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Mercedes-Benz joins electric racing series Formula E

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And it’s quitting another motorsport to make room

F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Previews Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images

Mercedes-Benz will compete in Formula E, the all-electric racing series, starting in 2019. The news was announced today after months of speculation over whether the German automaker would exercise an option it had purchased to join the series back in October.

Despite that uncertainty, joining Formula E seemed like a relatively sure bet for Mercedes-Benz. Formula E is a cost-controlled series, and Mercedes-Benz has a wide presence in motorsports. The company is heavily invested in electric vehicles, and has already won championships with its hybrid technology in Formula One.

What is surprising is that the automaker announced that it will leave Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, or DTM, in order to accommodate competing in Formula E. DTM is not a very well-known division of motorsports in the United States, but Mercedes-Benz was far and away the most dominant manufacturer in both its current and former incarnations.

This is now the second major manufacturer to quit another motorsport in favor of Formula E, which is just shy of three years old. Audi announced last October that it was quitting the World Endurance Championship, which includes the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, to focus on Formula E.

“In motorsport, like in every other area, we want to be the benchmark in the premium segment and also explore innovative new projects,” Toto Wolff, the head of the Mercedes-Benz motorsports division, said in a statement. “Electrification is happening in the road car world and Formula E offers manufacturers an interesting platform to bring this technology to a new audience – and to do so with a completely new kind of racing, different to any other series.”

With Mercedes-Benz in the fold, and BMW taking on a full team operation starting next year, Formula E will feature at least 10 manufacturers, including Audi, Jaguar, Renault, Mahindra, Citroën DS, and startups NIO and Faraday Future. That rush to become involved has been inspired by a number of factors, but there are two main reasons: one is that the series serves as a testbed for the development of electric drivetrains. The other is that it makes for a potentially exciting way to market a company’s involvement in electric vehicles.

Whatever the motivation, it’s sort of staggering that there’s this many automakers committed to a series with only 30 races to its name — even to the people inside the sport. Lucas di Grassi, who drives for Audi in Formula E, spoke about this at last week’s races in New York City. “If you look at IndyCar, you have two manufacturers. If you look at Formula One, you have basically three or four,” he said. “Here you have nine. It’s already the championship with the most amount of manufacturers around.” In other words, if the future of cars really is electric, major automakers think they’ve found the right place to fight about who makes the best tech.