BMW, Audi exits rock Formula E but Agag says series is solid


FILE PHOTO: Alejandro Agag, Formula E CEO, speaks during an interview with Reuters ahead of round four of the Formula E championship in Buenos Aires January 8, 2015. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicc

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula E is in good shape and still attracting strong manufacturer interest despite BMW and Audi announcing their departures after next season, the electric racing series' founder and chairman Alejandro Agag said on Thursday.

The Spaniard told Reuters he was talking to three other big car companies keen to enter the city-based championship.

"Manufacturers come and go and make their decisions based on many different factors... some car manufacturers have been impacted very heavily by COVID," he said.

"The number of manufacturers we have is still bigger than any other championship.

"There is great appetite for entry in the championship... the news may seem a lot more impactful than it really is."

The two German carmakers announced this week that they would leave next year, with BMW saying its strategic focus was shifting.

"When it comes to the development of e-drivetrains, BMW Group has essentially exhausted the opportunities for this form of technology transfer in the competitive environment of Formula E," it added.

The comments raised questions about whether the series, starting its seventh season in January, had peaked or run out of relevance to car makers shifting production to electric vehicles.

"My entire staff develop electric hypercars. I don't think a few of them watch Formula E. I have the feeling that these times are over," Mate Rimac, founder of electric hypercar maker Rimac, told a Financial Times 'Future of the Car' summit on Thursday.

"Tesla was never involved in any racing and it has built the most valuable brand in the world."

COVID IMPACT

Agag said he learned of BMW's decision only an hour before it was announced.

"With the impact of COVID on car sales, obviously budgets are very important. If that element wasn’t there who knows, probably the decision would have been different," he said.

Mercedes, dominant in Formula One and who also have a Formula E team, indicated they would be staying but wanted to see costs cut.

"We remain committed as long as the framework for future regulations, financial regulations, and technical regulations, remain attractive for Mercedes," Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff told autosport.com.

"I think that BMW leaving doesn't mean that Andretti's leaving, and Audi leaving doesn't mean that the Audi entry is leaving."

Agag said only one entry was affected, since BMW never had one of their own and were technical partners of Andretti Motorsport.

"We have never had a stronger cash position and financial stability. It’s definitely something we can manage," said the Spaniard, whose major shareholders are Liberty Global and Discovery Communications.

Other major carmakers in the series are Porsche, Nissan, Jaguar and Citroen's DS brand.

Agag said he agreed 100% with Wolff on the need for a budget cap to be introduced, and would like to see a limit of 15 million euros ($18.22 million) a year.

"We need to implement this cost cap as soon as possible. But we were going to do it before the decision by BMW and Audi," he added. "This may actually help implement it faster, which I think is a very good thing.

"For me the budget cap would be even lower but it’s very funny that some of the manufacturers who are leaving now were the ones saying we cannot put the budget cap lower."

($1 = 0.8232 euros)

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by...)

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