Why Maserati chose Formula E for its return to racing

I’m not old enough to remember Maserati’s racing heyday, yet like neighboring brands Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, the mere mention of its name triggers certain feelings for car enthusiasts. There’s no denying that Maserati is a giant of motorsport, but for a long time it has been a sleeping giant.

In the first half of the 20th century, Maserati was a powerhouse with successes in pre-war grand prix racing and later Formula 1, as well as sports car racing. It also won the Indy 500 twice, in 1939 and 1940. But aside from a brief but wildly successful revival in sports car racing in the 2000s with the MC12, the legendary Italian brand’s place at the dining table of motorsport’s manufacturer greats has been largely empty since the 1960s.

Now it’s back competing once again, and intends to stick around.

Giuseppe Farina drives a Maserati 4CLT at the 1948 Monaco Grand Prix. Motorsport Images


“It’s the incredible energy that it brings to the company, personally and professionally,” Giovanni Tommaso Sgro, head of Maserati Corse, tells RACER of Maserati’s motorsports comeback. “We were in racing most of our entire life, that’s where we say we were born on track — the company was born in 1914 and we started racing in 1926. We won the Indianapolis 500, Formula 1, GT, we’ve won championships, had the first female Formula 1 race car driver, so we’ve done a lot of different things.

“We made a promise a few years ago that we’re going to go back to racing, and we kept that promise.

While the Maserati in motorsport story is very much a historical tale, its next chapter is firmly rooted in the future. Its headline category is Formula E, a series which Maserati first entered last season, and one which aligns with the wider Maserati brand’s aims for the next few years.

“Maserati’s goal is to go electric,” Sgro says. “By 2030 we will have just the electric fleet, by 2025 you’ll be able to buy an electric version of our range. So we’re sticking to what we’re saying.”

The ethos that led to the fondly remembered Maserati MC12 (above) of the early 2000s lives on in the manufacturer’s GT2 racers. Motorsport Images

There is also a nod to Maserati’s past, though, with its participation in GT2 — SRO’s gentlemen driver category introduced in 2020 and contested with vehicles from the likes of Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, and Mercedes-AMG, as well as Maserati. The program – developed with the help of long-term Maserati and Ferrari factory driver Andrea Bertolini, a multiple FIA GT champion during Maserati’s unstoppable crusade of GT racing with the MC12 — also began last year and was instantly successful.

“Last year was exciting, not just because of Formula E, but also because we announced that we’re going to go back to GT racing. That was a memorable moment,” Sgro says. “We had our first race in GT2 last October at Paul Ricard and we had pole position and P2. So after we spent a year or so developing a car, we had that success in the first race … obviously we want to stay humble, but it was very exciting to be there.”

The GT program will also be complimented by the introduction of the MCXtrema, a million dollar track day car of which only 62 will be produced. Together, the three programs turn Maserati back from being Ferrari’s cool but quiet cousin that it’s been for much of the 21st century, into the legitimate force it was in its early days.

“We couldn’t be more excited because it also reminds loyal fans of Maserati where Maserati was born and what it means to the racing world,” says Sgro. “But I think it also taps into a new consumer, a new audience that really perhaps didn’t know Maserati, as well as some others, that gets to understand its roots and understand its DNA. And everything we produce for people like you and I that we drive on the road is inspired and derived from the past on the track.

“I think the positive thing that all these things have in common is that we really are credible and authentic about the fact that we said we wanted to go back to racing and we decided to do it. And it’s a full plate, because you’re talking to different audiences. Formula E, you have motorsport fans, but you also have people that maybe are not so engaged in motorsport but they love technology, innovation. They want to know, ‘What am I going to drive in the future? What I can learn from Formula E?’

“(In) GT2, we’re going back to the future. We’ve won championships in GT with Bertolini and the MC12 — here we go again, back in a GT championship. And the MCXtrema is a car we’ve never built before. It’s a 1,300 kilogram (2866 lb) car, 740 horsepower, extreme performance. The shakedown is coming up at the middle to the end of February.

“So (they’re) different things, but they all talk to each other in terms of a credible past and a really exciting future.”

Maserati MCXtrema

Of the trident brand’s rather appropriate three-pronged return to the track, Formula E is the central, taller spike. It puts Maserati back on the world stage and gives the company a platform from which Sgro says can benefit its upcoming road products in ways other forms of motorsport can’t.

“Think about software technology — that has an immediate [benefit]. You can adjust technology and software,” Sgro explains. “Software, there might be positive changes and you do that in a flash — those are the things that you can apply to the full range, the electric range. Think about energy consumption, how you apply energy when you’re driving at this level, with this caliber and these types of drivers. Think about also the input that they can give you, the human input of what they’re doing on track.

“Those are just a couple of the things that, as we go on from one race to another, you can really sit down with teams, engineers, and the engineers that are back in Modena and understand what it is that we can learn from from this really exciting, ever-changing path.”

Taking a name like Maserati back to the track is, of course, no mean feat. With its history, there’s always going to be a level of expectation, but that’s an albatross that Sgro relishes having around his neck.

“I think it’s that sense of responsibility that you just have to have when you’re a brand like Maserati,” he says. “I always go back to the first day that I started working at Maserati — you drive into Modena and you see the trident on the big wall. It’s more than just a job, it’s more than just a brand, it’s more than just the company. You get that sense of responsibility.

“Everything you do is to continue for the next 110 years, so I think you do have a lot of weight on your shoulders. Last year we had some challenges in the beginning and it’s not pleasant to read the headlines that might be negative. But at the same time, I think every journalist and every fan of Maserati was waiting for that moment that Max got on the podium at that point in Berlin, because the narrative changed completely — ‘Maserati back on top’ and ‘Max is the next Fangio’ and it was nice to relive that.”

Sgro is referencing Maximilian Guenther’s third place in the first half of last season’s Berlin E-Prix. It marked Maserati’s first racing podium in over a decade, and it marked a turning point for the team after a rather anonymous run of results up to that point. Another third followed three races later in Jakarta, before the German won from pole the following day. He later took a final podium in Maserati’s home race in Rome last July. It was a run of results that validated Maserati’s return to top-level motorsport and underlined the brand’s race-to-retail ethos.

“It’s a great platform, a great championship, it allows us to be the first Italian luxury automobile to be in a championship like this, so that gives us a lot of visibility,” Sgro says of Formula E. “We can talk about technology transfer, which obviously gives us a great narrative around what we’re doing on track and off track, but also gives us a really great opportunity to reflect on where Maserati comes from – this Italian resilience, this audacity and the victories, the highs, the lows.

“This year we’re celebrating 110 years of history. If you think about all the global iconic brands, not everybody can say we have a 70 year-plus history. So it’s really, for me personally and for all of us at Maserati, it’s really nice to be able to read those headlines again.”

Max Guenther became a Fangio for a new generation with his breakthrough win for Maserati in Formula E in Jakarta last year. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

It’s been the start of something, something that Sgro sees as a long-term project. And while he says the customer GT and MCXtrema efforts “underline what the value of that brand is,” the Formula E program is “the best place for us to be right now” as a factory operation.

“I think our strategy, our mission right now is to go electric by 2030,” he stresses. “Can there be a parallel path? Or maybe in the smaller circuits where we’re not mass oriented, can you still live, co-exist, with combustion? I’m not sure. We really want to stick to that 2030 goal. If anything changes between now and then, or the rules and the regulations change, we’ll do the best thing that we can for the branded products.

“Based on the statements that we made in terms of being electric and going electric, I think for now this is what the goal is and where the efforts are: producing the most luxurious, high-end, Italian-made and electric cars that really give you an experience that no one else can. And I think the combination of doing that, and also being an electric championship like Formula E, I think that’s the best.”

Story originally appeared on Racer