Porsche pushes to limit with Gen3 Formula E car — but can it be ready for new season?

Formula E News

Porsche hopes to challenge for the Formula E championship with its 99X Gen3 car but, along with other teams, has suffered problems with spec parts on the new machine, with just over two months until the start of the new season

Porsche 99X Formula E car on track at launch

Porsche is looking to challenge for the title with Gen3 99X


Porsche underperforming in motor sport isn’t unheard of. The Footwork V12 Formula 1 debacle of 1991 was an oddly fumbled project, as ungainly as the car, while the IndyCar assault of the late 1980s is best forgotten. But such blots are very much the exception for an illustrious manufacturer that has motor sport in its DNA, which is why Porsche’s struggles since it arrived in Formula E in 2019 have raised more than the odd eyebrow.

The team did break its duck last term in the electric-powered series, Pascal Wehrlein and André Lotterer scoring a 1-2 in Mexico City. But thereafter the pair’s form crumbled as Porsche slumped to the seventh-best team out of 11. We expected better, so did they.

Now the slate has been cleared by the rules reset created by the much-heralded Gen3, which is due to take its bow in little more than two months from now when Formula E’s season nine kicks off in Mexico on January 14. Porsche, in its third season, must step up and contend for the title. Its bid has been boosted by a star signing, 2019/20 champion António Félix da Costa, who has switched across from DS Techeetah to join Wehrlein. Lotterer will drive Porsche’s 963 LMDh car, as is right and proper for one of sports car racing’s modern greats. But he still loves single-seaters and will also remain in Formula E, joining Jake Dennis at Avalanche Andretti, the former BMW works team which will now run the new Porsche powertrain too. So with double the firepower it’s really time to step up.

The new Gen3 99X Electric was launched at Porsche’s striking new Experience Centre in Franciacorta, Italy earlier this week. Let’s face it, the spec chassis is an ugly thing, designed, it seems, to be deliberately provocative. When I posted a picture on social media saying it looks like it was scribbled by a child, that in fact that’s not necessarily a bad thing and little kids might well like it, a former colleague responded with what sounded an awful lot like offence. People love to hate Formula E, it really winds them up, because it’s electric and the cars make a whine, but also because it has set out from the start to be different and confrontational. I like that attitude, even if at times the racing has tested my patience too.

Beyond how it looks, the numbers of the new car offer promise. In short, it’s more powerful, to the tune of 100kW (134bhp) more than the Gen2 racer. It also has a smaller battery, yet should be able to race faster for just as long to complete the 45-minute races. How? Partly by way of a second powertrain on the front axle that creates a regenerative energy recovery system capable of harvesting 600kW – up to 40 per cent of the total energy used in a race. Let’s just pause a second. That’s impressive, and shows just how far Formula E has come since its first iteration in 2014. Remember those days, when drivers had to switch cars mid-race to complete a meaningful distance? This is the power of motor sport development in action.

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The trouble is because everything is so new, testing for most teams – including Porsche, which has completed more miles than most – hasn’t been going too well. A little more than two months before the first race, there are wrinkles of concern about the state of things when the series lines up in Mexico in January. The problems have surrounded the spec parts, from the likes of battery supplier Williams Advanced Engineering, and there are also serious doubts over the much-vaunted fast-charging pitstops, designed to add a sporting tactical element rather than acting as a necessary means to go the distance.

There’s an awful lot on the line for Formula E, which has taken its fair share of knocks in the past year as double champion Mercedes EQ, BMW and Audi have all walked away. Of Germany’s big four, only Porsche has kept the faith. The series could do with a clean launch for the new era.

On Monday night, Porsche Motorsport vice-president Thomas Laudenbach was defiant in his defence of the series and worked to play down the troubles – while also admitting they were all too real and troubling. “I would say testing is going… OK, we’ve had some things with the common parts which has affected all of us,” he said. “It will be tough. Not everything is sorted yet, so it’s not finalised. We have another two months to go. I remain confident that we will see all the cars in Mexico. But there is still some things to do.

“We’ve had some issues with the battery and other things, but we shouldn’t overestimate it because it’s a brand new car. When you bolt something new together it’s never just fine. Of course you are happy if everything works fine at the first attempt, but I’ve been in this business for 25 years and I’ve never experienced that. We are going to the edge, you know? We are looking for the boundaries.”

Porsche 99X Formula E car at launch event

Gen3 tech takes electric racing to the edge, says Porsche


The prologue test in Valencia next month will give a true picture of the state of play. Laudenbach said the teams are collaborating when it comes to solving the spec-part problems – but is he worried about that first round in Mexico?

“I’m not concerned,” he said with care. “I’m not saying everything is sorted, but I’m confident we will have a very nice grid with everything working well.” As for the fast-charging pitstops, the sporting regs for season nine have yet to be confirmed… and clearly the clock is ticking loudly. They are still part of the plan, he says, before adding: “The decision must be taken soon.” Clearly.

“I cannot imagine racing without battery-electric vehicles and there is no other series on the level of Formula E”

As for the loss of Porsche’s big rivals, Laudenbach maintains that Formula E still serves its purpose to develop technologies that find their way to the road, as the drive towards electrification continues. He cites the rivals the team still faces – DS, Jaguar, Nissan, Mahindra, NIO 333, plus teams now carrying the names of Maserati and McLaren. “Maybe they have made a mistake, we will see,” he says of the departed German giants. “At Porsche, we have a clear vision of electrification on the public road. At the same time motor sport is deeply rooted in our brand. Motor sport has to be relevant. I cannot imagine racing without battery-electric vehicles and there is no other series on the level of Formula E.”

As he says, Porsche has full electric covered with Formula E, hybrids through the new LMDh programme, and bio-fuels are a focus with combustion-engined GTs. What it doesn’t yet have – famously – is the icing on the cake: a Formula 1 programme for the new manufacturer-friendly regs in 2026.

Laudenbach reiterates what we’ve heard before: “Obviously talks with Red Bull have stopped, they are off the table. But that doesn’t mean F1 in itself is no of interest. That’s where we are.” But he professes ignorance of what comes next for Porsche and F1 beyond that. It’s a tall order for the company to take the risk of going it alone and setting up a new team from scratch. But as Mark Hughes told us last week, Porsche is proud, its people are full of ambition – and the desire to put one over Volkswagen stablemate and fierce rival Audi will be strong. You never know.