OPINIONS
Thursday, Oct 19 07:23pm
AUTHOR: Richard Gee

Brendon Hartley's debut a precursor to Porsche's Formula 1 push

Could Brendon Hartley be a long term feature at Toro Rosso as a prelude to Porsche either becoming the team's engine supplier or even buying the team outright?

 

Just a little bit of star gazing and joining the dots makes for an interesting conclusion.

 

It's something of an open secret in the Formula 1 paddock at the moment that a number of manufacturers, including Porsche—along with specific engine producers like Ilmor and Cosworth—are taking a very close look at Formula 1 involvement when the next generation of engine regulations come into force in 2021.


Porsche, of course, is part of the vast Volkswagen Group, which also boasts the Audi, VW, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Skoda and Bentley brands in its portfolio. Pedigree in racing, technology and high performance exists across the board and in great abundance.


With the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship title boxes ticked, Toyota defeated, LMP1 largely finished and continuing success in global GT racing... what comes next for the German giant?

 

It’s Audi arm is now in Formula E and will be the next big thing in that growing category having already demonstrated a potentially startling advantage over the longer race runs in recent pre-season testing.

 

So what of Porsche and VW? Well, VW may well still have to stay quietly in the background following the 'Dieslegate' affair with its emissions dodging road car software, so the thrust of a Formula One push would seem to fall to Porsche.

 

But why would Porsche get involved with Toro Rosso?


Red Bull leadership, right up to the man behind those little silver and blue cans; Dietrich Mateschitz, has never made a secret of the fact that Toro Rosso has always been up for sale, assuming the right buyer could be found and that they were good for Formula 1. 


Potential buyers and Formula 1 wannabe teams have come and gone in recent seasons. Caterham, Marussia and HRT to name three. They always do. But none would have quite the gravitas of the Volkswagen Group. Right there would be the buyer that Red Bull would have been hoping for.


Red Bull's own frustrations with Renault's power-unit have been very well documented. You still get the impression from both Daniel Riccardo and Max Verstappen when their guards are down that the chassis is the strongest point and the engine the weakest point.

 

Getting Porsche involved through the back door would naturally be a nice card to have in their back pocket should Renault not be the favoured option when the new engine regulations come into play in three years.


The engine regs for 2021 and beyond are also interesting to ponder over. Though nothing is settled just yet, and there are still calls for a return to high revving normally aspirated V8 or V10 engines, a lot of time and a considerable amount of money has been invested in developing the current hybrids.

 

The smart money would be that the next generation of Formula 1 power plants will rely on the current basic architecture – V6 turbo hybrid drivetrains – being retained but without the MGU-H systems and perhaps with a couple of turbos rather than just one.


Guess who has a mountain of experience with that kind of power unit?


But what about Honda, we hear you say? Effectively dumped by McLaren and pushed into an alliance with Toro Rosso from next season, they are still in the game for another three years and have been quite bullish in the media about their commitment and continuing desire to succeed.

 

Interestingly, over the past season or so there have been numerous rumours and discussions that other Formula 1 engine manufacturers could step in and help them get their troublesome engine up to par with the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault power plants.

 

Nothing concrete has emerged from these discussions, perhaps simply because the potential partners are also the opposition. Step in Porsche. Currently not in Formula 1, with lashings of relevant technical knowledge, they would be a suitable 'consultant' for Honda to work with over the next three years—and equitable to the other teams in Formula 1.


The final link of course, is Brendon himself, who is the ideal candidate for such a coalition.


There will be few drivers out there with his combined knowledge and experience of hybrid engines, complex drivetrain systems, control systems, Formula 1 simulators and working within the walls of a major manufacturer. Fewer still who would be able to drive a current Formula 1 car, compare it directly to a current LMP1 car and provide deep technical feedback.


Being a Porsche man, he will already know how a top team works too and would also be able to take some of that to Toro Rosso, if required, and similarly provide feedback to Porsche on the strengths and weaknesses of the Toro Rosso outfit.

 

He'll add a useful insight from a drivers perspective as to what might be required to turn the Toro Rosso midfielders into a Grand Prix and World Championship winning Porsche team. Remember Alan McNish and Toyota's transition from sportscars to Formula One?


Brendon is a former Red Bull Junior of course, but was dumped by Dr Helmut Marko and the team years ago. It's hard to see why the Red Bull driver supremo would suddenly open the doors to a former employee, even with the team's current lack of available drivers, but it's an acceptable veneer nonetheless given Hartley's resurgence as a world class driver over recent seasons.


And of course, regardless of Brendon being involved or not, this whole thing would also be great news for new Formula 1 owners Liberty Media. Not only might they get another competitive team, they would get another manufacturer and it might even help them retain Honda in the show beyond 2020.


Add it all up, and Porsche is surely looking at either becoming an engine supplier or team in its own right in 2021. Partnering with Toro Rosso provides a rare 'win-win' opportunity for all involved now and further down the line.

 

Brendon is the perfect choice as the pioneer to take the first steps. He'll have to deliver, of course, but we all know he has huge talent and is maturing very nicely as a driver, as a World Endurance Championship (and quite possibly another this season) and a Le Mans 24 hour victory bear testament to.


If he keeps his nose clean and performs as he regularly does, we could see Brendon in the Toro Rosso seat for the remainder of the season replacing Daniil Kvyat and then teaming up with Pierre Gasly in the team for next year.


At some stage soon after the engine regulations are confirmed, Porsche will probably make an announcement that they will be either buying Toro Rosso or supplying engines and a long term opportunity for Brendon, much as was the case with McNish, to be confirmed.


He will have earned the seat on merit, and it will be his to lose, as is the way in Formula 1.

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