effect of Jaguar heralding a landslide of manufacturer entries, Formula E was the talk of the motorsport world.

One other important and unforeseen event helped Formula E accelerate towards its current health.

The VW Dieselgate scandal was a sizeable event which quickened several manufacturers’ strategies to promote and market zero emission technologies.

All of a sudden Alejandro Agag’s vision was not only getting the thrust of energy from the world’s OEMs it yearned for, but it was also getting some much needed rub of the green.

“The industry suddenly realised that the electric car is the future, including Audi, including everyone,” Lucas di Grassi told e-racing365 earlier this month.

“It makes sense to promote something cool and at the same time develop technology for it. And that’s when Alejandro comes in, you have the right direction and the right timing with a good CEO and good management.”

Di Grassi is right to praise Agag on his vision, hard work and belief of what Formula E can become.

But just like the Spaniard’s former professions of politician and football chairman, its often all about the timing too.

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

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