The excellent Porsche 919 Hybrids that triumphed at Le Mans this year. Will they be back next year?

Leaving aside the likely impact of Dieselgate on Wolfsburg and the wider German economy,  the crisis rocking VW Group is likely to have a significant impact on their motorsport programmes and aspirations.  Will the money still be there to fund Audi, Bentley and Porsche works teams? Particularly the hugely expensive Le Mans hybrid racers?  If the Audi Le Mans programme was designed to show the excellence of that company’s diesel and hybrid engineering technology, how can it possibly continue when it and its parent have been exposed as using the excellence of their engineering to cheat the public and the regulators?  And if Porsche and Audi pull out of WEC racing will other manufacturers do likewise?
Just before Dieselgate broke there was speculation in the motorsport press that VW were about to buy into Red Bull.  The deal would have made sense. Red Bull have fallen out with Renault and Mercedes will not supply them with engines. The thought of only being able to run obsolescent Ferrari engines next year was understandably unappealing. A deal with VW would have allowed Red Bull access to VW Group’s proven hybrid technology  – rebranding as Red Bull Audi would have been a small price to pay.  Such a deal is now surely dead in the water. There will be no money to spare at VW Group for a luxury like a Formula 1 team.  And without such a deal will we see Red Bull and Toro Rosso on next year’s grid? I think there is a real risk that we will not.

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Rolls Royce Wraith, Geneva Motor Show, March 2013

Rolls Royce Wraith, Geneva Motor Show, March 2013

A few years ago I visited the Rolls Royce factory at Goodwood. It was hard not to be impressed by architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw’s futuristic semi subterranean building which looks more like a bond villain’s lair than a car factory. Hidden partially underground at the behest of the local planners it still manages to be light and airy. The quality of the construction matches the quality of the architecture – the plant truly is a triumph of British architectural, engineering and construction know how. Such a shame then that, on touring the interior, it soon became apparent that what was being built there were not Rolls Royces but BMWs.

At the time the range was limited to the huge slab sided Phantom. Not an unattractive car it is nevertheless designed and engineered in Munich, where the body and all the major components (engine, transmission, power train) are also made. The plant at Goodwood merely assembles the parts, and paints and trims out the shells. That’s not to say no craftsmanship is employed at Goodwood. The quality of finish on the trim, the leather working and marquetry is exceptional. But depressingly all the names of the managers of each of the key works stages (paint shop, assembly etc) are German.

A sporting Rolls?

A sporting Rolls?

Bit I suppose we must not grumble. At least the brand lives on in motor car manufacture and keeps Britons in jobs. Bit it is odd that when Jaguar are lambasted for being Indian owned and MG for being Chinese owned, there is far less criticism of RR and Bentley. Unlike Jaguar and MG, all modern Rolls’ and Bentley’s are largely designed and engineered overseas with little of the “clever” work or indeed manufacturing of the key components being undertaken in the UK. An MG 3 is more of a British car than a Rolls Royce Phantom.

A big Austrian tries a big German... Arnie gets the measure of the Wraith

A big Austrian tries a big German… Arnie gets the measure of the Wraith

Whilst the Phantom has sold well BMW have widened the range to include first the cheaper Ghost and now the fast backed Wraith. It’s clear the Wraith is intended to be a car driven by its owner rather than a chauffeur. It even has (shock) sporting pretensions. It has a shorter wheel base than the other cars in the range, firmer damping and an engine more powerful than that in a McLaren MP4-12c. I first saw the Wraith when it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March. It’s a fantastic looking car – far more imposing than the Ghost on which it is based. There is even decent headroom in the back. If I was in the market for a super luxury German sports coupe I would buy one. But remember this is not really a Rolls. If you want a well engineered British made product worthy to wear the Rolls Royce badge you need to be in the market for aero engines…..

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Ghastly Ghost, compare with classy paint job behind