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Williams Porsche team for 2013?
Old 25 Oct 2010 16:20
Porsche chairman Matthias Mueller, recently made the announcement that his company were looking into the possibility of becoming involved in Formula 1. Mueller argued that it is not desirable for them to competing in the same arena as sister company Audi in the Le Mans series, and therefore said that Porsche were reviewing their motorsport activities. Many have argued that there are always rumours about a car company in the Volkswagen group becoming involved in F1 and that it never comes to anything. However, this time it might be different. F1 is still massively popular, with television viewing audiences of over 500 million people and even long forgotten champions such as Nigel Mansell can still make money from their association to the sport by appearing in Money Supermarket car insurance advertisements. On top of this, new FIA president Jean Todt is making changes to the sport to address the problems it faced under the Mosley regime. So what are these changes and why are Williams the obvious choice of partner?

The changes

Toyota spent over $400 million per season to run their F1 team, yet amazingly failed to win a single race during their eight season participation. However, this is more understandable when you consider that Toyota were not the only big spenders, with the teams spending a combined total of over $3 billion during 2008 according to Formula Money. As the recession hit, this simply wasnít sustainable and ultimately led to the loss of BMW, Toyota and Honda from the sport. Renault also sold their team to Genii capital but maintained the branding. However, the FIA advocated a cost cutting programme which would make F1 less expensive for the top teams and allow smaller teams to be competitive despite having smaller budgets than those at the top, hence reducing the chance of them withdrawing from the sport. The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) acted on the FIAís advice and drew up a resource restriction agreement, which all the teams agree has been effective this year in reducing the number of teams lost and allowing smaller teams to compete. This has allowed Virgin to have a solid debut season in 2010, despite spending only $40 million. The teams recently drew up another agreement to extend the resource restriction agreement for another two years as the teams now realise the importance of reducing costs to ensure the long term future of the sport.

BMW meanwhile blamed the lack of relevance to road car technologies as their reason for withdrawal, and instead joined the German Touring Car series which has a closer link despite it having a much smaller television and press coverage. The FIA has acted on this by banning refuelling during the races from 2010 onwards and reintroducing Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) for 2011. This may not sound very road relevant, but it actually has the potential to increase the fuel efficiency of road cars. The ban on refuelling has made engine fuel efficiency more important than ever before, as the teams have to start with enough fuel to finish. A fuel efficient engine will therefore mean a lighter car at the start, which will mean less brake and tyre wear, as well as faster lap times. It is possible that the car manufacturers could transfer techniques used in increasing fuel efficiency of their F1 engines over to road car engines. This will be particularly true in 2013 with the planned reduction in engine size from 2.4 litre to 1.6 litre. KERS technology meanwhile has already been used by Ferrari on their 599 hybrid road car, showing a very clear linkage. The KERS devices also store energy in lithium batteries, which bring a significant weight penalty for teams which is why the systems werenít used by all teams in 2009. However, the teams have worked very hard to reduce the weight of the devices, with Mercedesís device now weighing just 30kg. These advances will ultimately be used on road cars, which should make hybrid vehicles more effective, lighter and therefore more practical. Porsche have already utilised the KERS device designed by the Williams team on a hybrid version of their GT sports car, showing that this is something in which they are interested in developing.

Why Williams?

Access to Williams KERS expertise is just one benefit that Porsche would gain from involvement with the team. The team are also championship winners, who have only been held back in recent years by a lack of financial investment. However, this period has allowed the team to reorganise itself and become far more efficient than it was during the BMW years. It is therefore likely that with increased financial backing from Porsche and the combination of Williams and Porsche technologies could create a very competitive team which would be capable of challenging Ferrari and Mclaren again.

However, finances are a massive problem for the team at the moment, with the team even having to consider dropping the very promising young German driver Nico Hulkenberg for 2011 in favour of a paying driver, in order to ensure the teams future. It should also be considered that Frank Williams and Patrick Head are no longer young men, and surely will be looking at going into retirement before too long. Frank Williams has already handed over day to day running of the team to CEO Adam Parr, and therefore this would be a great opportunity for Porsche to buy a stake in the team, which would enable them to have a greater say in team activities than a simple engine supply/sponsorship deal would allow. Porsche has already stated that it would not be interested building up a new team from scratch due to the number of years of poor performance that would be needed in order to develop. Williams is therefore the perfect opportunity.
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