There’s Big News Brewing in Formula 1. We Dig into Porsche’s Return
Anyone with an inkling of Formula 1 interest will know by now, that Volkswagen is flirting with a F1 return as an engine supplier. The story goes that it will enter with one or both of its Porsche and Audi brands. Porsche remains the favourite, with the rumour mill doing overtime around the prospect of Red Bull Porsche Racing. Porsche has of course come and gone from F1 three times already, with varying results. So, let’s first look at that…
Porsche’s Three Formula 1 Chapters
Stuttgart’s first F1 foray came when Edgar Barth and Umberto Maglioli debuted a pair of RS550s in the first of several once-off appearances in the ’57 German Grand Prix. it got serious in 1961, when Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier raced the full F1 season for Porsche. Gurney scored a trio of seconds and that year and went on to win Porsche’s first and only Grand Prix as a manufacturer in France in 1962, before Porsche quit F1 at the end of that season.
Porsche’s second coming was a disastrous 3.5-litre V12 engine supply deal to Footwork in 1991. The cars failed to qualify or retired in six races before the effort collapsed. Porsche returned branding TAG’s turbo V6s for McLaren. Niki Lauda and Alain Prost won 12 of the 16 1984 races. Lauda won that year’s championship, Prost the ’85 title and McLaren TAG both manufacturer’s titles. The engines were still winning when the program ended in ’87.
Now it seems Porsche is set to return to F1 almost 40 years later. Parent Volkswagen is attracted by the allure of beating Ferrari and Mercedes in what has rapidly become an incredible sporting and media success. Formula 1’s booming popularity can be ascribed to a few aspects, not least its progress under US Liberty Media ownership, its blockbuster Netflix series, and a sensational 2021 season.
Volkswagen’s Porsche F1 Demands
But Volkswagen is not just arriving in F1. It has demanded change and F1 has quite literally bent over backwards to accommodate those needs. VW-Porsche-Audi’s demands include changes to F1’s power unit regulations. And a fair playing field to prevent one team from dominating. Now F1’s future rules package includes a new power unit package with more emphasis on electrification. And cost cutting measures are already in place.
Porsche’s Formula 1 interest is driven by two men. VW Group Motorsport Director, 65-year-old Styrian Fritz Enzinger. And the man who recently replaced him in his role as Porsche Sporting Director, 53-year-old Thomas Laudenbach. Enzinger worked in BMW’s Formula 1 project before moving to Porsche. A hands-on racing man, Laudenbach managed Audi’s hybrid electric powertrain department before running Porsche’s recent 919 hybrid Le Mans 24 Hour hat-trick.
Laudenbach has taken the lead on the F1 project. He has Enzinger, who also sits on the VW Board’s tacit support. Laudenbach has also been instrumental in negotiating the terms of his brand’s plausible return with Formula 1 bosses. That came to a head with the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council rubber stamping new F1 power unit regulations set to come into force in 2026 in December. To VW’s satisfaction.
New F1 Rules in Line with Porsche Needs
Engines will remain 1.6-litre turbo V6s. But electric power will increase. The current, enormously complex, and costly to develop MGU-H units, which convert exhaust gases into electrical energy, will be dropped. All in line with VW-Porsche-Audi demands. As are those cost cutting measures, which already come into play for 2022.
“It’s no secret that we are thinking about it and talking to the FIA,” Thomas Laudenbach responded to questions of a Porsche F1 return. “We are seriously considering it, but there’s no decision yet. “If we will be there or not, I don’t know and I can’t say when we will have a decision, but we can’t wait too long if we want to race in 2025 or 2026.”
“The most important thing is, if you look into the future and to what car manufacturers will do with electric vehicles, it is very important that F1 shifts towards electrification. “Yes, it is clear you cannot go forward with only a battery electric vehicle. “We all know that. “But there needs to be a much higher priority on the electric part of the powertrain. “Motor sport has to be relevant to what you have on the road.
F1 Now More Interesting for Porsche
“From what I know now, the FIA has made a huge step in that direction.” Laudenbach continued. “In order to control costs, we would like to see more standard parts in the engine and to increase the freedom of the electric part. “There is already a cost cap at work, so all of these factors make it far more interesting for us than in the past. “But we also want a separate cost ceiling for the different units.”
Should Porsche indeed return to Formula 1, how that will play out remains to be seen. McLaren, Williams, and Red Bull are all mooted as plausible partners, with Red Bull the favourite. Especially considering engine partner Honda’s withdrawal last year. It has established Red Bull Powertrains as its own engine department with Honda’s support in the medium term. Having poached several high-ranking F1 engineers from its F1 rivals.
Red Bull is a dominant Formula 1 force. It finally broke Mercedes’ stranglehold to win the 2021 F1 Driver’s Championship with Max Verstappen. Its Adrian Newey designed chassis is widely regarded as the best in F1. All highly attractive to Porsche, which would clearly benefit picking up a F1 powertrain expertise and IP head start. And likely see the Stuttgart engine supplier competitive from the outset in F1.
Red Bull Porsche FORMULA 1: Mutually Beneficial?
Red Bull, which also owns the AlphaTauri F1 team, would also benefit the prestige of a Porsche relationship. The Red Bull Porsche Racing idea is nothing new. Team boss Helmut Marko has a friendly relationship with Porsche supervisory board chair Wolfgang Porsche, who also happens to be a member of the VW supervisory board. The pair were in advanced talks around the time of Red Bull’s Renault divorce. Those plans were scuppered by VW’s dieselgate scandal.
Marko pulls no punches on the prospect: “Should the Volkswagen Group decide to enter Formula 1, we would be the first port of call,” he maintains.
Porsche recently committed to a Le Mans, World Endurance and IMSA project with a new LMDh car in conjunction with Penske Racing. It also remains in Formula E, despite not yet winning a race after two years in the electric race series. And in the wake of Audi and BMW’s recent, and Mercedes’ future departure. “If we have a decision on F1, it will have an influence on other programs,” Thomas Laudenbach concluded.
That big VW Group decision to enter Formula 1 with Porsche, Audi or even both brands is widely tipped to be made in March…