Yes, I’m going to ignore the French Grand Prix. Let’s face it, there’s nothing much to say about it – Bridgestone’s revival is real, Michael won but Alonso came second – and that’s about it. Instead, let me take you back over forty years to a moment when the impossible happened: Porsche entered Formula One!
In 1959 Porsche had designed and entered a car into Formula 2; it was very successful and, when the FIA decided to upgrade the formula to F1 for 1961, it seemed logical for Porsche to continue. Their entry to the premier formula was almost accidental, therefore.
The car was a fairly standard design for the time but was powered by an air-cooled flat-four – typical of Porsche but highly unusual in F1. Dan Gurney was enlisted as a driver but the competition was fierce and the best the car could do that year was an eighth place.
For 1962 Porsche introduced a completely new car, the 804. Conventional in design, it was now powered by an air-cooled flat-eight and was to prove very competitive. In looks it was immediately recognizable as a Porsche, having that clean and rounded appearance that was so much their signature and a very flat engine compartment topped by a huge cooling fan.
In the hands of Gurney, the car achieved a win in the French GP, won the non-championship Solitude GP and was on pole for the German GP, where Dan finished third after a race-long battle with Hill and Surtees. It was a record that any team would have been proud of for only their second year in F1.
But not so Porsche. The company was having great success in sports car racing at the time and the cost of their efforts in F1 was beginning to seem exorbitant in comparison. In addition, the Lotus 25 had made it clear that all constructors would have to re-design from scratch if they were to be competitive in 1963. Porsche was not prepared to invest that much in a formula where they had never felt wholly comfortable and they dropped out, selling the cars to Count Carel de Beaufort, one of the last of the gentleman drivers. He entered several races in the following season with some small successes but, essentially, the cars were no longer competitive.
So ended Porsche’s one foray into the F1 arena. In later years they were to supply engines for F1 teams, notably the TAG-McLaren of the early eighties, but never again would they risk the company’s reputation with a full factory team. Yet their results in 1962 were such that we can be sure they would have been a major force, had they continued with proper commitment. As it is, they remain as just one more of F1′s might-have-beens.