Motorsport fans of a certain age will need no reminder about how both Lola and Yamaha endured generally torrid Formula 1 campaigns 27 years ago, the last for each in the category. The former botched his attempt to make the grade after both of his drivers comprehensively failed to qualify for the opening round of the 1997 season before the squad vanished from the grid completely by the next round as money behind the scenes failed to materialize.

Yamaha fared little better in its role supplying engines to Arrows, save for 1996 champion Damon Hill’s heroics and near-victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Brit agonizingly losing the lead on the final lap due to a mechanical issue. That 1997 season also marked the Japanese manufacturer’s last in car racing, while Lola would seek fortune elsewhere, which she achieved in spades, before ultimately dwindling into nothing by the end of 2012 having fallen into administration.

Fast-forward to the present day and both announced a return to world championship single-seater racing as a powertrain supplier in the Formula E Championship in a move that has big ramifications for the series. Lola joins having been resurrected by British businessman and IMSA racer, Till Bechtolsheimer, who bought the name and remaining assets in 2022. He has looked to return the fabled brand to motorsport but with a new focus on sustainability, primarily electric and hydrogen power.

Having first been created in 1958 and with more than 500 wins under its belt across a plethora of series and events including the Indianapolis 500, Le Mans, Champ Car and more, the British brand is arguably an institution of motorsport that is sure to attract an old and new following.

“Coming back into racing we needed to differentiate ourselves,” Mark Preston, who heads up the Formula E project, tells Motorsport.com. “We’ve obviously been away too long to just continue what we did previously with aerodynamics and chassis etc. “We’ll still do that kind of thing but looking at the powertrains and what’s changed over the years, pretty much all series now have an element, at least at the high level, of electrification going on.”

Preston is a stalwart of motorsport having been involved for decades at the highest level with Arrows, McLaren and Super Aguri in F1. While in Formula E, he was team principal at Techeetah as the squad took three drivers’ titles on the bounce with Jean-Eric Vergne (twice) and Antonio Felix da Costa between 2017-2020.

Preston isn’t lacking Formula E experience from his days at Techeetah

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

On the other side, Yamaha may not be known for racing on four-wheels but there’s no doubt of its credentials with two. Its huge motorsport division the project can tap into makes for an exciting prospect. That the announcement of the Japanese manufacturer’s future Formula E plans were made ahead of the inaugural Tokyo E-Prix last weekend should not be underestimated and offers a glimpse at how heavily involved it will be in the project moving forward.

“Those two coming together in partnership was big news for us,” says Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds. “The timing is perfect for the start of Gen4 [in 2026] and I’ve got a feeling they’ll be pretty competitive because they’ve been developing and testing that powertrain – they’re not starting now, let’s put it that way. “I think it will be great for the sport if they come in and are competitive.”

A Gen3 car was delivered to Lola last week which will give the project well over six months before pre-season begins for the 2025 season, when an uprated version of the current model is set to be used – dubbed as Gen3.5. While it’s not been officially confirmed, it is no secret that Abt’s status as the only team without a powertrain supplier lined up for next year after parting ways with Mahindra makes the German outfit likely to use the newly developed powertrain.

Should the partnership bear fruit, especially prior to the Gen4 regulations coming into effect, then it can only make Formula E more appealing to other OEMs

Abt is a team used to winning and certainly on paper the partnership seems like the perfect combination to challenge for victories and even championships at some stage.

“When you first come into racing there will be hiccups I’m sure, but I think we’re going to do a pretty good job in the first year and then be up near the front in the second year and we’ll just build from there,” Preston admits. “My experience from Techeetah in the past was that it takes a little while to get going but I think as long as you’re on a positive gradient always then it will be okay and we’ll be able to pick up points and things in the first year of operation.”

Success in the past, though, is certainly no guarantee of success in the future. Five different driver and team combinations taking victory from the opening five races this season shows just how competitive and unpredictable Formula E remains.

Trying to even match and then surpass the performance level of teams that have competed for several years is certainly not going to be achieved overnight, nor are developments and progress going to be made at quite the same rate as those that come in the heat of direct competition against rivals.

Lola's success in Indycar racing and other disciplines means it has an enviable heritage that Formula E can benefit from, but that's no guarantee of immediate success

Lola’s success in Indycar racing and other disciplines means it has an enviable heritage that Formula E can benefit from, but that’s no guarantee of immediate success

Photo by: David Hutson / Motorsport Images

But what can’t be understated is the significance of having two renowned manufacturers join the Formula E grid, something which has not happened in several seasons. In fact, rather than attract new manufacturers in recent years, the championship has desperately tried to stem the loss of OEMs as Audi and BMW left in 2021, as well as Mercedes the following year.

That spell, which also coincided with the immediate fallout of COVID-19, marked a period when the future of the all-electric championship was on the brink but, having hit a decade this season, its focus is now on growing rather than surviving.

“One of the things that throughout the history of Formula E has really stood it in good stead is the quality of the manufacturers that we’ve had involved,” says McLaren team principal Ian James, who heads the Formula E Teams and Manufacturers Association.

“As we stand here today with the six that we’ve got, we’ve got a great foundation and we want to obviously make sure that for the future that continues to evolve. Both Lola and Yamaha are names that have a huge amount of heritage in motorsport, so they very much bring that.”

Whether or not the Lola-Yamaha combination proves to be successful could have far-reaching consequences. Should the partnership bear fruit, especially prior to the Gen4 regulations coming into effect, then it can only make Formula E more appealing to other OEMs.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact that we’ve been talking to other manufacturers as well,” adds Dodds. “This is a really important time for us because if we can secure the commitment of the existing manufacturers into Gen4 and sprinkle in a few new ones I think the short-term future of the sport is really bright.”

Nissan became the first, and so far only, current manufacturer to formally commit to Gen4 in Tokyo and there is certainly no guarantee that all of those still competing will sign up to the new regulations. With that in mind, attracting new manufacturers is imperative for Formula E and Lola-Yamaha could well play a pivotal role. Although it did not officially announce it would race in Gen4, things would have to go disastrously wrong for the project to disband within two years.

Whatever achievements the combination can muster before then will be a bonus, but it will be in the interest of all associated with Formula E for the partnership to find success as soon as possible.

Could success for Lola and Yamaha prompt other manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon?

Could success for Lola and Yamaha prompt other manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon?

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images



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