Former F1 champions, McLaren, announced last week that they were evaluating competing in alternative motorsport and in doing so reserved a place for Season 9 in Formula E.
This is specifically not an announcement of an entry by McLaren, but is intent to make it official down the line.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown said as such in an official statement: “We’ve been closely observing Formula E for some time and monitoring the series’ progress and future direction.
“The opportunity to take an option on an entry and the completion of the McLaren Applied supplier contract with the FIA at the end of Gen2, gives us the necessary time to decide if Formula E is right for McLaren as a future competition platform.”
Understanding Formula E is hard. But it is not new ground for McLaren with the historic F1 team’s Applied Technologies department supplying the battery for the Gen2 car. Williams Advanced Technologies have regained that contract for Gen3 and there were rumours a few months ago after this announcement that McLaren wanted to continue their association with the premier electric series.
Formula E have not officially confirmed many details about the Gen3 cars but in the same statement about McLaren’s reservation, they said Gen3 will provide “performance and efficiency advances including more powerful, lighter cars and faster charging as well as a set of technical and financial controls aimed at reinforcing the business case for Formula E’s ecosystem of teams and manufacturers.”
Alejandro Agag’s plan for Formula E, which is now under new leadership from Jamie Reigle, is to remain one step ahead of the electric car industry with fast charging being the headline addition to the championship.
Naturally, forging the path for electric cars has always been the intention and interest from McLaren in the new formula is much needed after a shaky few months for the series…
In December, Audi and BMW announced they were leaving the championship at the end of Season 7 in 2021. Neither are seeing out the end of the Gen2 era, both marques stating that they had achieved their goals in Formula E, having secured a prime footing in the electric car industry.
Only Mahindra is technically signed up for Gen3 seasons but interest from McLaren means others will surely be looking at the regulations more optimistically than could reasonably be assumed from the outside.
In recent years, McLaren have developed a more integrated motorsport family tree. They merged with the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Indycar team in 2020 after two outings in the Indy 500 with Fernando Alonso previously.
They could further spread their motorsport empire by joining Formula E.
Key to McLaren are the economic impacts of launching a new campaign, even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020/21, they had ruled out getting involved in WEC’s new Hypercar regulations, which arguably were tailored to bring in companies such as McLaren, due to the loss it would cause.
That will be primarily what McLaren is evaluating.
Now we thought we’d have a little bit of fun. If McLaren did go ahead and entered Formula E, what would the team look like?
So here are a few ideas from me.
We can judge how the drivers could be chosen based on their Indycar appointments last year. Flashy young star Pato O’Ward and Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew slotted into the seats and both were good appointments with both drivers scoring podiums and O’Ward finishing fourth in the standings.
One McLaren driver has a huge amount of experience in Formula E and that is Oliver Turvey. A stalwart on the testing scene for McLaren, Turvey has been on the books at Woking for years now. His relationship with the team is strong and his pace is without question strong.
Consistently he tops lists of most underrated drivers in Formula E, in fact to such an extent he arguably is now just rated. A podium and pole with the struggling NIO team in Season 3 are highlights with him consistently outperforming high quality teammates in tough machinery, with a competitive car, Turvey would be a force to be reckoned with.
McLaren would most likely snap him up to lead their team as an experienced yet familiar driver.
Now the question of their second driver.
McLaren have just signed Felix Rosenqvist to their Indycar squad, he’s another driver in the stable who’s already had FE success. He led the championship with Mahindra in Season 4 before being ousted for the incoming Pascal Wehrlein.
McLaren would do no worse than bringing Rosenqvist back to Formula E.
But if he is still embedded in their Indycar programme, then picking him out of that team would not necessarily be competitive.
An alternatively successful approach that was adopted by the Mercedes team when they joined Formula E was to snatch a hugely promising junior driver. They appointed Nyck De Vries who rounded out his first season with a podium.
Nissan did the same when they joined the series hiring Alex Albon before he was cherry picked by Toro Rosso to replace Brendon Hartley.
A Formula 2 driver who is ignored by F1 might be a safe bet for the team with drivers such as Christian Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong being safe bets for immensely talented and intelligent drivers who may well miss the F1 boat for 2022.
Realistically this has become a question of what will the junior series scene look like in 2022 and with such phenomenons of Yuki Tsunoda and George Russell flying through the ranks then the next big thing is just an unknown.
So in conclusion, the result of this ramble is Oliver Turvey and [insert junior driver here].
Or they could just let Mika Hakkinen come back…
Occupy or Infiltrate
This weird subtitle refers to whether McLaren should occupy a spot on the grid as their own team and take on all the incumbents or whether they should buy a stake in a team like they have done in Indycar and rebrand as McLaren.
Now, considering they’ve reserved a physical entry to the series, then this one could be all but set in stone.
But with nothing being confirmed, both will still be evaluated by the team.
With fiscal impacts being the priority, reallocating staff the team already possesses seems more sound an option than purchasing an entry to the championship which have become incredibly expensive in recent years.
With F1 budget caps taking hold and getting more aggressive in the years to come, saving jobs via a Formula E campaign managed from Woking seems the best option.
So the very over the top answer is infiltrate.
Customer or Manufacturer
McLaren has always been a customer team rather than building their own power supply. Historically, there have been numerous opportunities for the Formula 1 team to build their own engines. The company considered it for their landmark roadcar, the F1, eventually settling for BMW power.
The F1 team is returning to Mercedes power after an absence since 2014 which many believe could give a boost to the team that have been stuck in the midfield since 2012.
Lando Norris even implied in a Sky Sports interview that with the Mercedes 2020 power unit, he could have fought for pole in Abu Dhabi.
McLaren do have a Mercedes partnership so it would be foolish to not at least attempt to carry this over to Formula E.
A cross series customer relationship would help to connect their relationships and would solidify a partnership for years to come to hopefully recreate some mid-noughties glory days for the Mclaren-Mercedes duo.
Overall, Formula E would definitely welcome such a historic name in McLaren joining the ranks alongside Porsche, Mercedes and Jaguar as motorsport greats.
If they were to join, then a team with Oliver Turvey and Mercedes customer power, akin to Venturi, are the Last-Lap predictions.
Reserving an entry is intent. But it is not confirmation. There will be some time before that is officially known but it is a great excuse to get excited!
Watch this space.