Earlier today we learned that Audi's Le Mans-winning prototype race program costs the company $242,000,000 each year. That sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But on the other hand, if you compare it to other types of racing, like Formula One, it might just be a steal.
I'm not here to pour fuel on the Audi-F1 rumors, nor am I here to cast water on the fire, either. But I do think a major championship-winning program for only 242 mil is a damn good bargain.
Think about it like this. Audi, using all of its engineering prowess, has pretty much dominated Le Mans for 15 years now, starting with the Audi R8. That means their marketing department has been able to cruise on that Le Mans-winning gravy train for a long, long time.
And all for the price of a mid- to bottom-tier F1 team like Lotus F1.
If the Le Mans effort had been a disaster, sure, you could say that it was all wasted money. But those ads showing your brand's multiple championship-racing heritage might as well be damn near priceless.
On the other hand, let's say Audi enters F1, and decides to double its budget that it used for Le Mans, putting it at about $500 million. The team would certainly have a strong shot with that much cash, even though the team probably wouldn't have a lot of institutional memory for dealing with F1, and entirely different beast from GT racing.
But even that $500 million doesn't guarantee any sort of success, let alone a championship. F1 is a fickle beast, and if you miss out on a key technology in the beginning of the season, you'll have to ride out the whole season on the shame train.
Look at Ferrari, which missed out on Mercedes' ingenious turbo design this year. Despite spending upwards of $400 million, it hasn't come close to winning a race.
Or look at everyone besides Brawn GP in 2009, when advanced diffuser technology sitting on an abandoned Honda race car let the little team with no sponsors run away with the championship. It didn't matter how much a lot of teams spent, because they just couldn't catch it. Brawn won 8 out of 17 races that year, and walked away with the Constructor's Championship.
And then consider the F1 flops like Toyota, which never managed much of anything, despite dropping more currency than that which is contained in the known universe on its team.
But maybe F1 would all be worth it. Le Mans is great and all, but it's no F1 when it comes to style, panache, bleeding-edge technology, and yes, marketing. If you want to take your racing game to the next level from Le Mans, the only place there is to go is the top of motorsport itself.
So what do you think? If you were running Audi, or even the entire Volkswagen Auto Group right now, would you keep the team in prototypes, as a value proposition? Or would you take the risk, and make the leap?
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