The last time Porsche was officially involved in Formula 1 was in 1991, when the automaker supplied a 3.5-liter V-12 to the Footwork team. The engine was a rare racing failure for Porsche, which hasn't been involved in the series since. But that was almost about to change, as Porsche was, until quite recently, working on a V-6 engine intended for the 2021 season of Formula 1.
Pictured above: Porsche's TAG Turbo V-6, used by McLaren in the 1983-1987 F1 seasons.
, Porsche's racing head, Fritz Enzinger, said the V-6 was being designed for use both in F1 and in Porsche's upcoming replacement for the World Endurance Championship 919 LMP1 car. The plan lost steam when Porsche pulled the plug on its WEC prototype program in 2017, and F1's plans for a less expensive engine package stalled.
That didn't mean the engine was abandoned, though. "At the end of 2017, we received a concrete order from our parent company to further develop a highly efficient six-cylinder engine, despite its LMP1 withdrawal," Enziger told Autosport. "Not only on paper but actually as hardware, and with the idea that this engine will be put to the test in 2019. That was the order from the board to us."
Despite being one of the biggest names in motorsport, Porsche has only participated in F1 on a few occasions. The automaker first entered F1 as a constructor in 1961 with the 718, and the following year ran a full season with the purpose-built 804. Dan Gurney drove the flat-eight powered 804 to victory in the 1962 French Grand Prix, but that wasn't enough to keep Porsche in the sport as a factory team.
In 1983, Porsche re-entered F1 as an engine supplier with the TAG Turbo, a 1.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 designed for McLaren. The Hans Mezger-designed TAG Turbo earned three driver's championship wins—Niki Lauda in 1984 and Alain Prost in 1985 and 1986—and the 1984 and 1985 constructor's championships for McLaren.
The TAG Turbo evolved into the used by the Footwork team, but that engine ended up being overweight and underpowered. Footwork abandoned the V-12 halfway through the 1991 season. At the time, Porsche was developing a new V-10 for Footwork's 1992 car, but the failure of the V-12 lead that project to be cancelled. Porsche brought that engine back to life for an LMP1 car that was in development for the 2000 season, but that too ended up being cancelled. That engine eventually found a home in the roadgoing Carrera GT.
Why do I bring all this up? Because there's an interesting parallel with the present. Enziger told Autosport that one of the reasons Porsche was attracted to an F1-style turbo V-6 was because it could "also be interesting for a super sports car." So, there's a chance that another abandoned F1 engine could power a Porsche flagship, just as it happened with the Carrera GT.
For now, Enziger says there's a team of 20-25 engineers working on this engine "for analyses and further orders with regard to series relevance."