McLaren Had More To Gain From Formula E As A Team Than A Battery Supplier

McLaren Had More To Gain From Formula E As A Team Than A Battery Supplier

With electric technology storming the automotive industry, it makes sense to see supercar manufacturers venturing into the realm of electric motorsport. But McLaren Applied Technology served as the powertrain provider for all of the series’ first-generation cars before transitioning to being the battery provider in the second generation. Now, as FE completes its inaugural Gen3 era — one with McLaren running as a competitor and not a provider of components — I had to know just what it is McLaren gets out of being a team.

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(Full disclosure: Formula E invited me to the 2023 London ePrix to enjoy the Gen3 season finale, which included a round-table with Zak Brown and Ian James of McLaren.)

Perhaps the switch from provider to team would have made more sense to me had McLaren jumped right in the deep end. McLaren, though, is actually a Nissan customer team, meaning that McLaren utilizes the same Nissan e-4ORCE 04 that also powers Nissan’s factory effort. It’s a seemingly strange move, to transition from developing the technology to adapting it to your own chassis — but for Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren, it all makes sense, and it’s also pretty simple: It’s just good business.

“We’re in the business of racing, so if we can go racing in something, that’s good for our brand, and it’s profitable,” Brown said during a round-table interview. “We’re building franchise value for our shareholders.”

Brown referred to McLaren Racing as an “ecosystem,” one where each form of motorsport it competes in builds value for the company as a whole and becomes a piece in a much larger puzzle. To further establish a North American audience, McLaren has its IndyCar team. To fulfill its diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, it has an Extreme E team, which mandates at least one of a team’s competitors be a woman — the very first woman driver for McLaren throughout its storied motorsport history. In Formula E, McLaren is chasing down sustainability goals.

“We’re trying to create the most exciting racing team in the world,” Brown said. “We want to create opportunities for employees to move around, and for our partners to dial in on certain parts.”

Brown noted Neom as an example; Neom sponsors both McLaren’s Formula E and Extreme E efforts. By being able to provide a racing team on two fronts, in two different electrified categories, McLaren is able to provide a far more robust return on investment for interested partners. Other partners, like Arrow and British American Tobacco, have crossed disciplines in their time with McLaren.

While McLaren undoubtedly learned a lot during its time as a component supplier for Formula E, the goalposts have shifted. Rather than focusing exclusively on technology development, McLaren sounds like it’s ready to take on the racing world with a dedicated group of commercial partners, just to get their names out there.