Porsche’s decision to scrap its winning Le Mans program and switch to Formula E electric racing represents downsizing on an epic scale. But while Porsche is looking to the future with the lower-cost, all-electric Formula E series, it hasn’t completely abandoned the traditional motor sport spotlight.
The German automaker could re-enter Formula One as an engine supplier under proposed 2021 regulations, finance boss Lutz Meschke said in a recent interview with Motorsport.com. Meschke said Porsche was encouraged by talks with F1 officials at the recent Italian Grand Prix.
As is typically the case in racing, the main factor is money. Porsche pulled out of Le Mans and the attached FIA World Endurance Championship because it was spending large sums of money, but felt it wasn’t getting enough marketing value out of it. As arguably the most prestigious race series in the world, F1 offers a bigger stage for marketing efforts. Porsche also hopes new engine regulations for 2021 will lower costs, Meschke said.
Current F1 cars use complex hybrid powertrains based around a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6, and systems that harvest electricity from braking force and the heat from exhaust gases. The setup improved fuel efficiency and is relevant to automakers developing hybrid powertrains for road cars, but has been criticized because of cost, technical complexity, and the cars’ lack of noise.
Porsche would be interested supplying engines under rules that call for a simpler design, Meschke said. The automaker would limit its involvement to supplying engines, rather than fielding its own team. Porsche has done this at various points in F1’s history, including a fairly successful partnership with McLaren in the 1980s. Porsche hasn’t been directly involved in F1 since 1991.
Porsche is already set to join Formula E in 2019. The electric racing series will be cheaper than F1 or the Le Mans program the automaker is leaving behind, and offers a nice tie-in with the electric car Porsche plans to launch by 2020. But Formula E won’t offer the prestige of Le Mans or F1.
However, F1 may need Porsche more than Porsche needs F1. With Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Renault all prioritizing their own teams, and Honda’s relationship with McLaren in trouble, the series needs an engine supplier that will show some love to the independent teams that are its backbone. What better candidate than Porsche?
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