Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson is usually attributed with the famous phrase that ‘a week is a long time in politics’ after making the quip during the sterling currency crisis of 1964.
It alluded to how quickly and irrevocably things can change in the corridors of power. The movers and shakers in Formula E may well be muttering similar things just now as they enter a crucial week.
There is indeed a solid argument to suggest that it is one of the most important and far-reaching weeks in its active eight-year history.
The reasons for that are not just to do with the fact the first eyes will be laid on the new Gen3 car, which will be launched at the Monaco Yacht Club this Thursday.
But any lazy sink or swim analogies should be resisted. Formula E is finally feeling good about itself again and Monaco this week will provide plenty of evidence of that both on and off the track.
Part of Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle’s job is to take the temperature of the paddock. When he and his colleagues at Formula E Holdings have, they then correlate it to what they call ‘mood music’.
If that is the case, then at present an audible bangin’ rock anthem might now be building as opposed to last year’s fluffy Eurovision lament.
That was when the spectre of a disastrous Valencia experiment still loomed large. Then, Formula E needed to bounce back quickly, and it did so with one of the best E-Prixs ever seen on the full Monaco track for the first time.
Then came another lame weekend in Puebla, which ended in bitter Porsche rancour, chairman Alejandro Agag ranting at the FIA and a nonentity of a circuit littered with ripped up trackside advertising.
Now, with the tri-headed nadir of Mercedes, Audi and BMW’s exits almost forgotten, Maserati committing to the championship, McLaren about to, and a brand new car, Formula E is definitely on the up.
The ongoing and very recent Vancouver E-Prix debacle has certainly taken a bit of shine off the momentum. But the truth is that Formula E’s calendar woes are always at risk of external factors and are sometimes beyond its immediate control anyway.
When The Race asked Reigle late last week if he thought the present seven days could be described as one of the all-electric series’ most important, his answer was characteristically measured.
“I wouldn’t necessarily bill it as that,” he said.
“Because I’m sure the first week in Beijing [in 2014] probably lays claim to that from what I have heard from Alejandro and Alberto [Longo]. It’s tough to beat the intensity of that week I guess because it was the genesis of what we have now.
“But what I will say is that it’s a very significant one because we are going to see a key part of our future with the Gen3 car and to do that around the buzz of Monaco will be special.”
Reigle also wouldn’t be pushed on whether McLaren would announce its entry into Formula E at Monaco, where its CEO Zak Brown is scheduled to attend later this week.
At present, it is unknown if it will be involved but The Race understands that at the very least some detail on the Mercedes EQ team’s future is imminent in the coming days.
McLaren has been in detailed discussions with Mercedes EQ team principal, Ian James, and other key staff at that team. Those are centred around a plan involving a Gen3 squad using Nissan powertrains from 2023 onwards.
A confirmation from McLaren, either that it will join or be involved to some extent, would therefore be a substantial cherry atop the cake for Formula E this week, and add a significant extra gust to a forming tailwind of positivity for the world championship.
That Formula E could be confirming a second big name joining in as many races, especially in light of it being pandemic-hit harder than other series in the last two years, would be weighty.
“Maserati are joining us next year, which is a great story really because they came to Rome last year when, if you remember, there were no fans, no people, it was a ghost town,” says Reigle.
“But even then they saw the opportunities, they embraced a new set of sporting regs, a technical road map and what we have brought to the table with financial rules as well.
“We are quietly confident other manufacturers will join but with seven we are in a place that many other international championships in racing would be a little envious in that regard.”
He’s largely right because the evidence suggests that the Formula E cocktail of sorted financial regulations, technical road map and greater embrace for manufacturers’ group brands via ‘the Maserati clause’ in the registration process appears to be well blended.
Of the manufacturers that have committed for the entirety of Gen3 there is genuine thrust to what they will get from their investment.
Nissan is a good example of this. Despite being much less competitive than it should be in recent seasons, its global motorsport director Tommaso Volpe reckons that the Gen3 allure is plentiful.
“One of the reasons why I’m committed to generation three, if you think about it, you have more power to play with,” he told The Race at the Rome E-Prix.
“You have regeneration from the front and the rear, which is something which is happening more and more often on the industry side and is more complex to manage in relation to the traction.
“This is a huge experience we can gain from the sport to transfer to the core business, and let’s not forget the fast charging technology as well.
“This is an area where we can learn the complexity of the product and how to optimise systems and energy management that is valuable IP and that we can transfer to the core business for sure.”
In addition to the Gen3 buzz and potential soon to be ex-Merc EQ/McLaren headline grab in Monaco will be the radiance from a light swung over the future too.
A special session will be held in Monaco to discuss what might come for Gen4 and also a broader and more existential look at EV motorsport and how its technical make-up might look for the latter part of the present decade and into the next.
Formula E and the FIA know they need to listen to the OEMs for no other reason than they’re the ones that are ultimately going out to sell cars to consumers.
They are going to be the ones that are bringing new technological ideas and what they may want to market via motorsport because they know what their roadmap is.
But a word of warning will need to be sounded too.
The arbiters of this week’s session will have to keep in mind that not every manufacturer at the discussion table is an OEM and has the resources of an OEM. Finding that balance between what is possible, practical and viable with what manufacturers may want to push is the ultimate manifesto really.
“In the end, it always comes down to a balance of how much we open up and how much we allow,” Porsche motorsport boss Thomas Laudenbach told The Race in January at the Diriyah E-Prix.
“When I talk purely as an engineer, I’d be happy to have more technological freedom clearly, but on the other side, we have to look at the balance between technical freedom to show our ability as a manufacturer and cost control.
“I think Formula E found a good way to do the Ge3 car. But clearly, it can’t be the last step.
“Just for example, without really having defined that, I personally would be happy that in the next step we open up slightly the area of battery because so far the battery is a spec part, which is OK, we did focus a lot on the powertrain side and we want to be relevant for road cars as a car manufacturer.”
These are interesting words from one of Formula E lynchpin manufacturers. To be clear, Laudenbach doesn’t want to see a complete opening up of tech to the detriment of the competition – in fact, that would be impossible with the financial guidelines now in place – but more some practical way that can polish up an added sparkle to the OEM’s marketing messages.
We have to wait and see what is agreed upon for the longer-term, but for this week Reigle and the Formula E stakeholders should be able to negotiate that Wilson quip, and who knows – maybe they can also somehow mirror the Wilson-esque achievements of significant societal change.
“Racing in large part is about creating heroes and heroes need a car to achieve that,” concludes Reigle.
“We’ve got something really compelling here with Gen3, something that we think will be really cool on the track because it will be quicker and lighter, but also something that has the most sustainable credentials a race car has ever had.”