What the McLaren deal means for Formula E’s fallen giant

It is often unlikely how news agendas change so rapidly in motorsport, and this is especially the case in Formula E.

Just 12 months ago, the headline ‘Nissan delivers McLaren for the new Gen3 era’ would have shown some very confused glances.

Then also admit that the team is actually the reigning champion, Mercedes EQ, and that it could well become a double champion in two months. That is when you would be excused that the confusion became total confusion.

But that’s exactly what has been confirmed today, which means that for the next four seasons, Nissan will supply cars for what will become known as the McLaren Formula E team from mid-August onwards.

You can choose to watch the news with some irony in the sense that one aspect of the new alliance, the manufacturer (Nissan), has essentially been driving at the opposite end of the field to its new customer over the last few seasons.

That thought process, though factually correct, comes with some heavy reservations, many of which are not entirely Nissan’s fault.

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First, there was the forced two-year homologation cycle. This was of course the same for everyone, but Nissan was hit particularly hard with supply chain issues before a supposedly homologated aspect of its inverter effectively limited its 2021 and 2022 car to mediocrity at best.

Then there were internal issues to address. Especially the exact composition of the team and if Nissan would acquire it wholesale. How would it go with running the post in both racing and test and development contexts.

Some of it is still going on. Here and now, it has commissioned the ART GP to be part of the development of the all-new Gen3 hardware prior to its homologation in September.

The bigger picture is always important for manufacturers, and Nissan is one of the few that has publicly committed to the entire Gen3 era. Therefore, its confirmation of the agreement with McLaren is not only significant from a racing context, but also from a brand and marketing context.

Could additional programs or projects come from this big meeting between car and motorsport brands?

“Why not?” general manager and CEO of Nissan’s Formula E team Tommaso Volpe, tells The Race.

“Of course, I think one of the interests of this partnership is to create a connection between Nissan and McLaren.

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“That said, it’s such a complex environment where they run both motorsports and the automotive industry and there are so many players and things.

“Stars need to be adjusted perfectly every time you want to start a project, so we are not able to see a potential concrete additional opportunity even at this stage.

“But the fact that there is this partnership certainly opens the door to conversations that may have been less obvious before.”

In a career that was originally created in marketing roles at Ferrari and Lotus before joining the Renault / Nissan alliance in 2014, Volpe often talks about values. Not in the broadest sense of the word, but often more holistically.

“The core value (of the deal) comes from the people and the strength of the team, which is usually the people and the talents,” he says.

“Clearly, these groups of people show how talented they are and how good they are.

“So the fact that they will now run like McLaren, with the ability to also leverage the McLaren platform in many ways, gives them additional strengths.

“But the core of the talent is the one running in the race at the moment, I would say there are values ​​in both.”

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What the deal means for Nissan, in addition to any additional options outside the Formula E deal, is currently open.

But perhaps a more interesting question is how the casual observer, who does not tune into all the Formula E races or perhaps stumbles across the championship via media, fully understands that the McLaren team, it sees constructing its own cars in F1, is driving a Nissan-equipped and branded car in Formula E?

“It’s a complex analysis,” Volpe says.

“The status of McLaren (in FE) is exclusively a racing team. Now there is this strong difference and how much the public realizes this difference is a good question.

“I would say that probably in Formula E most people might not recognize this difference, because by definition you have a lot of people who are new to motorsport.

“So many people may not, in all fairness, make this difference, even though there will be the Nissan brand on the car and it will be communicated that it is a Nissan.

“But probably the new audience, if you will, the youngest from Formula E, probably will not make these big differences.

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“But clearly there will be value in communication to a more expert audience such as the media. They want to make it very clear that McLaren is driving a Nissan car.

“It’s not the main reason we do it, because the main reason is to have a partnership from a technical perspective, but we think it will still generate some benefit from the PR and marketing perspective as well.”

Volpe is right. This seems like a win / win for both parties, although Nissan obviously from a sporting perspective can not afford to have seasons like 2021 and 2022 anymore.

Where he is right in the perception of what the spectator, the viewer, the consumer, or whatever you want to put them as, has of the participant, the producer and the competitor. Ultimately, a McLaren team driving a race car with a Nissan car is not a complex concept to understand.

Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta believes McLaren chose Nissan for its “ability and ability to drive races, whether product or technology.”

“On the other hand, why Nissan is moving forward with McLaren is that this is a partnership where we both want to bring each other’s expertise and share knowledge.”

It is one that Gupta believes “will help us build for the future”.

“I think that in addition to the marriage that we have to go together, it is very important that we now want the four cars on the track, which means that we strengthen our knowledge twice, and of course seen from McLaren , which are also good in motorsport.

“I think it will be a competitive advantage for Nissan.”

Time will tell if Gupta is right. McLaren will very much hope he is, as it aims to establish a multi-platform electric racing brand to add to its network of ever-growing racing strings.

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