How Formula E plays a key role in the Andretti Global portfolio

Nowadays Michael Andretti’s empire stretches across all of motorsport, something reflected in the organization’s recent name change to Andretti Global. But aside from brief forays into the American Le Mans Series and A1GP in the late 2000s, the team’s motorsport activities were contained in the IndyCar ecosystem for much of its early history. A shift began in 2014 with moves into rallycross and Formula E, the latter of which has gone on to become one of Andretti’s longest-running programs. In fact, as the electric series celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, Andretti remains the only outfit that has contested every season to date, with fellow Season 1 survivor Mahindra being the same in name only, having undergone multiple organizational and structural changes since it was run by Carlin in that first campaign.

“At the time, IndyCar wasn’t in the greatest of shapes and there was a feeling that if we had all of our eggs in one basket — the Road to Indy ladder, IndyCar itself — and there was a problem within the championship, we’d be very exposed as an organization,” Andretti Global’s Formula E and Extreme E team principal Roger Griffiths tells RACER. “We’ve always looked at diversifying our racing programs and also to take it on to a more global stage than just primarily domestic America.”

But Formula E? What was then a new and unproven concept?


“Formula E, we felt, was an interesting championship,” Griffiths continues. “It ticks a lot of boxes as far as we’re concerned. Michael has always been a big advocate around the environment. Whether electric is the right direction from his perspective is another matter, but he certainly wanted to explore it.

“Alejandro (Agag, Formula E founder) is a really good salesman, so we stepped up, and we were really the first proper racing team to put our name to this championship.”

A decade later, Andretti has an FIA world title to its name thanks to Formula E. But aside from the plaudits, the championship also allowed the wider Andretti organization to get something of a head start on what motorsport would morph into.

“It was just sort of a toe in the water to see what was going on, but it was also interesting to learn a little bit about this energy management style of racing we could see slowly starting to unfold,” Griffiths explains.

Energy management has since become a key pillar of Formula 1, which Andretti is pushing to join, while IndyCar’s impending switch to hybrids may also open the door to similar thinking, something that Andretti’s Formula E team will be able to help with.

“As IndyCar goes hybrid, we’ve obviously got a tremendous amount of experience in energy management and how that plays out,” Griffiths says. “Obviously they’re going to use it in a very different way to us — we’re solely electric, that’s our only source of propulsion, whereas they’re going to use it for the Push-to-Pass scenarios. But certainly we can advise and give them some direction on what to do under some specific circumstances if the questions come up.”

Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

The transfer of knowledge is something that has long gone on between Andretti’s open-wheel operations. Initially it was the Formula E side leaning on the long-established IndyCar group, but now as IndyCar continues to develop and modernize, those roles are somewhat reversing.

“At the time (of the start of Formula E) the IndyCar group had an extremely strong engineering team, and they were sort of feeding us some of the technology, particularly around what we could do with damping, what we could do with other parts of suspension within the regulations, so we were leaning a little bit on them,” Griffiths says. “And they were coming to see what we were up to, because it was a European style of racing rather than the North American style.

“To some extent, we’ve been a little bit independent of what’s happened in North America because we recognized, as we got more and more serious about Formula E, we couldn’t really have this split engineering base of Indianapolis and Banbury (in the UK), so we started building the Formula E engineering team,” he continues. “We still looked to one or two of the IndyCar engineers to help.”

A big area that Andretti’s IndyCar side has been able to gain from the Formula E team is simulation, which is a major component of Formula E. While its importance in IndyCar is ever-increasing, the head start that Andretti’s UK-based operation has given it has been hugely beneficial to the team, and in fact, other Honda runners.

“We took some risks here with some early adoption of technology, particularly around the simulation,” Griffiths says. “If you’re a Honda team, there’s a simulation package you have to run. We actually had so much more knowledge within the Formula E team, we were sending staff over to Indianapolis to train them on how to use simulation, so we took the lead on those kinds of things.

“Both groups were doing simulation, but this particular simulation package ended up being something that Honda mandated and we actually had conversations with — at the time — HPD about this program (about) was it the right thing for them … and we were able to transfer that knowledge to the IndyCar base.

“I know Honda has its own simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana but we now have one in-house in Banbury, so we’re up to speed, fully self-sufficient. It took quite a bit of convincing with Michael to be able to get that simulator, but I think now he’s starting to see the reasons why we really, really wanted to do it. And it probably will pave the way for a future simulator in Indianapolis, to make their life a lot easier too.”

Andretti’s Formula E team also has a mission control-like race operations room at its UK base that’s in constant communication with the race team during sessions. The initiative has long been a feature of Formula 1 and, as with simulation, could be another thing that Andretti’s IndyCar program can gain from Formula E.

“We’ve been running a race operations room for a number of seasons now. It’s something that’s been looked at Indianapolis,” Griffiths reveals. “If they can do that, have people a little bit removed from the front line, or perhaps able to make decisions without quite the pressure of being on the timing stand… we’re doing that, bringing all of the information into one centralized place.

“Admittedly, it’s a little easier for us because we’re only looking after two cars — last season they had four, this season three,” he notes. “There’s always conversations back and forth between Eric Bretzman (IndyCar technical director) and Campbell Hobson (Formula E team manager) and myself as to the right type of technology, what are we doing, what are the latest thoughts.”

The professionalism of the Formula E operation hasn’t gone unnoticed by those outside of the Andretti company, either, as Griffiths found out on a trip to the Portland IndyCar race last year after last June’s inaugural E-Prix there.

“One of the things I did last year, and it was a little bit out of my own curiosity, was having done the Portland Formula E race, I went to the Portland IndyCar race to compare and contrast — not just how we work as a team, but what the venue looks like, what an IndyCar race is, (and) how does that show compare to a Formula E race,” he says. “It was orders of magnitude more professional in Formula E. Our garage marshal said, ‘You guys are the most professional racing team we’ve ever had here.’”

The professionalism of the Formula E operation opened some eyes at Portland International Raceway. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

While Andretti is closely aligned with Honda in IndyCar, in Formula E it works closely with Porsche, having previously enjoyed a close relationship with BMW. That relationship lasted for three years as a works partnership, and continued for another season as a customer arrangement, but it followed a brief spell where Andretti itself was an OEM. It was an unsuccessful period culminating in the only seasons where the team didn’t claim a podium finish, but Griffiths nevertheless remembers those years fondly.

“We dabbled with being a constructor — we always had the thought that Andretti could actually look at designing its own powertrains, designing its own technology, etc. With a very small group of people, we actually were able to do that,” he recalls. “We weren’t particularly successful in terms of race results, but given the resources that we had both financially and human, I think we did a pretty decent job. We were up against some big operations and OEMs which had infinitely more people or technology to their credit.

“We also recognized that to be truly successful, we needed to be partnered with an OEM and we started establishing a strong relationship there. I think that’s something that Andretti has always been good at, is working with OEMs, regardless of what type of racing we do.”

Expanding on the team’s spell as an OEM, Griffiths adds, “We had an immense amount of fun designing our own powertrain — it was great. It was just three or four of us that did all of the work. We really enjoyed the opportunity, and we kind of ticked a box to say that, ‘Yeah, we can do it,’ Would we want to do it again? Maybe we’d look at a project managing something, but I don’t see us ever stepping back into the arena, trying to design our own powertrain.

“Ultimately, I think what it did was it really taught us engineering process, things like that. It taught us how to really analyze what it is that we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We only had one shot at it. We threw quite a few darts and most of them hit the target.”

The close-quarters nature of FE street battles created some tension between Andretti and Porsche’s works team last year, but Griffiths says they’ve worked through it.

Andretti aligned with Porsche after BMW’s exit from the series, and head of Formula E’s GEN3 era, but it’s a marriage that hasn’t always been plain sailing, especially when it came to the intense title fight involving the factory team’s Pascal Wehrlein and Andretti’s eventual champion Jake Dennis.

“I think it’s fair to say, and it’s fairly public knowledge, that there was some friction last year, between us and Porsche,” Griffiths concedes. ”So we’ve had a big reset. We had an all team meeting in Valencia with 70-plus people in the room, the whole Andretti group, the whole Porsche group, mechanics, everybody was in that room. We spoke openly, we met on several occasions to talk about how we should improve, and what were the rules of engagement.

“Yes, we’re free to race each other, but the golden rule is there must be no contact between the four Porsche cars … And at the end of the day from the Porsche board, they don’t care which car wins, as long as it’s a Porsche.”

Nevertheless, the theme of collaboration seen with the Andretti IndyCar group continues.

“There is a level of integration we’re starting to see between us. The drivers are openly sharing ideas — they’re communicating much more, there’s a lot more integration between our engineering team and Porsche’s engineering team — because at the end of the day, we’re operating in a cost cap environment, and if we can provide engineering resource at our expense, which doesn’t hit Porsche’s cost cap, then that’s a win win for both of us.

“Ultimately, I don’t think we’re ever going to be best friends, but we’re happy to go and have a beer with them and we’re happy to share a joke with them.”

A decade after its debut, Andretti’s Formula E team has become a pillar of the organization as well as the series itself. With 10 wins, it’s currently the sixth-most successful team ever to compete in the championship, ranking it ahead of the likes of double champions Mercedes (which departed after the 2021-22 season), the factory Porsche team, and fellow Season 1 competitors Mahindra, which has only half as many victories. And following last season’s title, the future looks brighter still.

Story originally appeared on Racer