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BMW confirms season five Formula E works role with Andretti team

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Just as Audi formally confirmed its works status within the FIA Formula E Championship last week and will take over the name of ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport from season four of the electric open-wheel championship, BMW has now done the same on Tuesday morning to confirm its works status and name takeover of the MS Amlin Andretti operation.

BMW and Andretti have enjoyed a technical partnership and by season five of the series, set for 2018-2019, BMW will build an all new powertrain as the works entry into the championship.

JF Thormann, Andretti executive vice president, told my colleague Luke Smith at the Hong Kong season opener in October 2016 the partnership was a “match made in heaven.”

BMW confirmed it would be a works entry in the fifth season back in April, but didn’t specify its team partnership, although it was anticipated it would continue with Michael Andretti’s Andretti Autosport operation.

“Through our involvement in Formula E, we are addressing the development towards sustainable and emission-free mobility in the automobile industry and are also making a contribution to the brand’s progression to BMW iNEXT,” said Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Development.

“This project is thoroughly driven by technology. We are using Formula E as a development laboratory, operating under the unique conditions that prevail in motor racing – with very unique demands and opportunities.

“The borders between production and motor racing development are more blurred at BMW i Motorsport than in any other project. The result is a technology transfer on a whole new level. We are certainly confident that the BMW Group will benefit greatly from the experience gained in the field of electrotechnology during this project.”

Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport Director, added, “The series represents a completely new challenge for us – a challenge we are happy to take on together with Andretti Formula E. Andretti is the ideal partner for this mission. The name needs no introduction in international motor racing. Our cooperation is already working very well, and we look forward to taking the next steps together.”

Michael Andretti said, “We are excited to expand our partnership with BMW i and serve as BMW’s official Formula E works team beginning in Season 5. The ongoing collaboration between BMW and Andretti Formula E has provided a strong foundation for BMW’s entry as an official manufacturer. We look forward to running BMW’s first all-electric racing drivetrain and competing for the Formula E Championship. BMW is leading the automotive future with the BMW i line and their innovation in electric car technology. I couldn’t pick a more prestigious or historic manufacturer to work with in Formula E.”

The Qualcomm New York City ePrix runs this weekend, where the pair of MS Amlin Andretti entries driven by Robin Frijns and Antonio Felix da Costa look to get back in the points after a tough weekend in Berlin.

Andretti Autosport’s four-car IndyCar team runs the Honda Indy Toronto (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC) this weekend.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.