Why Porsche’s recent comments are a major warning for F1
This week German car maker Porsche revealed it was considering entering Formula 1 as the makers of the famous 911 model look to move back into high level motor-sport.
In the end the company opted to enter a prototype design into the Le Mans series for 2014, reports link current Red Bull driver Mark Webber to the project, however Porsche’s comments that F1 was “not logical” due to a lack of relevance to it’s road cars was a stark warning for F1 bosses and here’s why.
Not long ago F1 was dominated by the major car makers, Honda, Toyota, BMW to name a few, now however only Mercedes is left as the only mass production car maker to have a fully operational F1 team. Some will also point out that Ferrari and McLaren produce road cars, but the type of high performance super-cars they produce do make being in F1 relevant.
Some of the car makers remain in F1 as engine suppliers with Renault supplying engines to 4 teams and Mercedes to 3 teams, and it is as engine suppliers that has the like of Honda and possibly Toyota interested in a return to the sport.
The fact however that none of the car makers are not yet signalling a future return as a full works team is worrying albeit still understandable given the current economic climate. But the major car makers are still participating in motor-sport entering touring car championships and the Le Mans style endurance series.
When asked specifically why F1 was not logical for Porsche, the company’s Chief Executive Wolfgang Hatz’s response is what will disappoint F1 bosses most.
“There is a lot of publicity around politics and tyres, but not so much about the engines and chassis. The aero, too, is incredible, but so extreme that it cannot result in any development in our road car understanding,” he added.
In other words, modern F1 is no longer relevant to car makers. When Hatz speaks about the publicity around tyres of course that has not always been the case, but for Pirelli, one of the world’s biggest makers of tyres for all vehicles, to hear companies that they would look to do business with, say that they are having too big an influence on F1 for them to enter will be disappointing.
F1 has been much more road relevant in the past, much of the modern car design with monocoque chassis’, traction control, suspensions etc came from F1. The switch to smaller engine units and the invention of KERS that will one day, I believe, be on all road cars does mean that F1 can still bring new technologies to road cars in the future, but what F1 is missing is what the Le Mans series in-particular offers.
Car companies are investing in new greener technologies, and in the Le Mans series fuel consumption is one the biggest factors in the racing, so by entering Le Mans and other endurance races, any advances made in fuel technologies and safety in sports cars are much more applicable to road cars.
That is the biggest difference now between sports cars and F1, safety in modern F1 is so good and has been now for quite some time, the technological advances that could be applied to road cars have been applied and because the gains that can be made mechanically are greater in sports cars, Formula 1 is not as relevant as before.
Overall the major warning for F1 seems to be that with rising competition from sports cars and the still depressed economic climate, more work needs to be done to make the sport greener, the costs involved certainly need to be addressed and the reputation F1 has commercially need to be altered, all that added together should make the pinnacle motor-sport in the world more accessible and more appealing to the world’s car makers.
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Author: Ben Issatt