7 March 2019

Even the best screw up. Fascinating F1 Facts: 97

Porsche has a outstanding reputation for building the finest performance cars available. They are well-engineered, beautifully-designed and are not only sporting but also very reliable. But, even Porsche can get it wrong, although they may not like being reminded of it.

The story began back in the 1930s when Porsche's design office designed an air-cooled flat-4 engine to be used in the Volkswagen (which, of course, became the Beetle). It was then modified and used for the first production Porsche, the 356, in the late 1940s. This was developed by Ernst Fuhrmann and became known as the Type 547 engine, although he soon left Porsche and Hans Mezger arrived. He developed the Type 547 to power the Porsche 718/2 Formula 2 car, which enjoyed great success in 1960.

The following year F1 changed to 1.5-litre engines and so Porsche took the opportunity to enter Grand Prix racing. The original engine was not strong enough to compete with Ferrari and so Metzger was set to work to design a 1.5-liter air-cooled flat-8, known as the Type 573, to power the new 804 F1 car. It wasn't as powerful as some of its rivals but had the advantage of not having to have large and heavy water radiators and Dan Gurney was able to use the car to win the 1962 French Grand Prix at Rouen. But Porsche was too small a copy to support further F1 development and left the sport at the end of that year and Mezger then developed a flat-six that would be used in production Porsche 911s.

He then put two of the sixes together and built the 4.5-litre flat-12 used in the mighty 917 sports car, which brought Porsche great success at Le Mans and later in CanAm, with the engine being turbocharged.

Porsche's knowledge of turbocharging was quickly transferred to road cars with the first 911 Turbo appearing in 1973 and it was the turbo expertise that attracted McLaren to fund the Porsche-designed and manufactured 80-degree TAG V6 turbo engines, which dominated F1 in the early 1980s, winning 25 victories in 68 races and taking three Drivers’ championships and two Constructors’ titles. The basic power unit weighed just 145kg, which was far lighter than other V6s in F1 at the time.

The McLaren-Porsche alliance in F1 ended in 1987 but Mezger was soon working on a V12 engine which he wanted Porsche to use for the new 3.5-litre normally-aspirated F1 regulations. The decision was taken to go ahead and early in 1990 Porsche signed a four-year deal with the Footwork Arrows team, with the new 3512 engine to be introduced in 1991.

The idea was to effectively put two V6s together but the resulting engine was late arriving, was too big, too heavy (180kg), not very powerful and very unreliable. The Ferrari V12 weighed 139kg. There were also problems installing the engine in the car, which needed to be redesigned.  Alex Caffi and Michele Alboreto struggled with the engine for just six races before abandoning the programme and switching to Ford DFRs. Mezger had already started work on a new V10 engine for 1992 but after Footwork cancelled the contract at the end of that year, Porsche found itself with an F1 engine and no-one wanting to use it.

Mezger retired in 1994, at the age of 65.

His V10 engine would be used for a planned LMP1 project in 2000, known as the LMP2000 but this was called off in the middle of 1999 and the engine was then put into the Porsche Carrera GT supercar, a production car, of which 1,270 were built.

Mezger will turn 90 later this year…

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