Porsche, winners of the last three 24 hours of Le Mans and current World Endurance Championship Champions, have officially announced they are leaving the LMP1 program at the end of the season for a move to Formula E instead for the 2019 season.
The German manufacturer will leave the World Endurance Championship after joining in 2014 for a four year stint in the sport with their 919 hybrid. The team were expected to stay till the end of their existing commitment at the end of 2018, but they have decided to leave a year early. Their time in the sport has yielded them two driver’s titles, two constructors’ titles and three victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Taking Porsches overall tally of wins at Le Mans to 19. The announcement comes even though Porsche are currently leading both the Constructors’ Championship and the Drivers’ Championship with Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, and Brendon Hartley.
Porsche are following in the footsteps of their former rivals Audi, who also pulled out of the LMP1 program for a move to Formula E at the end of the 2016 WEC season. They are also expected to join the sport in 2019 like Porsche.
Porsche, much like Audi, are owned by the Volkswagen brand. They are believed to be spending as much as £250 million a year on their WEC efforts. The majority of which is spent on the LMP1 program. The technology in the 919 hybrid is extremely experimental and prone to issues, as proven at this year’s Le Mans when all five of the LMP1 cars competing developed a fault at some point during the race. Of the five competing LMP1 cars, only one went on to see the finish, which was the Porsche of Bernhard, Bamber, and Hartley. £250 million for one out of two of their cars to make it to the finish is a cost they simply cannot justify. VW are currently embroiled in a costly emissions scandal, and even yesterday some 22,000 Porsche cars were recalled by the German transport minister over illegal emissions-controlling software. As a result it may no longer be feasible for VW and Porsche to carry on their WEC efforts for such little reward.
On top of this, Porsche are currently working towards a fleet of fully electric sports car in their Mission E program. While the LMP1 program has hybrid technology at its core, Formula E is a fully electric series that in the long run will provide Porsche with a better chance of trialling experimental technology before adapting it for the Mission E program. And considering two of Porsche’s competitors, Audi and most recently Mercedes who quit DTM earlier this week in favour of Formula E, are also looking into electric technology for road cars it makes sense for Porsche to transfer to a fully electric series if they are serious about their Mission E program.
“Entering FE and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission E road car programme.” Michael Steiner, the Porsche board member in charge of motorsport as research and development, said in a statement released by Porsche. “For us, FE is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”
He is not the only one to be thrilled to see Porsche moving to Formula E, as Alejandro Agag, Founder & CEO of Formula E admitted he was “delighted to welcome Porsche to the FIA Formula E Championship. If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago, that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
“To have a name like Porsche in Formula E, with all it represents in terms of racing and heritage, and in terms of sport cars, is an inflexion point in our quest to chance the public perception about electric cars. The electric revolution continues, and Formula E remains the championship for that revolution.”
So where exactly does this leave the LMP1 series in WEC, seeing as Toyota will be the only manufacturer team in the series next year? Toyota Motorsport confirmed earlier on that their commitment for next year was based on Porsche’s continuation in the series, and that it would likely have to now review its participation in the series as early as next week. The withdrawal from Porsche comes in spite of the fact that they played a big role in formulating the new LMP1 regulations for the 2020 season. Which would see the LMP1’s run with zero emissions and plug-in hybrid charging. The decision by Porsche today leaves the future of the LMP1 division unclear, and if Toyota decide as well to quit the series, it would leave the possibility that only privateer entries such as the forthcoming Ginetta and BR Engineering chassis will be the only ones in the series.
Porsche have confirmed they will keep their successful in-house LMP1 team intact, including its roster of factory drivers. And they have confirmed they are still committed to GT racing and will continue to run their new rear-engine 911 RSR in the GTE Pro class of the WEC, as well as in GT in the IMSA SportsCar Championship.
Feature Image Credit: FIA Formula E Championship Press Release