Formula E grows, gains cred

This morning, Faraday Future Dragon Racing unveiled its livery for the third season of the Formula E all-electric open-wheel racing series in Hong Kong. The car’s black-and-white fade pattern echoes the Faraday Future logo, though the company says the design takes its cues from an electromagnetic wave. In the video below, Pontus Fontaeus, chief designer of interiors at Faraday, says, “We are elegant, sophisticated, and we don’t scream to get our message through.”

Faraday’s sponsorship of the Dragon Racing team is more than a fashion statement. The company is also a technical partner to develop software to wring every electron out of the powertrain. In future years, as the EV startup and the race series itself mature, Faraday will provide hardware and powertrain components, possibly including its Echelon Inverter.

Faraday hopes to use what it learns on the track in the development of its street cars, a not-unheard-of strategy. The co-founder of LeEco’s SEE Plan for electric vehicles, Ding Lei, says the company is fully on board with the racing partnership for just that reason. LeEco is the Chinese tech giant formerly known as LeTV that has a partnership with Faraday Future to build electric cars in the US.

Now that Formula E is in its third season, with plans for several to follow, more traditional manufacturers are climbing on board. In addition to Jaguar‘s return to racing with a team for this season, Mercedes-Benz announced Tuesday that it will field a team in the 2018-2019 season.

For now, the number of teams each season is limited to 10. By the fifth season, when Mercedes will join, the ceiling will be lifted to 12 teams. That’s also the target year for teams to move from using two cars per driver to one. Until then, drivers will still have to pull into the pits and hop from one car with depleted batteries to an identical car with fresh batteries to finish the race.

Like other teams in the series, Mercedes sees Formula E as a place to stress test electrification systems. Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said in a statement, “We have been watching the growth of Formula E with great interest. At the current time, we are looking at all the options available in the future of motor racing, and we are very pleased with an agreement that secures us an opportunity to enter the series in season five.”

When major automotive manufacturers and racing powerhouses—companies that move more cautiously than EV startups and technology upstarts—decide to field all-electric teams, it could be time to stop thinking of Formula E as a race-world sideshow. Especially when it’s going to provide its own autonomous vehicle sideshow, Roborace, as early as next season.