I was told a couple of months ago to watch out for Porsche signing up Formula 1 people for its LMP1 programme, but it was made very clear to me at the time that I should not read too much into the stories and that Formula 1 remains a no-go area for companies in the Volkswagen group, at least for the moment. It is never really explain why this would be the case and the conclusion that one must draw is that company uber-boss Ferdinand Piech is not very keen on the idea. And no-one would dare to go against what the 75-year-old wants. That does not mean that a team put together now to build sports cars might not at a later date turn its attention to F1 when the political scene has changed, but that cannot be considered a concrete plan.
Porsche has always been a sporty company, and has had occasional forays into F1 when the circumstances seemed right, but the firm has generally concentrated its efforts in sports cars. These days it is run by Matthias Muller, an Audi man who began his career as a toolmaker with the company back in 1977. A protégé of Martin Winterkorn, Muller rose through the ranks to take his present job two years ago.
His head of research and development is a more interesting figure in motorsport terms. Wolfgang Hatz is a racing man. He began his career as a project manager at BMW Motorsport back in 1983, when the company was involved as an engine supplier in F1. He left the firm in 1989, moving to Porsche, where he was a member of the team that built the disastrous V12 F1 engine, used briefly in that era by the Arrows team. After that he had a spell as technical director of Opel Motorsport before moving to Fiat as head of engine development before joining Volkswagen in 2001. The men who have been hired in the course of the last year for the LMP1 project include a number of F1 names, notably the head of the entire project Fritz Enzinger, who was previously head of the BMW F1 operations, after a career in BMW Motorsport in Munich that dated back to the 1990s. The head of the LMP1 development programme will be Alex Hitzinger, who started his career with Toyota, being one of the designers on the sports car engines before moving on to be part of the F1 team. He was then lured to Cosworth where he initially ran the Ford WRC programme before becoming head of F1 engine development. He was then taken on by Red Bull Technology to run the F1 development for both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, but that was short-lived because it was decided that teams must build their own equipment and so he became the Technical Director of the Scuderia Toro Rosso for a year. Another recruit is former BMW race engineer Mike Krack, who will move at the end of the season, handing over his role in DTM to Australian Chris Dyer, formerly at Ferrari. It seems that another man on the move will be Sauber chief mechanic Urs Karatle, who began work with Sauber in 1989 and spent 10 years with the team before taking a year out to become a helicopter pilot, before returning to Sauber in 2010.
It is really impossible to say whether there is any longterm F1 plan at Porsche, but what is clearly true is that the company wants to make sure that it is competitive when it wades into LMP1. If that programme is a success and obstacles to F1 are removed then who knows? But I would not bet my house on it.