Back in 2013, Allan McNish finally won the FIA World Championship that he had always craved, in what turned out to be his final season as an active racing driver. Clinching the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with long-time partner and friend Tom Kristensen and Frenchman Loïc Duval was the perfect sign-off from a long, varied and monumentally successful career as one of the world’s best sports car racers.
Now, eight years later, the three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner has the chance to chase another world crown, this time as team principal of Audi’s Formula E team, which will quit at season’s end – just as the electric single-seater series has gained bona fide FIA World Championship status.
“Clearly you go into every year wanting to be successful, but there’s an extra focus when you already know that it’s your farewell season,” says the 51-year-old Scot, who has already tasted (non-World Championship) Formula E success with the Abt-run Audi team when it won the title in 2017/2018. “You want to deliver in your last race, as I know. There’s no doubt that we have extra energy because of that. You’ve only got one final run at it.”
Audi’s decision to withdraw from Formula E was announced in December, awkwardly just as the team was preparing for a pre-season test in Valencia, Spain. Two days later, BMW went public on its own pull-out, also at the end of this season, to complete a double body blow for a series that’s used to luring manufacturers rather than losing them.
“Obviously I knew the Audi one was coming, but I didn’t know about BMW,” says McNish. “We had a timeline for board meetings and decisions, as everybody does. When it came out was unfortunate, but the timing wasn’t possible to change. It’s a realignment of the motorsport strategy that came from a high level of where we are and where we’re going.”
While Audi will continue to support customer team Envision Virgin until at least the end of next season, its decision represents a snub to Formula E’s more powerful Gen3 regulations, which are set to be introduced for 2022/2023. Instead, its focus switches to an intriguing 2022 Dakar Rally assault with an all-new off-roader based on its E-tron electric SUV. Then in 2023, Audi will return to its old stomping ground, the sports car endurance racing scene, with a car built to the new Le Mans Daytona Hybrid (LMDh) rules.
As for BMW, its future motorsport plans – if there are any – currently remain a mystery.
“Audi always wants to be ahead of the game in the championship they’re in and with the technology they’re bringing,” says McNish. “Remember, they came to Formula E and raced a complete season before they had the first E-tron road car even to be shown to the markets, never mind being sold. So it’s about where they’re going forward into the future.”