The inside story of an important Formula E coup

Never before has a magazine ad been so important on a day when Lola was committed to the fourth generation Formula E era.

Three years ago, Howard Dawson, the main man and right-hand man of former Lola owner Martin Peran, commissioned an advertisement to be placed in Motor Sport magazine.

It was effectively a last ditch effort at a third era for the legendary British builder after the company went into administration almost a decade ago and looked for a buyer.

Reading this ad was even Bechtolsheimer. An avid racing fan and competitor who was looking for a new challenge beyond competing in IMSA and various other motorsport classes.

Lola was a name that resonated with him the most from his childhood watching historic and contemporary races before he began lusting after some of Lola's legendary designs as a competitor.

A few months after seeing this announcement and after negotiations with Dawson and the Beran family, Lola became Bechtolsheimer's vassal, and the news was made public in June 2022.

This came just weeks after The Race did its little bit – introducing this writer Bechtolsheimer to DS Techeetah team principal and business guru Keith Smout at the New York City E-Prix.

Then came the long and winding road to the current Lola Formula E entity.

The Lola-Yamaha alliance, partnering with ABT Cupra for the first time in 2025, and today's confirmation of Lola's long-term commitment to Formula E over the Gen4 period and into the next decade, should be seen as just the beginning.

Bechtolsheimer, Mark Preston, Smoot and a group of experienced staff have big plans for Lola in Formula E…

Why commit to Lola for the long term?

The Gen4 regulations will offer a more powerful Formula E car and the potential for more permanent track use to demonstrate its speed and explosive acceleration.

Ironically, Lola is based at Silverstone which could soon be the home of the British Formula E round.

Lola is specifically looking to expand into other projects in the future, with Le Mans being one potential place she will return to, a place with a great deal of history, especially in conjunction with OEMs – something she is actively exploring.

But the cornerstone will initially be Formula E because, as racing director Preston admitted to The Race, the fourth generation will bring “significant increases in usable power and renewal programs will remain a big primary focus”.

“The whole driving nature of Gen4 as well as the fact that we are working with a very electric powertrain suits us and we hope that we can transfer the knowledge we learn here in Formula E to other series as well in the future.” “Especially since this will be a powerful car.”

“There's a good flow of technology and also a good flow in the increase in the technology side of things that aligns well with what we want to do.”

In line with what Preston said there, there was also a need for confidence in the future of Formula E.

Preston and Smout oversaw a successful period for the now-defunct Techeetah entry from 2016 to 2022 in which it, along with Renault and DS power, won three drivers' titles and two team championships.

But despite the on-track success, there has been a complex and convoluted financing pattern through the Chinese owners, SECA. That was ultimately the downfall of the team after not finding the right buyers.

This turned Preston and Smout's attention to Lola and a new project that would take the best attributes from all their skills.

But to achieve this they needed a stable Formula E platform. Both from an existential standpoint, other manufacturers have committed – and have done so – and a strong business cap – a long time ago.

How financial records played a role in compliance

Spending levels for Formula E are set at €13 million per season with some transitional exceptions to address existing contractual obligations while next season the spending level will rise to €15 million per season – not including driver costs.

A separate set of financial regulations governs manufacturers' investment in R&D related to powertrain development, with an expenditure level of €25 million. This includes costs for research and development, manufacturing activities and ongoing mandatory services to support Formula E customer teams.

“I think when the Formula E championship started, it obviously decided to try to be – those aren't the words they used, but that's the way I interpret it – to be more of an all-out motorsport,” Formula E CEO Geoff Dodds said. He tells the race.

“This does not mean that the richest teams find their way to the top and thus consistently top the pack.

“It was much more comprehensive, in the sense that a manageable maximum cost of €13 million per year for two cars and one team meant that we were able to continue to contract with these manufacturers.

“This is because we have given them a commitment to try to keep the maximum cost at a level where it is plus inflation. So, we have no intention of becoming the most expensive motorsport in the world.”

Formula E is at a steep part of the technology curve, meaning it is able to continue to deliver a rapidly evolving car, particularly in terms of power output and battery capacity while maintaining a reasonable degree of commercial input across the cost cap.

“Overall, it's an attractive proposition,” says Dodds.

Why didn't Lola enter as a team?

What most people don't know is that Lola was looking at the number 12y License in Formula E to create its own factory entity.

Negotiations with Formula E took place in November and December 2023, and are believed to have been active and at times difficult. But a deal was not forthcoming.

“We took a look at it, but if you look at Lola’s history, it was always a manufacturer and never owned and operated teams,” Preston says.

“I think Thiel would like to maintain that structure and for us to be manufacturers and support people like Abt.

“Also, Abt has a great history of running race teams, so it's a perfect team for us to work with now.”

From Formula E's perspective, its thinking is that another major manufacturer will enter in the next year or so.

These expectations have been described, in some quarters, as overly optimistic. After all, Porsche was the last major manufacturer to commit to Formula E, and that was five years ago. Since then, Formula E has lost more than it has found.

Dodds was promoting the number 12y The license was recently reported in the Financial Times. Should we view this as a particularly dynamic move, or a desperate move? Now, it looks more like the former given that Formula E can now return to a healthy group of committed manufacturers well before the June deadline.

“It's good to have this 12th franchise available rather than relying on OEMs coming in and wanting to acquire existing teams or partner with existing teams because while a lot of them are interested in that, not all of them are interested in that,” Dodds says.

“Some of them are very focused on, if they're going to get into motorsport, it's a working team and they can own it, end to end. So, having flexibility in the final position available is actually beneficial to us in those negotiations.

Rumors of Hyundai joining are far from reality, with the Korean OEM likely to head WEC's wings in the near future if it diversifies from its recent upward roots.

However, Formula E has done well with recent recommitment announcements by Nissan, Jaguar and Porsche. Now Lola has followed suit and Stellantis will probably stay at two [DS and Maserati] The Mahindra and ERT will remain stable and will not twist either.

China may also be coming, with Dodds adding: “Four of the manufacturers have currently announced well in advance, and we are in deep conversations with several other companies, including Chinese OEMs, a number of whom are monitoring the sport up close and personal for the first time.” Once, stuck in technical data.

“I think, for me, the best balance for the championship is to keep a number of existing manufacturers, bring in some new manufacturers and that we have a glimpse of a new manufacturer that will be there and able to compete in Gen4 early on.”

At the moment, Dodds and Formula E are enjoying a good spread that includes a revamped and refocused Lola, which brings with it one of the most feel-good stories in the motorsport industry in recent years.


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