The new chairman of Porsche, Matthias Mueller, made the shock announcement at the 2010 Paris Motor show that Porsche were considering re-entering F1. He stated that it was no longer desirable for Porsche to be competing with sister company Audi at Le Mans. However, many people were still sceptical with memories still fresh of the recent withdrawals of Honda, BMW, Toyota and Ford. Indeed, Toyota became famous for failing to win a single race on an annual budget of $400 million. This was a statistic that literally reduced the Toyota chairman to tears when announcing the car manufacturer’s withdrawal from the sport. BMW meanwhile, now focus their attention on the German Touring car championship, citing a closer link to road car developments as the reason. However, in F1’s favour is the fact that it is hugely popular, and manages to pull in 600 million viewers worldwide every year. It has even managed to make Nigel Mansell attractive to companies looking for advertising opportunities, with the 1992 world champion appearing in the latest Moneysupermarket car insurance advertisements 15 years after his retirement. So how likely is it that Porsche will return?
The new formula
New FIA president Jean Todt has realised the need to improve the sports image, which has been damaged by repeated scandals over the past ten years. On top of this, critics claim the sport is out of touch with the real world, as it is simply wasting valuable fossil fuels. Todt has aimed to rectifying this problem by improving the sports green credentials with the following 3 steps:
- Banning on in race refuelling- For 2010, the teams are no longer allowed to refuel their cars during the races and must start with enough fuel to get them to the end. This has made it more important for the teams to be fuel efficient in order to benefit from reduced weight at the start (through having to carry less fuel) and reduced tyre wear (through having a lighter car).
- The return of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS)- Todt has persuaded the teams to bring KERS back for 2011. This was previously withdrawn for cost reasons, but the relevance of the technology to road car developments of the future was reason enough for Todt and the teams to agree to re-introduce it for the start of 2011.
- Smaller engines- The sport will reduced engine sizes from 2.4 litre V8’s to 1.6 litre turbos for 2013.
The aim of this is to make sure that the sport is more relevant to road car developments, as car manufacturers strive to improve their fuel efficiencies. Although the sport is only at step one of Todt’s process, it has still increased the importance of fuel efficiency with the championship winning Red Bull Renault thought to be the most fuel efficient car on the grid in 2010. The KERS system is perhaps the most important element of this plan, with Ferrari having already implemented a KERS device on their 599 hybrid road car model. Therefore, the reason why BMW left the sport appears to have been addressed.
The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) has made huge strides in it’s attempts to reduce spending in the sport by drawing up a resource restriction agreement which all the teams have agreed to. This reduces the amount all teams spend on their F1 programmes, thus allowing smaller teams to be competitive on a smaller budget. It was this agreement which led to Brawn GP being able to win the championship last year, and has allowed Virgin Racing to close the gap by over a second to the leading teams in six months despite operating on a $40 million budget, which is 10% of what Toyota were spending as they failed to win a race.
It is therefore now possible to be competitive in F1 with a very small budget. Richard Branson actually believes that it is possible for a team to be profitable and competitive in the sport, which would make his F1 team one of the most cost effective marketing platforms available. F1 has therefore changed significantly, and the reason why Honda, Toyota and Ford left appears to no longer be a problem.
Will Porsche enter F1?
All the problems that the car manufacturers previously had with the sport have now disappeared. Even the domineering Max Mosley no long has any involvement in the teams affairs. It therefore makes perfect sense for Porsche to take the opportunity presented by the new 1.6 litre turbo engine formula in 2013 and enter the sport. The fashion at the moment is to create your own team and aim for a profit, as Virgin, Air Asia (Lotus), Kingfisher (Force India) and Mercedes have done. However, don’t forget that Porsche have collaborated with Williams in the past, with Williams supplying Porsche’s GT programme with KERS technology. Williams shareholder Toto Wolff has also driven for Porsche in the same GT series. This would help the team avoid a painful building process as they at first struggle to get all the ingredients in place for success, as Toyota did. Buying a former championship winning team would surely allow them to hit the ground running in 2013.