Rumours are flying around that German manufacturer Audi could be planning a 2016 entry into F1 either as an engine supplier or with a full team entry.
There has been some history of the VW group in F1 – Porsche/TAG supplied engines to McLaren back in the 1980s, but Audi hasn’t had a presence in the sport since before the 2nd world war, but there are a number of factors which suggest a move could be iminent.
It’s taken a few years, and a vast amount of investment, but Mercedes F1 adventure is beginning to pay off. Their 2014 dominance has translated into a lot more awareness of the brand from a performance car perspective. Aside from the Le Mans 24h race, F1 has a bigger global audience than Endurance racing, which makes it super appealing for a global brand like Audi.
Porsche in WEC
Porsche entered WEC with their factory 919 this year and have had some success. The brand’s a good fit with the endurance racing, and they’ve been able to recruit some top drivers. Does it really make sense for the VW group to be running competing brands in one series, or would a move into F1 prove to be an attractive route for them to gain additional kudos.
Recruitment of Domenicali
OK, Domenicali’s actually been brought in to work with the Ducati team, but he’s got very little experience of motorcycle racing, so it doesn’t seem like a great fit. He’s got a tonne of experience of F1 though thanks to his time at Ferrari, so it could be a good fit.
They’ve “Done” WEC
Multiple Le Mans Winners, and the most dominant team in recent years. There’s not a lot left for Audi to do in the sport, so a new engineering challenge would be a big attraction – especially if they’re prepared to throw the right budgets at the sport (or Bernie makes it attractive to them…)
Bernie Wants Manufacturers
What’s happening with the Caterham, Marussia and other small teams is symptomatic of a racing series that has developed beyond the means of smaller teams. Bernie’s repeatedly said that he wants to see bigger teams involved in the sport to ensure that it can maintain a strong field. Global brands attract a global audience.
Promoting their performance Cars
The R8 is one of the top sports cars, and competes well with the 911, but it’s really not got that much of a pedigree of its own. Associating it with a successful F1 entry could make a big difference to the perception of the car globally and raise interest around the world.
But Maybe it’s not Audi
The VW group own a number of exotic brands including Lamborghini and Bugatti. Bugatti ran Grand Prix cars back in the early days of the sport, while Lamborghini were an engine supplier in the 1980s. Even Bentley has a huge heritage of GP racing and would make a decent choice as an entrant. Either one of them on board would add a bit of extra glamour to the field, and might make more sense than the core Audi brand.
Easy Route to Entry
If you look around the paddock at the moment there’s at least 3 teams that are looking for investment. Distressed businesses like Caterham and Marussia have the asset of a valid entry to the series, and decent levels of expertise working within a budget. There’s also teams like Force India which have a strong heritage in the sport and good engineering teams that would provide a good basis for a future Audi entry.
Red Bull / Renault
Red Bull have been pretty vocal about their dissatisfaction with the 2014 Renault power unit, and there’s plenty of rumours that they’ve been courting Audi as a possible technology partner. Getting involved with that team would likely provide Audi with a springboard into the sport that could make them competitive very quickly. Especially if a large proportion of the entry cost was met by the seemingly bottomless pockets of the Milton Keynes team.
When could it Happen
You can’t just start an F1 project and expect to be present at the next race. Unless Audi have been developing something in secret for the past couple of years, it would be at least 2 years before we could expect them to have the Power Unit and Chassis developed. There’s some similarities between the engines and power unites in WEC and F1, but they’re in no way interchangeable. Honda have been working on their systems for at least 2 years, and there’s no way of knowing where the McLaren team will line up on the grid in 2015.
If Audi bought into a team we might see their logo appearing in 2015 in some form, but it’s more likely that if they make a move, it will be Australia 2016 before we see an Audi F1 Entry at the earliest.