With the announcement, Ford has made its intentions clear: it is dedicated to Formula Virtual, its partnership with FIRST Motorsport, and to achieving success in the sport.
When FIRST Motorsport had their initial unveil as the team that would replace Lucas for 2016, FIRST Team Principal Adam Blocker stated that FIRST and Ford would be partnered ‘for the foreseeable future’, which was a vague term. We believe that FIRST and Ford always had a plan for the long term, but that Ford had an option to pull out after 2017 if it felt the program wasn’t worth the time and money that it was investing into it. It appears that Ford have decided not to enact this clause after seeing how 2016 developed for them and FIRST and after seeing how their 2017 development work has gone.
In the press conference with Rob Aiken today after the above statement was released to the media, Rob Aiken was asked about whether Ford would look at supplying any other teams besides FIRST. He gave an interesting answer when he said that “Ford are committed to an exclusive deal with FIRST for 2017, but after that we have the option of supplying other teams, provided that FIRST approve of such a deal. We will assess the option of adding a second team to our Formula Virtual program over the course of the 2017 season.” Aiken would not comment on potential future engine supply customers, the likelihood of a second team coming on board for 2018, or any future engine rules that Ford would prefer. In regards to the last subject, Ford have previously stated that they would prefer an engine formula involving V6 turbos so that they could utilize their EcoBoost technology to a greater extent or a futuristic engine formula involving hydrogen fuel cells, which was hailed by Ford executives as the future of the automotive industry.
The re-commitment from Ford to Formula Virtual after only one season is a testament to the strength of the sport at the moment. There will be eight engine manufacturers across thirteen teams next season (Ford, Downton, AMR, Honda, BMW, Volvo, Renault, Virgin), which is a very big number compared to other virtual motorsport series around the world, most of which struggle to keep at least three manufacturers.
Undoubtedly the commitment of Ford to FIRST is also good news for that team as they try to move up the grid in the coming seasons. Instability would be one of the worst things that could surround a new team like FIRST, so having a reliable and committed partner in Ford can only be a good thing as the two of them try to improve on their performances together. The future of FIRST looks bright after winning the battle of the new teams in 2016, but 2017 will be a crucial year in their development. They have yet to score a point after a full season in Formula Virtual, and they will expect to get rid of that burden early on in 2017.