Volkswagen, F1, Gen3 & Formula E – it has been a confusing week

I’m not sure about you but it has been a confusing week or so with the announcement (yet to be officially confirmed) that both Volkswagen subsidiaries, Porsche and Audi, will enter Formula One (the latest worst kept secret). This will probably take place in 2026 when new F1 regulations, particularly with regard to engines, take place. Meanwhile we have had the release of the new Gen3 Formula E single seater which I think looks like someone’s attempt to create an origami version of a F1 car.

How is this confusing? Well, first let’s head back to 2018 and the Volkswagen’s VOWG_p.DE strategy that was released stating that the German car maker’s core brand (VW) would develop its final generation of motor vehicles using combustion engine technology in 2026. (Funny that this is the year that major changes will take place in Formula One – more on this later).

This is part of their strategic shift toward battery-driven vehicles in the wake of the damaging diesel-emissions cheating scandal back in 2015. The result was that the carmaker had to pay more than 27 billion euros in fines for hiding excessive pollution.

Midway through 2021 they further announced that they would stop selling combustion engine cars in Europe by 2035. Sometime after that year this will also take effect in the USA, China and other countries around the world.

While I would admit to not being near the centre of action when it comes to motor vehicle manufacturers, it is not difficult to make observations as a purchaser/layperson.

It’s confusing because here we have one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers making the strategic move to electric vehicles while joining the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One, through two of their subsidiary brands Porsche and Audi.

It’s like mixing oil and water. I just don’t get it. While it’s fabulous to have two iconic brands joining the F1 paddock, it doesn’t seem to gel with their strategic direction as a vehicle manufacturer which says to me that they are heading down a full electric route while F1 is more about hybrid engine power and creating efficiencies with this power train.

This move by VW, undoubtedly has something to do with the rapid increase in the following of F1 which seems to be put down to the new F1 US owners, Liberty Media, and their approach to marketing the category, particularly through social media, Netflix (Drive to Survive) and the general increase in an already substantial fan base.

Once Bernie Ecclestone let go of the F1 reigns and sold out to Liberty, the marketing of the category took a whole new turn for the better.

Volkswagen now say that they, as a manufacturer, have to be involved in Formula One so it is a strategic marketing decision (maybe nothing to do with combustion engines).

Why 2026? Maybe it is a coincidence that VW will end their combustion engine development in the same year as they join the F1 circus. Anyway, 2026 will be the start of new regulations that will see F1 become increasingly sustainable with the use of more electrical power (their engines will still be hybrid). Power units will be based on a 1.6 litre V6 engine with an increase of electrical power to 350kW. The MGU-H (the device that can recover or store energy from the turbocharger in an F1 car using the gases that spin the turbocharger’s turbine to produce electricity), will be eliminated while a power unit cost cap will be introduced.

The new Gen3 Formula E car

Last week there was a bit of hype over the release of the new Gen3 Formula E car – ‘the future of all-electric high-performance motorsport’ – it was reported. It’s quoted as the world’s first race car designed and optimised specifically for street racing. Well, the cynic in me says it’s designed that way because they haven’t come up with the capacity to race on a real circuit.

I am not a FE fan and never will be. With respect to Nick Cassidy and Mitch Evans, two extremely talented drivers currently competing in the category, I think the category is there because of the manufacturers. Take them away and it will fall over.

Tell me, when was the last time you discussed the latest FE race with your motorsport mates? In my motorsport circle, it is very rarely ever raised. In fact, I think that the only people who really love it are the drivers themselves ( and they are paid very handsomely to do so).

The Gen3 media release highlights the efficiencies and sustainability of the category with recycled carbon fibre, natural rubber and a low carbon footprint from manufacturing.

I think the whole Formula E category is purely about marketing. If they wanted to be more sustainable then maybe the right thing to do would be not to race at all. Let’s face it, motorsport isn’t exactly kind on the planet.

Both Porsche and Audi have been involved in the FIA Formula E for some time.  Porsche is still a manufacturer team while Audi pulled the pin at the end of the season last year to focus more on their Electric Dakar Rally project and the potential return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Even though they have signed up for the new Gen3 car, we may well see Porsche also get out by 2026. By the way, Porsche is still committed to fielding two cars in the 2023 24 Hours of LeMans, returning after their 19th overall victory in 2017.

So on one hand VW is moving rapidly to get out of manufacturing combustion engines in favour of pure electric road cars while on the other hand it is starting to ditch competing in Formula E in favour of their involvement in Formula One.

In a nutshell, it is all about marketing, no confusion at all!.

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

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