Could Porsche really be on the verge of an F1 return? - Mercedes Benz SLK Forum

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#1 Old 09-12-2017
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Could Porsche really be on the verge of an F1 return?

The rumours are gathering apace: Porsche is to enter Formula 1 from 2021, after purchasing the Red Bull team and making engines fitting to the new formula set to be introduced that year.

No one is yet confirming or denying. But it makes a lot of sense. Red Bull might consider that its F1 programme of the last decade has achieved its marketing aims and that it no longer needs the vast expense of running an F1 team (or even two of them). It could continue as a sponsor to the works Porsche team and benefit from that association, but without anything like the same current spend.

The rumours have it that the team will continue to be run by Christian Horner from the same base as currently and hopefully still with the same Adrian Newey-led technical team. The team would simply change ownership and acquire proper works engine status from one of the world’s most prestigious automotive brands. Weissach and Milton Keynes would be connected in much the same way as Enstone and Viry currently are for Renault.

It would be a fantastic coup for F1 and Liberty to have Porsche on board as a full works F1 team for the first time since 1962 (although it provided the title-winning TAG-Porsches to McLaren 1984-87 as well as the less successful V12 to Arrows in 1991). It would also give Red Bull the potential to return to the title-winning pomp it enjoyed during the frozen spec naturally-aspirated era.

Mark Webber, an ex-Red Bull and Porsche driver and who has previously partnered Horner in junior team ownership, could be a link man between the two organisations. Both Brendon Hartley and Neel Jani have Red Bull connections, the former still a Red Bull athlete while the latter was Toro Rosso's third driver in 2006. Red Bull’s Helmut Marko also won Le Mans in a Porsche 917 in 1971.

from the archives



1959/61 Porsche 718/2
Porsche’s history as a Formula 1 constructor is as short and unspectacular as its time as a sports car manufacturer is long and illustrious. The records show Porsche entered the World Championship for just two seasons and emerged with just one victory, and that in a race where over half the field including most of the front-runners retired.

But still the idea of an F1 Porsche fascinates, even if it is more for what might have been.

The 718 was not a car born to Grands Prix; it stumbled across F1 almost by an accident of evolution. The clue is in the title. Technically this car is not a 718 at all, but a 718/2, because the original 718 was the pretty two-seat sports car designed to replace the 550A, perhaps better known as the RSK. That was in 1957, which was also the year in which Porsche first made its presence felt at an F1 event, when no fewer than three 550s entered the German Grand Prix. But these were not F1 cars, nor properly the F2 cars of the category in which they entered, but simple sports cars with passenger seats and spare tyres removed. With Juan Manuel Fangio up front driving the race of his life, it’s no surprise few took notice.

Next time Porsche tried harder. Realising that slippery enclosed sports car bodywork could be a help at ultra-fast circuits, and with F2 resurgent after one of its fallow periods, in 1958 it entered a 718 RSK into an F2 race at Reims, ranged against the might of the works Cooper, Lotus and Ferrari teams.

This time it had been converted to a central driving position, the headlights removed and the body shape mildly modified. And with Jean Behra behind the wheel, and despite the fact that the poor car had only weeks earlier won its class and finished fourth overall at Le Mans, it trounced the lot of them.

Then, at the end of the year, the FIA announced that from 1961 F1 would be run to current F2 regulations. Porsche found itself having built a sports car that would run at the front in F2 while at the same time preparing the ground for a serious F1 assault in ’61.

Which, in essence, is what happened. The 718/2 was developed over the winter of 1958-59 in time for the season-opening Monaco GP, where its little 1.5-litre engine would be less than usually disadvantaged against the 2.5-litre F1 cars. Wolfgang von Trips qualified it a creditable 12th, ahead of much more powerful machinery, but then turned triumph to disaster by binning it at the end of lap one.

The car competed sporadically through the rest of the season but the big assault came in 1960, a year for which no fewer than five cars were prepared, led by Stirling Moss who’d race for Rob Walker in his colours but with full factory backing. The best of both worlds, you might say.

For a team in its first proper season of single-seater racing, with a car derived from a now rather aged sports car, the 718 can be said to have done spectacularly well. Had it not suffered some distinctly un-Porsche-like unreliability it would have done better still. Moss took pole and led at Syracuse before retiring, but led a Porsche 1-2-3 at Aintree and Zeltweg. At season’s end the teams decamped to South Africa where Stirling won at Killarney and East London.

Today his memories are uniformly fond: “It was a typical Porsche: very strong, fast and easy to drive so long as it wasn’t raining.”

And so to Formula 1 in 1961 by way of a simple regulation change. Moss had learned a lot in 1960, the most salient point being that quick though the 718 was, the newer, lighter Lotus 18 was quicker still, and into its arms he ran. Even so, with Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier on the strength, Porsche was not without capable helmsmen.
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#2 Old 09-12-2017
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Could Porsche really be on the verge of an F1 return? Part 2

Nor was the 718 yesterday’s news, despite its age. Sure, the Lotus was quicker and Ferrari’s six-cylinder ‘Sharknose’ 156 the class of the field, but the Porsche was far from outclassed. On the contrary, back at the happy hunting ground of Reims it failed to win Porsche’s first World Championship F1 race by just 0.1 seconds, Giancarlo Baghetti slipstreaming his Ferrari past Gurney to earn his place in history as the only person ever to win their first Grand Prix. Dan charmingly puts this result down to “my perennial good luck in France”, but it was no fluke: he was second again at Monza, second at Watkins Glen and by season’s end equal third in the drivers’ championship with Moss, beaten only by the runaway Ferrari pair of Phil Hill and the late von Trips.

And there the 718’s tale as a works car concluded, though the fabulously eccentric Dutch nobleman, Count Carel Godin de Beaufort, bought Stirling’s Rob Walker car and tirelessly campaigned it up to 1964, even qualifying an impressive eighth out of 26 starters for the 1962 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.

As for the 718’s replacement in ’62, the 804 was a new-from-the-ground F1 machine powered by a flat-eight engine. But by then both Climax and BRM had their own eights, and while the 804 had the odd moment in the sun – Gurney coming through a decimated field to win in France and take pole at the Nürburgring – by the end of the season this new, purpose-built F1 car had amassed fewer points for both team and driver than the previous year’s antediluvian adaptation of an earlier design.

The car you see here is 718/2/03, the third works car, usually raced by Graham Hill during 1960 before Moss took it to success in South Africa. It was a car Hill claimed to thoroughly enjoy driving. In his Life on the Limit autobiography penned in a hospital bed in 1969 he wrote, ‘It was entirely different from the normal run of British cars – such as Lotus or BRM – and it felt a lot different. It had a super engine, very smooth and reliable, which fairly purred along. I am not sure that the roadholding was as good as the British cars, but the car felt solid and always seemed as though it was one unit and not a collection of parts.’ In racing’s most dangerous era, that must have been comforting indeed. For 1961 it was taken over by Gurney for most of the season and is the car that came second at both Monza and Watkins Glen.

It’s waiting for me now. Godin de Beaufort used to say he stayed with the 718 because it was the only race car big enough to accommodate his generous dimensions. Whether he spoke in jest or not, I’m grateful for the same reason: the car is absurdly comfortable even for all 6ft 4in of me.

The dash could hardly be simpler: a large rev-counter with a familiar Porsche typeface flanked by two smaller dials for oil temperature and fuel pressure. There are fuel tanks on either side, the one on the right compromised to make space for a gearlever that’s too far back, and an oil tank above my knees. It fires eagerly on a push start, the fiendishly complex four-cam flat-four barp, barp, barping into rumbustious life at the first lift of the clutch.

Read the reports of those who raced it and you’ll find the biggest complaint concerned the six-speed gearbox: Bonnier thought it needlessly over the top; Moss hated the absence of an external gate so much he got Alf Francis to fit one from his old Maserati 250F, much to the chagrin of the works engineers. Today, however, it seems the perfect device for keeping this peaky old motor in the zone. It doesn’t do much below 4500rpm and is strongest between 6000-8000rpm where, says Porsche, it should now be producing a healthy 180bhp.

The numbers say its power-to-weight ratio puts it in the modern supercar performance bracket and it certainly feels that way. But what interests me more are the brakes, which are fabulous despite being drums and seriously old hat even in 1960, and the handling which seems almost imperturbable. That trailing arm front suspension is derived from nothing more glamorous than a VW Beetle, but it works. On the limit and playing with the throttle, the 718 is so stable I wonder if those who raced it might have wanted it to be more reactive and fluid. To me it seemed unflappable.

But the overriding impression is one of unbreakable engineering integrity. Hill’s autobiography may not have been the best ever written, but when he spoke of the 718 feeling like ‘one unit, not a collection of parts’, he described the car perfectly. Not bad for Porsche’s first F1 car, which started life as a sports car four seasons earlier…
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One thing wrong with Porsche coming back to F1, their cars will probably still look like the car they built in the '60s they don't like design change....

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