Any suggestion of Porsche or Audi entering Formula 1 is often met with the same reply: ‘I’ve heard this all before.’Those manufacturers are the ultimate F1 teases. They join conversations about future rules, they hold up the process and force F1 to consider – and maybe even pursue – different directions. And then they never commit.
Here we are in late-2021 and Porsche is openly commenting on its supposedly “serious” F1 interest and it’s known that its sister brand Audi has been involved in the same negotiations. So, a simple question: why should this time be any different?
A few months ago I was quite sceptical about all this. Discussing the next-generation engine is a hugely important topic for F1 and I remember thinking the championship risked wasting its time trying to appeal to manufacturers who never joined anyway. But it has started to make more sense, especially when at Monza it became clear key elements of the discussions – like dropping the MGU-H – were intrinsically linked to not just tempting the Volkswagen Group into F1, but doing so via a collaboration with Red Bull.
This is the part that makes these Porsche/Audi rumours more credible than ever.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali says it’s all about the technical direction F1 will take. He claims that the presence of the VW Group companies in the FIA’s technical discussions proves F1 is on the right path. He’s not necessarily wrong. F1’s intent to make the next batch of hybrid engines simpler by eliminating the MGU-H (the part of the energy recovery system that deals with heat energy) but give them a greater electrical output at the same time (via a more powerful MGU-K) is important. It’ll satisfy the demands from Porsche and Audi to be pushing more road relevant technology.
But the most important thing to me is that Porsche and Audi can do this at a fraction of the cost they would have had to spend to enter F1 at any other time. Because of that Red Bull collaboration. As you all know, Red Bull’s engine Honda is leaving F1 at the end of the season. In response Red Bull has created a new company called Red Bull Powertrains that will take over the running of Honda’s engines, which Red Bull has agreed a deal to continue using.
More importantly, though, Red Bull Powertrains’ brief is to build the first ever Red Bull F1 engine for the new rules. Lots of investment is currently going into creating the infrastructure to do that. This programme always had the flexibility to be joined/supported by an automotive manufacturer and that’s where the VW Group come in.
So the plan is pretty simple: Porsche/Audi help fund Red Bull’s engine project and almost certainly contribute technical knowledge and equipment, so the three brands get a stronger combined engine programme but share the cost between them. Compare that to the start-up cost involved in setting up a standalone engine programme or even worse, a full-on works team: there’s the strongest argument you have for why this Porsche/Audi idea is more realistic than previous ones.
THE MEXICAN GRAND PRIX
F1’s back in Mexico this weekend after a year’s absence and you can tell the locals have missed it. The energy around this race is always something special and the attendance this year could be Mexico’s biggest ever.
All signs point to Red Bull and Max Verstappen being favourites as the Red Bull-Honda package works well at high altitude. I believe a key part of that’s down to the turbochargers, with the Mercedes’ turbo not being able to run as hard as the Honda turbo to compensate for the lower air density here.
Why that is, nobody seems to exactly know. The suggestion was that Mercedes’ turbo is bigger and generates more heat, so running it harder here would cause problems and it cannot do that. But this gets refuted by some who say it’s neither size nor temperature-related. Either way, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton expects a tough weekend. But we’ve seen this year is so close, very few races have been a foregone conclusion.