Porsche's part in Formula One history 20 Jul 2005
German manufacturers have a long and distinguished history of participating in Formula One racing. Before the Second World War the Auto Union and Mercedes works teams were dominant forces in Grand Prix racing. Currently both BMW and Mercedes have invested large amounts in technical partnerships with the Williams and McLaren team respectively - with BMW set to take full control of the Sauber team next year.
But what of Germanys most famous sportscar manufacturer? Before the Hockenheim race starts this Sunday the crowd will, as at every Formula One meeting, have their appetites whetted by several support events - with the most action-packed often being the Porsche Supercup. It's the closest that the world's most successful sportscar maker gets to Formula One racing at the moment - but a quick flick through the history books reveals that the company has had considerable association with the sport over the years.
Porsche has no shortage of racing success, the company claiming more than 23,000 victories using its cars in different forms of competition - including no fewer than 16 wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race. The company made its Grand Prix debut in Germany in 1957, albeit using Formula Two cars. It then moved up to Formula One, using a development of its air-cooled flat four road-car engine to moderate success, including a single victory as a constructor, taken by Dan Gurney in 1962. Later on, engine regulation changes left the company convinced that it would be unable to make a success of its trademark flat four configuration so it withdrew fully from Formula One in 1964 to concentrate on sportscar and endurance racing.
In the following decades Porsche grew substantially as a company, establishing the reputation it still enjoys for making outstanding rear- and mid-engined sportscars. It was also one of the pioneers of commercial turbocharging with the original road-going 911 Turbo of 1975. By the early 1980s, as Formula One racing increasingly turned to turbocharging, Porsche's expertise in forced induction was suddenly very valuable, and the company was persuaded to re-enter Formula One racing as an engine supplier to the McLaren team (with its engines badged TAG) in 1983.
It was an inspired decision - Porsche's motors dominated the following season, propelling McLaren to 12 victories in 16 races and taking Niki Lauda to his final world championship. Drivers' and constructors' titles followed the following year, too - although by 1986 the supreme Honda engine managed to take Williams to the constructors' crown, although the Porsche/TAG motor was still strong enough to land Alain Prost the drivers' championship for McLaren.
At the end of 1986 Porsche withdrew from the sport again to concentrate on other motorsport activities, leaving McLaren to adopt the Honda engine. One further dalliance followed, supplying V12 engines to the Footwork team in 1991. The project flopped - and apart from support races, Porsche hasn't been involved in a Grand Prix since.
Further Formula One involvement is considered fairly unlikely. Although Porsche is a highly profitable car maker it is also relatively small compared to the likes of BMW and Mercedes who put huge financial investment into the sport. It would be great to hear a Porsche exhaust note in the pitlane again, but it's not something that's expected to happen any time soon