Infiniti recently named three-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel its Director of Performance. That’s an impressive-sounding title, but what effect will Vettel have on the Japanese luxury brand’s products?
Since Infiniti is the title sponsor of Vettel’s team, Infiniti Red Bull Racing, the pairing must have seemed natural from a public relations perspective.
Renault, owner of Infiniti parent Nissan, supplies the team’s engines, so Infiniti can claim a very tenuous connection to F1.
Infiniti says Vettel, the youngest World Champion in F1 history, has already begun working his magic. He was involved in the development of the Q50, testing cars at the Nürburgring and Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya.
Engineers sought Vettel’s “world-class chassis dynamics, performance and handling feedback,” according to an Infiniti press release.
So, as much as we’d love to see a version of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) hybrid drive from Vettel’s Infiniti Red Bull Racing F1 cars on the next M Hybrid, the champion’s input will probably be limited to chassis tuning, at least for now.
Switching to pipe dream mode: what would happen if Vettel also got to change some hardware?
Vettel previously collaborated with Infiniti on a special edition FX50. Its 5.0-liter V8 was bumped up to 414 horsepower (compared to the stock FX’s 390 hp), courtesy of new intake and exhaust systems and revised ECU programming. Taller gearing for the seven-speed automatic transmission helped it reach 186 mph.
The Red Bull Racing engineers also designed a functional carbon fiber front splitter and roof spoiler for the FX. If they were willing to do it once, why not cook up some carbon fiber bits for other Infinitis?
Tapping racing expertise to shape a car’s body isn’t unheard of; just look at the many changes Chevrolet has made to the Corvette over the years at the behest of its race team. With access to one of the winningest F1 teams around, what’s to stop Infiniti from doing the same?
If Infiniti wants to take its relationship with Vettel beyond the PR realm, it could enjoy what business types call “synergy,” with the Red Bull team providing the tech and Vettel providing the driving experience. It works pretty well for Ferrari and its F1 drivers.
Infinitis with race-proven aerodynamics and chassis tuned by Vettel now inhabit our wildest dreams, but don’t expect any other major changes.
For reasons of cost, Infinitis will continue to share engines, etc. with Nissan, and Nissan has its own race engineers at Nismo. Then there’s the Q50’s steer-by-wire system, which is completely unrelated to anything in F1, or anything else, making the Red Bull crew’s experience a little difficult to apply.
Time will tell if Vettel’s presence is just for show – or if his influence will truly show up in the cars we drive.