Defending teams’ champions Renault could be set to exit Formula E at the end of the current season, leaving the e.Dams team to be rebranded as a works Nissan outfit for season four.
This is according to information from German news site Motorsport-Total.com, which reported earlier this week that Nissan has been preparing itself to enter the series since the winter of 2016.
Talk of Nissan competing in Formula E is nothing new. During season two, the Japanese company was one of many automotive giants alongside BMW and Mercedes said to be investigating an entry in the all-electric series—it was even reported by Autosport that Nissan was in talks to join in the current 2016–17 season as a powertrain supplier, most likely with Techeetah.
But such a move would have required the approval of Renault, with whom Nissan has been in a commercial alliance since 1999. It is understood the two companies were concerned about the negative impact of competing against their own sister brand on the same stage, in a scenario similar to Audi and Porsche in the WEC, and so Nissan’s participation in Formula E was put on hold.
But since then, the Renault-Nissan Alliance has reportedly been planning a restructure of its respective motorsport involvements. On the one hand, Renault Sport has redoubled its involvement in Formula One, and as it targets its first Grand Prix win as a marque since 2008 is said to be eyeing any resources that could freed up from its other commitments.
Nissan, meanwhile, currently competes in numerous touring car championships including Super GT and VASC, but has been without a global “top tier” programme since the collapse of its LMP1 outfit in 2015. As the company expands its range into electric vehicles with models such as the Leaf and the e-NV200, and especially as the Asian market grows increasingly lucrative for EV manufacturers, it is believed Nissan views Formula E as the ideal way to return its NISMO division to the world stage.
If Renault e.Dams were to become a factory Nissan team for next season, it is unclear how far-reaching those changes may be. It’s likely that, given the timing of the change, Nissan would simply rebadge Renault’s developed season four powertrain and concentrate through the year on producing its own bespoke unit for 2018–19; likewise, the e.Dams race operation team will also probably remain largely in place, albeit with new NISMO branding.
As for the team’s drivers, if Renault brand ambassador Alain Prost departs along with the French marque, that could put his son Nico Prost into a difficult position. The Frenchman has driven well for e.Dams, taking three ePrix victories and supporting the team’s title success, but Nissan may prefer to instal a driver of its own choosing in his place.
It also remains to be see how Renault’s exit as a works team would affect the supply of customer team Techeetah, although its possible the Nissan rebranding may involve that deal too.
James Matthews, Deputy Editor