New boss speaks out on the marque’s motorsport future.
Will Porsche enter Formula 1 mid-decade, when the new engine regulations are finalised? Its parent Volkswagen Group stands on the precipice and has been openly engaged in talks, but it has yet to confirm one of its brands – most likely Porsche or Audi – will take the plunge into grand prix racing. But there’s a sense that ‘yes’ is more likely than ‘no’ right now for one of them.
Specifically for Porsche, there are other questions: if Wolfsburg chooses to push the big button, would it enter as a powertrain partner with Red Bull Racing? That would make more sense than starting from scratch, at least from a competitive point of view – although what’s the true value if the car isn’t painted in Porsche colours? Then again, should Porsche bother with F1 at all? No other form of racing comes anywhere close in terms of global appeal – certainly not Formula E or the World Endurance Championship (WEC). But in the face of real-world challenges, should a high-profile F1 campaign really be a priority, even with synthetic e-fuels and sensible budget caps?
Sure, Dan Gurney won the 1962 French Grand Prix in a little silver Porsche, and Niki Lauda and Alain Prost scored a hat-trick of F1 titles in the mid-1980s driving McLarens with Weissach’s turbo V6 engines (albeit bearing TAG badges). But is Porsche really an F1 company? It fits at Le Mans – of course it does. But it has never really been at home in F1. Perhaps it’s time for that to change.
So many questions, so many possibilities. It’s a good time, then, to speak to Porsche Motorsport’s new boss, Thomas Laudenbach.
Porsche’s F1 call must be made soon
“I can’t answer this question,” Laudenbach says when we ask whether Porsche will be entering F1. Not a great start. But he proves an affable sports boss and soon expands on that closed answer: “It’s not a secret that we’re thinking about it. We’re seriously considering it, but there’s no decision yet.
“I can’t say when we will have a decision, but we can’t wait too long if we want to race in 2025 or 2026.”
F1’s current turbo hybrid V6 engines are already setting gob-smacking new standards in energy efficiency. But still Laudenbach says: “The most important thing is, if you look at what car manufacturers are announcing in terms of the share of electric vehicles they’re going to sell, it’s very important that F1 shifts towards electrification.
“Yes, it’s clear that you can’t go forward with a battery-electric vehicle, we all know that. But there needs to be a much higher priority on the electric part of the powertrain. That’s important, because as a manufacturer, if you want to show yourself in motorsport, it has to be relevant to what you have on the road.
“From what I know now, the FIA made a huge step towards that direction.”
Laudenbach acknowledges that the “PR values” of F1 are “extremely good”. So if F1 is aligning itself with car industry thinking on partial electrification, already has a cost cap structure in place and offers a genuine level playing field through a major rules reset, perhaps, rather than ask why Porsche should enter F1, we should ask: why the hell wouldn’t it?
“From what I know, a lot of things are going in the right direction concerning F1,” says Laudenbach. “In order to control costs, we would like to see more standard parts in the engine to increase the freedom of the electric part. But there’s a cost cap at work, so all of this makes it far more interesting for us than in the past.” Sounds promising, right?
BoP til they drop
The perennial problem with major car manufacturers and motorsport is they all want to win, otherwise sooner or later they usually take away their ball. Although that’s probably not why Porsche has only committed to remaining in Formula E “to season 10” – the end of 2024. Sure, it has yet to win a race in two years, but the withdrawals of sibling Audi, BMW and soon Mercedes-Benz probably has more to do with its cooling attitude to the electric series. Plus a Formula E pullout then would coincide nicely with an F1 entry…
Beyond Formula E, greater anticipation lies with Porsche’s return to the top class of the WEC in 2023, with a new LMDh contender run by Penske.
The Hypercar era, when it properly begins (we struggle to count the WEC season just past when Toyota had minimal opposition) can’t come soon enough. In the LMH class, Ferrari and Peugeot will join Toyota and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, with Porsche and Audi choosing the less sophisticated but cheaper LMDh rulebook. They will be joined at Le Mans by Acura, Alpine, BMW, Cadillac and counting….
Parallel rulebooks, one that allows four-wheel drive, the other two-wheel-drive only, and a clutch of major manufacturers all vying for victory in the world’s greatest endurances races: it’s a recipe for artificial Balance of Performance, which has just caused an almighty row in the GTE Pro class between Porsche and Ferrari (see right).
Is this what we’re in for come 2023? Laudenbach smiles: “It’s the most crucial point. We can already see how difficult it is with two or three manufacturers; it won’t be easy with six, eight or nine.
“I have to say it sometimes makes me think about Balance of Performance in the top class. I can’t answer the question will it work or not? We have to see. The key is all the manufacturers play with an open book, that is the most important thing.”
Porsche’s LMDh racer is due to break cover this side of Christmas in preparation for its 2023 race debut. It promises to be the most important racing Porsche since the triple-Le Mans-Winning 919 LMP1. Until the F1 car is revealed, that is… Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, Laudenbach already has plenty to juggle.