Wolff didn’t believe ‘Formula E could make it’

Preparing for Mercedes’ first season in Formula E as a constructor, Toto Wolff admits he “didn’t believe” the electric series would survive.

Formula E’s sixth season will get underway in November in Saudi Arabia with Mercedes one of 12 teams making up 24 cars.

The team unveiled its first FE driver line up at the Frankfurt Motor Show on Wednesday, confirming former Mercedes F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries.

Mercedes will be the only manufacturer competing in both FE and F1.

“First of all, I didn’t believe that Formula E could make it,” Mercedes motorsport boss Wolff told Autosport.

“When Alejandro [Agag, FE CEO] and Jean [Todt, FIA president] started the championship I didn’t give it a lot of chance.

“But then against all odds, the championship is growing.

“And why it appeals to Mercedes is that it’s an exciting start-up.

“It’s all about electrification, electric cars, which are maybe in the early stages of technology yet, but a fully electric series has marketing appeal.

“Doing it in cities is something that is attractive – and the way Formula E is pitched overall is not for the hardcore motorsport fan, but more for wider audiences.

“There is more of a festival factor around the races. And all that deserves to look at it seriously. And this is what we are doing.”

Last season’s FE championship saw nine different winners whereas Formula 1 is sitting on just four for this season.

Wolff reckons the electric car series has learned “the lesson of what is dysfunctional in other race series [that] have had a long history but have obviously grown around complicated governance”.

“And we are a little bit [of a] victim of that in Formula 1, and we know that.

“On the other side – for a large organisation like Formula 1, we carry some responsibility for the heritage of Formula 1.

“We have two billion viewers every year and maybe then you can’t be as spontaneous with the decision making as you can be with a start-up.

“You can’t risk getting it wrong. And in Formula E, like with any other start-up, you can take risks, you can try stuff.

“You will earn lots of criticism – [but] the worse case is that it’s going to polarise and create some headlines.

“But it’s a totally different responsibility and totally different heritage to Formula 1.”

But while Mercedes have been the team to beat in Formula 1 for the past six seasons, Wolff admits FE is a different challenge entirely.

He explained: “There are teams and OEMs that have been in FE for a long time and they were successful and have the learning curve.

“We haven’t got all that – we had a learning year with HWA, with not all the resource that is needed to make it successful, so we very much see season six now as an entry point for Mercedes and we don’t take it for granted, to play a role in the leading pack.

“That will come over time. If we surprise ourselves and we are able to score highlights – being in the top five, going onto the podium – I would be delighted.

“But it’s not something we expect in season one [for Mercedes].”

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Rowland got tired of ‘extremely political’ F1

Oliver Rowland has said he grew tired of chasing his Formula 1 dream due to the “extremely political” nature of the sport.

Rowland was a former test and reserve driver for Renault and Williams but was unable to take the next step forward and land a seat in Formula 1.

But, Alex Albon’s switch to Toro Rosso gave Rowland the opportunity to start properly forging a career in Formula E with Nissan e.Dams.

The opportunity to try something new seemingly came at the right time for the British driver, who is now eager to make a name for himself.

“I spent a long time chasing the Formula 1 dream and I got very close,” Rowland told CNN Sport.

“I saw a lot into Formula 1; it’s extremely political and it’s not always the most talented guys that get there.

“There are various different factors and I ended up a little bit tired of it to be honest.

“I’ve come into Formula E and it seems like such a breath of fresh air. I’m just so happy to be here.

“Formula 1 is not on my radar whatsoever. I think with the direction that Formula E is going in the future is here.

“If I can really make a name for myself in Formula E then there’s no reason for me to be looking elsewhere.”

Rowland currently sits P9 in the Formula E World Championship, claiming three pole positions and two podium finishes so far this season.

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Ferrari has ‘open invitation’ from Formula E

Formula E boss Alejandro Agag has said he would “love Ferrari to come” to the all-electric racing series.

The series has already attracted major manufacturers such as Jaguar, Audi, Nissan and BMW, with Mercedes and Porsche set to join from the 2019-20 season.

The Italian luxury car brand is set to launch its first range of hybrid supercars later in 2019, meaning a spot in Formula E could prove attractive as they look to develop and showcase their electronic technology.

Ferrari are a key feature of the Formula 1 grid, even receiving extra payments to compete, and Agag is desperate to make them a part of the Formula E family too.

“I would love Ferrari to come, especially with Porsche and all the others here, it would be a great fight. You know let’s see. It’s an open invitation,” he told CNBC.

“You will always have the niche of ultra-high powerful cars that will be able to run fast and I think Ferrari definitely is that. Ferrari would never limit the top speed of their cars, but they will have to adapt in the future to whatever the landscape is and of course I think the landscape is electric.”

Former Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has branded Formula E as a strong bet for the future of motorsport, but while the series is more unpredictable and far cheaper than Formula 1, cars are around 25% slower than their petrol-powered rivals.

Nonetheless, Agag says he is “flattered” by Ecclestone’s comments.

“Bernie obviously is a genius. He created Formula One as it is today and he has a great vision of the whole map of motor sport and for him to say something like that I think is a great testimony for Formula E,” he explained to CNBC.

“Obviously I would welcome Bernie as an investor anytime, but we’re not there yet.

“I think in general there can be very rapid growth in front of Formula E, but also simply because we are a lot smaller. So we have a lot more room to grow, because Formula One is bigger.”

Despite the lower costs and record revenues, Formula E posted a $29m loss during its fiscal year ending July 31, 2018. Agag remains happy though with Formula E’s position as he prepares to move from his current role of CEO to chairman.

He has defended Formula E’s often wacky gimmicks, such as “attack mode” where drivers collect an extra 25kW of power for a few extra laps by driving off-line through the activation zone – saying the sport can do these things since they are not weighed down by “heritage”.

“We can adopt crazy ideas that other sports can’t, because they have all this past heritage. We can risk fumbles,” explained Agag.

“That [attack mode] has had a fantastic impact on the championship, on the viewership and on the fans. I think innovation for Formula E, like racing in cities, is part of our DNA.”

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