Audi prepares an all-out assault on the Formula E electric racing series

Audi Abt Schaeffler Formula E race car

When it comes to racing, Audi has a pretty impressive résumé. It’s conquered rallying and the 24 Hours of Le Mans with cars like the legendary Quattro and high-tech R18 e-tron quattro diesel hybrid. But now Audi is shifting its focus to a very different kind of race car.

Beginning next season, Audi will field its own team in the Formula E electric-car race series. Audi currently participates in Formula E through a partnership deal with the Abt Schaeffler team, but the automaker will now be in the driver’s seat, taking over Abt’s spot on the grid. It’s the latest example of growing automaker interest in Formula E, and electric cars in general.

Audi claims to be the first German manufacturer to launch a factory-backed Formula E team, but there is no shortage of automakers in the series. Jaguar, Renault, Mahindra, and Citroën’s DS sub-brand all have Formula E teams, as do startups Faraday Future, NextEV, and Venturi. BMW has a partnership with the Andretti Autosport team that is expected to grow into a full-on effort similar to Audi’s in the coming years.

In the future, Abt will still be responsible for maintaining the race cars and certain other tasks, while Audi will handle technical development. Audi already lets Abt use some of its facilities to develop its race cars, and it placed one of the drivers on its payroll, Lucas di Grassi, on the team, alongside Daniel Abt. Di Grassi is currently in second place in the Formula E driver standings, while Abt Schaeffler team is second in the constructor standings.

The focus on Formula E represents a major pivot for Audi. The German automaker was previously a fixture at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning the prestigious French race 13 times in 18 years. Parent Volkswagen’s diesel scandal forced Audi to nix the expensive race program. Audi’s diesel-hybrid Le Mans cars also struck the wrong PR tone, and had lost the competitive edge to gasoline hybrids from Porsche and Toyota. In addition to Formula E, Audi still races in Germany’s DTM series, and the FIA World Rallycross Championship.

Audi’s all-out assault on Formula E begins with the first race of the new season, which takes place in Hong Kong December 4. In the meantime, Formula E’s current season is ongoing, with a doubleheader in New York City scheduled for July 15-16.