This is the second part of The Checkered Flag‘s exclusive interview with Tommaso Volpe, INFINITI’s Global Motorsport Director. To view yesterday’s part one, click here.
Given the Project Black S, and INFINITI’s, connection to Formula 1, the company’s motorsport future was always going to enter the discussion. Having achieved success in partnership with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing in their dominant period at the start of the decade, and their progression with Renault‘s return as a works team in 2016 to the present day, INFINITI are a name that should stay at the pinnacle of motorsport.
It’s a topic that Volpe has clearly considered. And for this reason, entering Formula 1 as a bigger player – either with group partners Nissan or as a standalone team – has already been ruled out. The reasoning lies in Formula 1’s future and it’s troubled recent past. However, Volpe makes sure to praise the direction the sport’s owners Liberty Media are taking to avoid more costly failures.
“At the moment, it’s not very easy to enter as a brand new team,” he muses, over dessert. “The regulations that they are discussing will have very clear parameters for new teams.
“It’s a good thing because in the past, a lot of teams came without very strong structure behind them and then they were leaving after two or three seasons.” For evidence, see: Lotus/Caterham, HRT and Virgin/Marussia, all arriving in 2010 and defunct by 2014.
“They want to make the sport more solid and reliable to avoid this. But, it is going to be more difficult to enter.”
Despite the undoubted financial power of INFINITI, entering as a constructor goes against the company’s philosophy of why they entered Formula 1 in the first place – as hybrid specialists looking to decrease the technology gap between the motorsport and consumer automotive worlds. Their role with Renault satiates that desire.
“The reason why INFINITI is in Formula 1 at the moment is to promote our engineering expertise. So it is not our priority to have our own team, it’s good enough to be involved as an expert of hybrid technology together with our partners Renault.”
Certainly for now, Formula 1 is not on the agenda. However, other options are being considered.
“Other categories… despite being very busy, is something different,” he returns, changing in tone. “We are a performance brand and look for different opportunities.
“We don’t have anything confirmed or on the table yet, I must be honest with you.”
GT3 regulations and the lure of the category’s premier series – the Blancpain GT Series – are becoming increasingly attractive propositions, and more importantly fit and help promote INFINITI’s brand image – particularly in Europe.
“Our next step in motorsport is definitely in the GT category. If you imagine the typical motorsport pyramid, you have the prototype categories at the top – where the job is usually to promote your engineering expertise,” he elaborates.
“But then, you have all the GT categories where you can promote the brand, the technology and the product all at the same time. And this creates a link to your core business.”
The differences between GT3 and GTE racing are vast. The GTE car is more detached to its parent model, in some cases it takes on the role of a faux-prototype. The only areas that must be shared with its road-going counterpart are the chassis, engine block and cylinder heads. The rest is free to play with and even the aforementioned parts are modifiable to an extent. The sense is that Volpe is against this idea and way of thinking, preferring to show off INFINTI’s base models, only equipped with the necessary bells and whistles for a GT3 entry instead of embarking on yet another new project.
Additionally, the field is generally more competitive in the GT3 class. Balance of Performance (BoP for short), the way of restricting and levelling performance between the manufacturers, provides more excitement and closer racing for larger grids – ideally. This constantly adjusts and can therefore make the ‘ideal’ a difficult status to reach, due to a number of variables from driver ability to track and ambient conditions. More competitive results will make for the brand to be seen in a better light.
However, the appeal of the GTE class comes in access to the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the jewel for all motoring manufacturers for its prestige and sales impact. In the wake of their unlikely victory with the distinct sounding rotary-powered 787B in 1991, Mazda recorded an increase in European sales by four-thousand units and a 0.04% rise in European market share. In addition to this, the inimitable Group C icon was in keeping with their ‘fun and daring’ brand image. Something for INFINITI to ponder?
With a telling smile and a glint in his eye, he teases: “Let’s see.”