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Rumors surrounding an Audi move to Formula 1 just got a whole lot more credible this morning when Georg Kacher published a story in Autobild that seems to confirm an intended move. Essentially, it says Audi will move to F1 in 2018. Not surprisingly, Audi has been quick to quell those rumors.
Aren’t There Always Audi F1 Rumors?
Yes. Whenever you have a company as successful in competition as Audi, the idea of it going to F1 seem inevitable. Even still, from our perspective, these rumors began to carry a lot more weight about a year ago when AutoExpress hinted at this very outcome. We knew the story’s author, knew his sources and thus knew it was more than Audi fans or racing enthusiasts fantasizing about such a move.
By the end of last year, the BBC published an interesting story comparing the media exposure of the Volkswagen Group’s motorsport efforts as a whole (including Audi Sport, Porsche, Volkswagen’s championship winning WRC program, etc, etc) to that of last year’s championship winning Mercedes-Benz F1 team and the results were telling. Mercedes got more exposure simply with their F1 efforts.
Today’s rumors, as with a previous story, come from Georg Kacher. For those who don’t know him, Kacher is a staff writer for no less than Autobild, Automobile and CAR Magazine. What he reports is generally accurate and, on the few occasions it’s not, this is usually due to a change of mind by his board level contacts and not because what he wrote about wasn’t the plan at the time he wrote it. Such credibility speaks volumes, and in as much he’s our EF Hutton on these sorts of things.
So What are the Specifics?
In the story on Autobild today, Kacher says the plan is nearly set though not entirely signed off on. That may sound a bit like our story from a year ago, but there are a few more interesting details offered. It mentions Red Bull by name, and it gives a timeframe and transition details.
Under this scenario, Audi works with Red Bull who switches to Ferrari as an engine supplier for 2016 and 2017. By 2018, Red Bull would operate with Audi engines. Combine Audi’s own reported frustrations with DTM and an intra-group competition with Porsche at Le Mans and you theoretically have a scenario by which Audi managers and Volkswagen Group managers see more potential by moving Audi to F1.
Also under this story, former Ferrari F1 boss Stefano Domenicali would take over the F1 effort and replace Dr. Ullrich at the helm of Audi Sport. Audi has made no secret that it has hired Domenicali, though up until now he has taken no active role at Audi in a motorsport capacity… at least officially or in any active motorsport campaign.
Doesn’t Dr. Ullrich Dislike F1?
Yeah, neither do a lot of current Audi racing fans. Dr. Ullrich emphasized just last week that motorsport (the LMP1 program at least) is effectively part of the brand’s product development process. F1’s road relevance is quite a bit lower than is the science fair that is the FIA WEC, but managers above Ullrich still may see value in moving Audi elsewhere.
Another rumor in the Kacher piece is that Ullrich’s contract has been extended for another two years whereby one would assume things will be business as usual at Le Mans and the FIA WEC. Ullrich was already mentioning thoughts on next year’s car even if not revealing much, which confirms the brand should be sticking around at least for 2016. We wouldn’t be surprised to see them switch hybrid technology to batteries and in turn to a petrol engine due to weight constraints, but otherwise we expect them to stay for now.
By the time 2018 rolls round, Audi will have been in Le Mans and sportscar racing as its top form of racing since 1999. That’s much longer than it has ever been in any single form of racing, and so perhaps it is time to move on. And, while that may leave us with mixed emotions, it would make an eventual return to Le Mans after a stint in F1 that much more sweet.
One Last Rumor that Seemed Far-Fetched
While chatting over drinks in Le Mans with a known motorsport journalist personality who shall remain nameless but whose opinion we hold highly, a scenario that he’d heard but was not going to print was shared with us that seemed far-fetched. We were reluctant to share it because we had no way to confirm it, but given these rumors it begins to sound more plausible.
The rumor was this. Red Bull would move to take the reigns at F1 over all. In such a scenario that would assumedly see Bernie Ecclestone handing over reigns, Red Bull would need to divest of its two teams Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. One of those teams would be sold presumably to Renault, and the other to the Volkswagen Group and presumably Audi.
Audi would leave Le Mans, though this would open up Red Bull to go to Le Mans with a P1 squad running Audi engines.
The idea is that F1 would become more amenable to Audi in such a transition, and also that top level LMP1 racing in Le Mans and the FIA WEC would become a lot more approachable to Red Bull where only large car manufacturers seem to be able to exist today.
Seems far fetched right? That’s what we thought, but maybe not.
Audi Continues to Reject the Idea
As usual, Audi Sport rejects any suggestion of their going to F1. They even went so far as to mention the Autobild story by name. It would be an understatement to say that they simply do not agree.
So What’s the Deal?
The truth may be somewhere in between. On the functional side of this, it is way to early for Audi to be making any confirmation of such a move. This would not be helpful in their negotiations with anyone, nor would it help the situation. True or not, we would not expect Audi Sport to confirm anything at this time.
Depending on who you ask, Dr. Ullrich is nearing retirement and Domenicali is definitely on the Audi payroll. What this signals may be debatable.
Our guess is that this is not a finalized effort, even though it seems to get closer and closer every day. In as much, this qualifies as one of those things Kacher writes about that may be accurate but may also be subject to change depending on the minds of those he’s talking to. Quite possibly, this means the decision is at the board level and above those at Audi Sport who we’d have no doubt would want to remain at Le Mans just as much as their ardent fans hope they will do.
Then again, the fiasco right now with the Volkswagen Group’s TDI emissions issues may also play into the scenario. If tapped for truly large sums to deal with legal issues, moneys otherwise earmarked for expensive motorsport efforts could be undermined.
Time will tell.