After 125 years of motorsport history, Mercedes-Benz is about to write a new chapter in the upcoming season: at the opening round of the 2019/20 ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Saudi Arabia in late November, two all-electric race cars will be fielded by the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team for the first time.
Occupying the two Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow 01 cockpits will be ex-McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne and current FIA Formula 2 championship leader Nyck de Vries.
"In Stoffel and Nyck, we have recruited two formidable and adaptable drivers who can continue to learn and grow with us in our debut season in Formula E," says Ian James, team principal. "At Mercedes-Benz, we can look back on 125 years in motor racing. However, we know that Formula E is very different from any other series we have ever competed in. We are doing everything we can to achieve success, but we know that we have a steep learning curve ahead of us."
In its debut season, the team will draw on the knowledge and combined motorsport expertise of the Mercedes family. At the heart of the Silver Arrow 01 is the electric powertrain which has been designed and developed at Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) in Brixworth, UK which is the Daimler Group's global centre of excellence for high-performance hybrid technology. Brixworth also continue to develop the hybrid power units with which Mercedes has achieved the F1 championship double in each of the past five years.
Responsibility for managing the cars on race weekends has been assigned to HWA AG, the Affalterbach-based motorsport specialist which has already gained a wealth of experience in Formula E last season with its own team HWA RACELAB. The Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team also receives support from the reigning Formula 1 constructors champions, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, at Brackley.
"The collaboration between Affalterbach, Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart is going to be hugely important," adds James, who was officially introduced as team principal at the IAA in Frankfurt. "Fortunately for us, the experts who develop our Formula E powertrain have already accumulated a great deal of experience with Formula 1 hybrid power units. This knowledge transfer is helping us immensely, but Formula E is a completely different challenge, and we shouldn't underestimate that fact."
In its line-up of Vandoorne and de Vries for the debut season, the team has recruited a driver with prior Formula E experience and a highly promising young talent.
After his rookie year with HWA RACELAB, Vandoorne is about to embark on his second season in the electric racing series. At the same time, he can look back on experience gained in 41 Formula 1 Grands Prix.
"I'm absolutely delighted to be joining Mercedes," he said. "I've already gained experience of the series racing for HWA last year. I am very pleased to have now become an official member of the Mercedes family. The arrival of Mercedes on the scene is a great opportunity for all of us. The car looks fantastic. I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve as a team. The potential is huge, and I simply can't wait to get started."
De Vries is about to commence his debut season in Formula E. With four races still remaining in the 2019 F2 Championship, he currently leads the drivers' standings. The final round is scheduled to take place as part of the support programme to the F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi one week after his Formula E debut.
"It's a very special feeling to be asked to drive for Mercedes-Benz EQ in Formula E, and I am honoured that the team have chosen me as one of their two drivers," he said. "Formula E is a great platform that has already established itself as one of the biggest and most professional racing series outside Formula 1. It's a great opportunity, for which I'm really grateful to Mercedes. I've had an excellent reception from the team, and it's great fun to work with them. But ultimately, it will all depend on the performance on the race track once the season starts. It's all pretty new to me. That's why I honestly haven't thought about setting myself any targets for my rookie season. Essentially, Mercedes are aiming to be contenders for race wins and championship trophies. Hopefully, this will happen sooner rather than later. But until then, the team and I expect a steep learning curve before we can become truly competitive."
de Vries has known his new team-mate for many years, having spent time together in karting. "The motorsport family is quite small, and you get to know each other at a young age," says Nyck. "I'm looking forward to driving for the same team as Stoffel. He has a lot of experience and is a great driver. Consequently, I'm hoping to learn a lot from him so that, together, we can get the best possible result for the team."
In early March of this year, the first all-electric Mercedes racing car saw the light of day at the International Motor Show in Geneva, decked out for the occasion in a special 'teaser livery'. Later that month, the car went for its first track outing at Varano in Italy. Further test drives took place over the next few months in Italy and Mallorca.
The Gen2 racing car deployed in Formula E has a design that is unique in motorsport. While all teams use a standard-issue chassis, they can still demonstrate their technical expertise in the development of the powertrain. The teams are therefore permitted to develop certain components - inverter, motor, transmission, parts of the rear axle and the software for energy management - to their own design.
Vandoorne already knows the car from the test sessions at Varano and in Mallorca: "We made solid progress, and everything went smoothly. After the first functional tests, it's been fascinating to gradually start working on all the different areas."
de Vries has also driven the Gen2 car in the past, so it will not be completely uncharted territory for him when he begins his first competitive outing: "But the Formula E car is very different from anything else I've driven so far. It is a very big challenge, and the level of competition is extremely high. There are a lot of capable and well-regarded drivers in the championship. The cars are relatively similar, but there is much more freedom than in a championship like Formula 2, all of which makes it an incredibly exciting race series."
Until the race debut of the new Silver Arrow 01 in the season opener in Ad Diriyah at the end of November, the team is going to be kept very busy. "The time just seems to fly by, and there is still a lot of work to do," adds Stoffel. "We have only a few days left until the season opener in Saudi Arabia, which is approaching fast. It's going to be a big challenge, but I'm looking forward to it with confidence."
"Formula E brings all the enthusiasm and passion for racing to city centres, which is an absolutely unique concept," said Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff. "This makes the series a completely new playing field for us. But we are looking forward to the challenge of demonstrating the performance of our battery-electric powertrains in motorsport as well, and of giving a positive boost to the EQ brand."
With its entry into Formula E, Mercedes has become the world's only automotive manufacturer to compete in both Formula 1 and Formula E. This strategy enables Mercedes to transfer the lessons learnt in both championships from the racetrack to the road. The two platforms together constitute an important technology driver for the entire Mercedes family and will help to shape the future of the automobile.
"In Formula E, we have the opportunity to speak to a young target group that has an interest in the future of mobility, particularly in the inner-city areas of major metropolises," adds Wolff. "At the same time, it is a fantastic platform to ensure that the sustainability principle reaches this target group as well. Of course, we are first and foremost racers, but for me this relationship is one of the other driving factors behind our involvement in Formula E."