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McLaren’s EV Racing Sponsor Is a Floating Saudi City That Doesn’t Exist

McLaren's new sponsor for Formula E and Extreme E is Neom, a sort of city of the future.
The McLaren Extreme E and Formula E Gen3 cars outside the McLaren Technology Centre
McLaren F1

Last year McLaren announced its Extreme E entry, this year it confirmed it’s going racing in Formula E’s Gen3 era, as well. Today, it unveiled the liveries for both cars and announced it’s partnering with a Saudi-state-backed new city project called Neom. In fact, Neom is seen prominently on both cars.

One of the things that’s most striking about the new partnership is that Neom doesn’t yet exist. The plan is to build a new city on the Red Sea coast, partly floating, with work and residential areas called Oxagon, as well as a fully autonomous port. It’s also meant to have a technology campus, a mountain resort, and be a shining example of the future, specifically working on sustainability. But it’s faced criticism and protest from environmental groups and particularly the Huwaitat tribe, on whose traditional land it is being built despite having environmental commitments attached to its construction.

And, again, despite its non-existence, Neom has sponsored motorsports for some time. The first race of the Extreme E calendar this year took place in Neom, or at least in the same area where this City of the Future is supposed to happen, and it’s also sponsored the Mercedes Formula E team since the factory outfit entered the sport.

Mercedes pulled out of Formula E at the end of last season, however, so that team will become McLaren’s Formula E outfit at the end of the current season—with Neom branding and all.

“We’re going to pick up literally the Mercedes Formula E team, move it to a new location but in the same general vicinity,” said McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. “So in the short-term, they’re not going to move to the MTC. That’s to give good integration to the existing team and not pick them up, move them all.

“All EV racing will be led by Ian James,” Brown said, referring to the Mercedes Formula E team principal. “So Extreme E will then roll into what is now McLaren EV racing, he’ll be the (Managing Director) of that. So it will be the existing Extreme E team, existing Formula E team with Ian’s leadership across both.”

The racing drivers aren’t transferring but all the other personnel will (if they want to) and the team will come under a new “vertical” that is part of McLaren Racing, but encompasses both Formula E and Extreme E teams, as a partnership with Neom, according to Brown.

The partnership isn’t just a sticker on a car, as McLaren will be one of the first tenants in Oxagon and will have 12 employees based there. There’ll also be 20 people from Neom who will come to learn skills at McLaren as part of a technical acceleration program.

Whether that matters at all to how they go racing is immaterial so far, but Neom doing its best to be more than advertising in a racing team is a step up in Saudi’s investment in global motorsport, alongside heavy F1 sponsorship via Aramco.

McLaren’s Extreme E lineup is locked in with Emma Gilmour and Tanner Foust but its Formula E lineup is still totally up in the air and dependent on IndyCar. McLaren’s stateside operation has moved to three cars for 2023 and it’s signed Felix Rosenqvist, who prior to Indycar was winning for Mahindra in Formula E—and Brown told me earlier he could go either way. Whoever the other Formula E driver is, it won’t be Stoffel Vandoorne or current world champion Nyck de Vries.

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