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.