Preparing for Mercedes’ first season in Formula E as a constructor, Toto Wolff admits he “didn’t believe” the electric series would survive.
Formula E’s sixth season will get underway in November in Saudi Arabia with Mercedes one of 12 teams making up 24 cars.
The team unveiled its first FE driver line up at the Frankfurt Motor Show on Wednesday, confirming former Mercedes F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries.
Mercedes will be the only manufacturer competing in both FE and F1.
“First of all, I didn’t believe that Formula E could make it,” Mercedes motorsport boss Wolff told Autosport.
“When Alejandro [Agag, FE CEO] and Jean [Todt, FIA president] started the championship I didn’t give it a lot of chance.
“But then against all odds, the championship is growing.
“And why it appeals to Mercedes is that it’s an exciting start-up.
“It’s all about electrification, electric cars, which are maybe in the early stages of technology yet, but a fully electric series has marketing appeal.
“Doing it in cities is something that is attractive – and the way Formula E is pitched overall is not for the hardcore motorsport fan, but more for wider audiences.
“There is more of a festival factor around the races. And all that deserves to look at it seriously. And this is what we are doing.”
Silver at last.
— Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team (@MercedesEQFE) September 11, 2019
Last season’s FE championship saw nine different winners whereas Formula 1 is sitting on just four for this season.
Wolff reckons the electric car series has learned “the lesson of what is dysfunctional in other race series [that] have had a long history but have obviously grown around complicated governance”.
“And we are a little bit [of a] victim of that in Formula 1, and we know that.
“On the other side – for a large organisation like Formula 1, we carry some responsibility for the heritage of Formula 1.
“We have two billion viewers every year and maybe then you can’t be as spontaneous with the decision making as you can be with a start-up.
“You can’t risk getting it wrong. And in Formula E, like with any other start-up, you can take risks, you can try stuff.
“You will earn lots of criticism – [but] the worse case is that it’s going to polarise and create some headlines.
“But it’s a totally different responsibility and totally different heritage to Formula 1.”
But while Mercedes have been the team to beat in Formula 1 for the past six seasons, Wolff admits FE is a different challenge entirely.
He explained: “There are teams and OEMs that have been in FE for a long time and they were successful and have the learning curve.
“We haven’t got all that – we had a learning year with HWA, with not all the resource that is needed to make it successful, so we very much see season six now as an entry point for Mercedes and we don’t take it for granted, to play a role in the leading pack.
“That will come over time. If we surprise ourselves and we are able to score highlights – being in the top five, going onto the podium – I would be delighted.
“But it’s not something we expect in season one [for Mercedes].”