Mercedes launches Formula E team with Vandoorne and de Vries as drivers

Mercedes has launched its Formula E team and confirmed former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne and current F2 championship leader Nyck de Vries as its drivers.

Mercedes announced it would enter the all-electric race series in July 2017 but wanted time to prepare before hitting the track with its full factory team in the upcoming 2019/2020 season. The new Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team competed in the 2018/2019 championship under the HWA Racelab name and will continue to be managed by HWA, which has a long history of running Mercedes race cars in DTM.

The new team was launched at the Frankfurt motor show on Wednesday, where its livery -- which has similarities with the F1 team's paintjob -- was revealed.

The powertrain for the Mercedes Formula E car has been developed and built in the same Brixworth factory that produces the Mercedes's hybrid Formula One engines, and new team principal Ian James said there had been some technology transfer between F1 and Formula E.

"The collaboration between Affalterbach, Brackley, Brixworth and Stuttgart is going to be hugely important," James said. "Fortunately for us, the experts who develop our Formula E powertrain have already accumulated a great deal of experience with Formula One hybrid power units. This knowledge transfer is helping us immensely, but Formula E is a completely different challenge, and we shouldn't underestimate that fact."

Vandoorne stays with the team after completing his debut season in Formula E with HWA Racelab last year. The Belgian driver left McLaren at the end of 2018 after making his F1 debut in 2016 as a one-off replacement for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain. He finished 16th in his debut season in Formula E with 35 points.

Vandoorne will be joined by de Vries, who looks set to claim this year's F2 championship. The Dutch driver is now in his third season in F2, but if he claims the championship he will not be permitted to race in the series next year under F2 regulations. With no options available in F1, Formula E represents a logical step for the 24-year-old.

"It's a very special feeling to be asked to drive for Mercedes-Benz EQ in Formula E, and I am honoured that the team have chosen me as one of their two drivers," he said. "Formula E is a great platform that has already established itself as one of the biggest and most professional racing series outside Formula 1. It's a great opportunity, for which I'm really grateful to Mercedes.

"Essentially, Mercedes are aiming to be contenders for race wins and championship trophies. Hopefully, this will happen sooner rather than later. But until then, the team and I expect a steep learning curve before we can become truly competitive."

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff was also present at the launch and was asked if five-time champion Lewis Hamilton might one day end up racing in Formula E.

"He is obviously an intelligent observer of the racing universe and we have spoken about Formula E before," Wolff said. "We had the odd sleepless nights in Shanghai when we found Formula E on one of the channels and we texted each other looking at it. But I guess as a racing driver you need to concentrate on what you are doing and that is Formula One, but he is also very versatile.

"He has a lot of other interest and I guess that if Formula E continue to go from strength to strength, then he is also going to have an eye on it."

Unlike Formula One, Formula E uses a single-make chassis and standard aerodynamics, with the development scope of teams limited to the drivetrain and operation of the car to make a difference. The battery is also a standard design, meaning the development focus for manufacturers is on the inverter, motor, transmission, rear axle and the software for energy management.

Mercedes entry into Formula E came at the cost of its DTM programme, but there is no indication the team will pull out of F1 as a result of joining the all-electric series. Speaking earlier this year about the value of F1 and Formula E, Wolff said the sheer numbers of F1 followers meant the series was still valuable to the brand even if the future of the motor industry appears to be electric.

"Formula E is an exciting start-up, and interesting to watch how it grows," he said. "On the other side, the global platform of F1, it just really covers what we expect from our motor racing properties.

"F1 is in a good space, we had more than half a billion unique viewers last year and the numbers are up, even though we are facing the same problems as any other sport.

"Honestly where I am I feel in a good place. Mercedes hasn't given any indication that we are going to stop the programme, on the contrary, we are having really open-minded discussions about what the benefits are.

"But in 10 years the whole auto industry might be different and fully electric and in a different place, so I don't want to give any comment on where we might be in 10 years but I can say in the short-to-mid-term, F1 makes a lot of sense for Mercedes."