The ability to transfer technology from motorsports to production cars increased significantly in 2014 with the hybridization of engines used in F1. It is a change that top automotive bosses have welcomed.
“We are very pleased to have objectives and targets in F1 that are much more similar to the objectives for our production cars,” said Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, whose Mercedes brand has won the last two F1 championships. In his view, being challenged by F1 rules to deliver top performance with fewer cylinders, turbocharging and hybrid systems mirrors what Mercedes strives to do with its production cars. To emphasize this fact, Mercedes in 2014 ran an ad campaign for its S 500 plug-in hybrid featuring F1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. In addition, press reports last year suggested that the automaker was working on a supercar for its AMG subbrand that will offer up to 1000 hp and borrow technologies from its F1 racecar.
Experts see a similar crossover benefit from the World Endurance Championship (WEC), for which the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the sport’s signature event. “The research required to achieve higher efficiency in F1 and the WEC has aligned the main objectives of these top motorsports series with those that each automaker faces every day,” said Riccardo Cesarini, who heads the performance group at Italy supplier Brembo, which is a leading provider of braking systems to racecars.
In the past few years Audi, which has won Le Mans 13 times since 2000, has transferred laser headlights to production cars as well as high-performance direct-injection technology to some gasoline and diesel engines. Sister brand Porsche, which returned to endurance racing in 2014 after a long absence, also is using the WEC to test new drivetrain technologies. Another brand that will make a long-awaited return to the series is Ford, which won Le Mans four times from 1966 to 1969. Ford will compete in the GT category, which is a class below Audi and Porsche, where it will race against brands such as Aston Martin and Ferrari. (Click on PDF link above right for further information on some of the world’s top motorsports series.)
“Ford going back to Le Mans to take on the premium brands in GT racing feels right as a platform to promote technology,” Ford of Europe CEO Jim Farley told Automotive News Europe.
CEOs such as PSA/Peugeot-Citroen’s Carlos Tavares also recognize another key benefit from racing. “Motorsports is a marketing tool,” Tavares told Automotive News Europe, adding that his Peugeot, Citroen and DS Automobiles brands are under no pressure to join a series just because “their CEO is a motorsports addict.” If a brand boss sees a chance to make a better margin using the marketing budget elsewhere, that is fine with the CEO. He does, however, like to point out that it is impossible to be regarded as a great automotive brand without having had success on the racetrack at some point in the company’s history. “Persistent participation in motorsports is also a tool to create brand value on a long-term basis,” Tavares said.
The Peugeot brand competes in the Dakar off-road series while Citroen will try to win the World Touring Car Championship driver and manufacturer titles for a third straight year. DS, meanwhile, has joined Formula E for its 2015-2016 season, which began last October in Beijing. “We decided on Formula E because it is important to be close to our customers and premium customers are mostly living in urban areas [where Formula E races are held]. They are not the guys who go to the racetracks,” Tavares said. He calls the new series “clean, modern and high tech.”