Racing for Success

WITH PORSCHE ABOUT TO REJOIN FORMULA 1 WITH RED BULL RACING [edit: news changes fast – no longer true] I thought I would revisit its most successful stint in that series. Although Porsche won one race in the early ‘60s, with Dan Gurney, it wasn’t particularly successful. Ferry Porsche felt that owners of Porsche’s production cars could not relate to the F1 machines, and the technology could not be applied to its production cars.

In the late ‘70s, turbos arrived in Formula 1 and teams were exploring ground effects. McLaren had been going through a fallow period although the team, with its designer John Barnard, had pioneered the use of the carbon-fibre chassis. The team was still running the venerable Cosworth engine and needed an engine supplier. In discussion with the team boss, Ron Dennis, Barnard insisted that McLaren needed to commission its own engine, with dimensions and external proportions to maximize ground effects. Dennis supported Barnard’s recommendation and set about finding the money to have the engine designed and built by Porsche.

Barnard worked closely with Hans Mezger of Porsche to ensure the engine design met his criteria. Mansour Ojjeh’s TAG company carried the cost and Porsche was the sub-contractor, which was a highly successful partnership. Due to its exceptional efficiency and the excellent aerodynamics, the Porsche engine powered McLaren to three Drivers’ Championships, two Constructors’ Championships, and a total of 25 wins from 68 races.

Niki Lauda won one of those championships by half a point and Alain Prost won two. Lauda had returned from retirement and had negotiated a lucrative but unusual contract. It allowed McLaren to fire Lauda for non-performance after each three races. That clause obviously didn’t need to be invoked.

Hans Mezger was a long-time Porsche engineer who passed away in 2020. He was responsible for the 911 flat-six engine from its inception and headed the competition department, which produced the 917. He was responsible for adding the turbos to the 917, which created the all-conquering Can-Am cars of 1972 and ‘73. Knowledge gained there was used in the creation the 911 Turbo, one of Porsche’s landmark cars. Mezger contributed to Porsche’s most revered models: 934, 935, 936, 956, 962, which all owed their success in part to this most extraordinary team of engineers. Although retiring in 1993, Mezger’s engines were still winning, powering the Porsche 911 GT1-98 to victory at Le Mans that year.

The working relationship between Barnard and Mezger — coordinating chassis, engine, and aerodynamics together at the design stage — continues to this day in all forms of racing. It will be interesting to see if Red Bull and Porsche can approach the success that McLaren and Porsche had back in the ‘80s.

Just as I was finishing this article, the FIA, the governing body, signed off on the rule change Porsche needed to enter the series. The main components of these rules, to be implemented in 2026 are: continue the spectacle, remove the motor generator unit-heat, and have fully sustainable fuels and financial sustainability. I suspect all Porsche racing fans will take a keen interest as this story progresses. </>

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