Audi’s decision to take its motorsport business out of the road racing events that it so obviously dominated appeared strange, but there was a good explanation for it: it was where the organization was developing knowledge of its diesel engines, the same ones that had driven it into a mountain of trouble just two years before.
The entire Volkswagen group is now steering toward an electric future, and since the last thing you can do with a battery-powered vehicle is endurance racing, the Ingolstadt-based carmaker had to look elsewhere to put its racing expertise to use.
“After nearly 40 years of being successfully active in motorsport on the highest level, Audi now becomes the first German automobile manufacturer to compete in Formula E in order to test and advance the development of new technologies for production,” says Peter Mertens, Member of the Board of Management, Technical Development, AUDI AG.
The Formula E appeared as the only logical choice, especially since Audi had already been involved in the first three seasons of the competition by supporting the ABT Schaeffler team. For the fourth season, though, Audi will run with a fully factory-backed outfit.
After making the announcement and reassuring us a few times along the way that it hadn’t changed its mind, Audi has now launched its first ever all-electric race car: the e-tron FE04. The Formula E rules prevent the teams from customizing certain aspects of the vehicles – like the chassis, for example – but they do offer significantly more leeway on other components like the motor, transmission, suspension and, most importantly, the vehicle’s software.
“Together with our technology partner Schaeffler, we have developed a completely new powertrain,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dieter Gass. “You can immediately tell this by looking at the new carbon housing of the powertrain. The car also sounds different because we’re pursuing new avenues in technology.”
The e-tron FE04 will become a testbed for Audi which should borrow some of the technology and know-how used in the Formula e for its road-going models, including the e-tron quattro SUV expected to debut in 2019.
Speaking of debuts, the 2017-2018 Formula E season kicks off on December 2 in Hong Kong, providing the first opportunity for the team’s drivers – former champion Lucas di Grassi and teammate Daniel Abt – to showcase the vehicle’s potential ahead of what should be a very interesting season with Jaguar and Renault both competing as well.