Despite the fact that motorsports are expensive, F1’s biggest cheerleader in the Volkswagen Group — Martin Winterkorn — has resigned, and Volkswagen will likely spend at least $7.2 billion on the “dieselgate” scandal, the Audi to F1 rumors just won’t die. Car Magazine says that they could even run the program at zero cost.
Audi wouldn’t go into F1 until 2018, according to Car magazine, when a host of new rules go into effect for the series. [Clarification: The biggest changes are actually coming in 2017—a year earlier than Car says Audi is heading into F1.] Likewise, current head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich’s contract was recently extended for two more years, so they’re likely to continue their current World Endurance Championship and DTM commitments through 2017.
In 2018, though, Car predicts that all of Audi’s other motorsport commitments (including WEC and DTM) will have to go in order to put all of Audi’s effort towards Formula One. With that, Car’s anonymous Ingolstadt-based insider source told them that the Volkswagen Group’s F1 effort could even be run at zero additional cost:
If all goes according to plan, this commitment is going to be virtually cost-neutral.
The biggest chunk of the up-front investment will be provided by a bunch of Middle East entrepreneurs. Instead of pedaling a marque or a specific product, they want to tap the commercial opportunities new F1 is offering. The idea is to use the Red Bull team as a door opener. Why Red Bull? Because of their success and experience, because of their top-class infrastructure and of course also because of the pending sponsorship agreement.
Ex-Ferrari Formula One team principal Stefano Domenicali is currently employed by Audi’s special projects arm. Car hints that he may not only be their leading candidate to take over once Ullrich’s contract expires, but may also help Red Bull secure a customer engine deal with Ferrari in the meantime.
Red Bull, of course, is doing what Red Bull does and threatening to quit if they don’t get their way. They’ve parted ways with Renault as a power unit supplier, Mercedes is refusing to supply Red Bull with power units, and Honda’s unit is worse than the Renaults. If Ferrari can’t come up with a power unit deal for them, Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko told F1, “[t]here is an option to stop F1.”
“If we don’t have an engine that allows us to compete at the very front we will prefer to stop,” Marko continued.
Granted, this latest Audi-to-F1 rumor depends on myriad factors, including the assumption that the Volkswagen Group will have the same amount of budget for motorsport, or that the 2017 F1 regulations will actually do any good for the sport. Car’s man speaks with a distinctly grass-is-greener attitude that somehow puts faith in Formula One’s ability to make competent decisions for the future of the sport – something which F1’s powers-that-be have trouble putting aside the major teams’ personal interests for long enough to do.
If there’s one thing Formula One has despite everything, though, it’s international appeal.
“Market research has recently confirmed once again the significance of F1,” one senior Audi manager told Car. “The rub-off effects are substantial; we see enormous potential for the brand once the race series invents itself in 2018.”
In comparison, DTM isn’t widely followed outside of Europe. WEC hits all the right markets, but Car says that the impact they get from it given the enormous investment is lacking, particularly compared to the impact an F1 team would make. Plus, Audi’s main competition in WEC this year is another Volkswagen Group brand: Porsche.
Red Bull desperately needs a better power unit, and this latest version of the Audi-Red Bull rumor seems to solve all of their problems, but at what cost (besides lots and lots of money and the hire of additional technical personnel) to Audi?
The biggest loss in leaving WEC would be the connection to Audi’s road cars. Audi’s best rolling advertisement out of anything they’re involved with is their flagship, multiple-Le Mans-winning, two-time-WEC-championship-winning LMP1 effort. It’s diesel, it’s all-wheel-drive, and it’s a hybrid. Those are three of the big technologies Audi has helped push to the market – one of which needs all the positive PR love it can get at the moment.
Audi’s head of LMP even told us that he loves having the freedom in WEC to experiment with technologies that directly relate to Audi’s road car side – even going so far as to calling a move to F1 a step down.
Then there’s DTM, which would be downright strange to see without one of Germany’s main three marques suddenly no longer participating.
As far as Audi’s favorite marketing buzzwords go, a Formula One car would just be a hybrid. Still, does that even matter if they get vastly more publicity out of an F1 run?
Car’s inside source said that the company wants to be fighting for the championship for 2020. Unfortunately for Red Bull, I don’t see that happening now that Audi’s corporate overlords have 11 million cheaty road cars to deal with.
Edit: As further proof that this rumor smells a little funny, Audi’s inside man is placing a lot of emphasis on the year after all the big changes go into effect. 2017 is when the series “reinvents itself,” not 2018. We’ve clarified this in the text above. H/T Gab!
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