The likelihood of Audi entering F1 looks stronger than ever, following an exclusive conversation between Auto Express and Audi chairman Rupert Stadler. Red Bull has also claimed its future in F1 could depend on Audi's decision, saying it will either join forces with Audi or quit if a competitive engine can't be found.
When asked by Auto Express to confirm yes or no, whether Audi would be competing in F1 within the next five years, Stadler smiled, shrugged his shoulders and paused before saying: “I can’t answer that.” When pressed that it sounded more like a yes than a no he continued: “It’s something we’re looking at, but then we’re always looking at it and many other things. But I can’t say yes or no.”
Rumours have started to build again following comments made to an Italian newspaper by former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo. It’s reported that Montezemolo said Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz is trying to lure Audi into Formula One to replace Red Bull’s current engine supplier Renault.
Red Bull Racing's motorsport adviser Helmut Marko has also entered the discussion, putting pressure on Audi to make a move into the sport sooner rather than later: "If we don't have a competitive engine in the near future, then either Audi is coming or we are out". It's no secret that the Milton Keynes-based outfit has been unhappy with the Renault package in terms of reliability and performance, but plans to quit the sport if it can't be resolved are new.
The recent news of Ferdinand Piech's resignation from his post as chairman of the VW Group (which includes Audi) has added fuel to the fire. It was widely claimed he was the biggest opponent of Audi's entrance into F1. With him gone, it leaves the door open for a possible debut as soon as it is deemed fit.
Montezemolo’s former Ferrari Formula One team boss, Stefano Domenicali, joined Audi at the end of 2014 with rumours suggesting he was hired to spearhead the company’s entry into Formula One.
Stadler is also keeping a close eye on Formula E and hinted that the company may increase its involvement in the fledgling championship. The Audi Sport ABT team currently stands second in the standing with driver Lucas di Grassi leading the drivers’ championship having just extended his contract with the German team.
Insiders at Audi and its parent, the Volkswagen Group, have previously revealed that Audi is set to abandon both Germany’s touring car championship (the DTM) and the iconic Le Mans 24 Hour race in favour of the world’s top open-wheel formula.
Rumours suggest it will combine its WEC and DTM budgets, plus a Red Bull sponsorship package to try to make its mark again on Grand Prix racing, an arena it hasn’t entered since the advent of the modern Formula One championship in 1950. Multiple sources have also confirmed that Audi will bow to internal Volkswagen Group pressure and leave the Le Mans and World Endurance Championship to its sister brand, Porsche.
It’s understood that Audi was close to entering F1 in 2013, and was the driving force behind the sport’s aborted plan to use four-cylinder turbocharged engines. At Audi’s urging, the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council proposed, in late in 2010, to turn F1 into a four-cylinder turbo formula. Audi backflipped on joining the sport, though, and the F1 Commission changed the engine formula to turbocharged V6. Insiders insist Audi and the Volkswagen Group have now been working on a 1.6-litre V6 turbo Formula One engine since early this year.
While it will contain the engine and electric hybrid development in-house, Audi is said to prefer buying an existing Formula One operation, rather than building up an F1 operation from scratch. Either Red Bull Racing or its Italian-based development team, Toro Rosso, were understood to be the prime targets, citing Audi’s historic links to Austria and its close relationship with Red Bull boss, Dietrich Mateschitz. Red Bull has long been the major sponsor of Audi’s leading team in the DTM.
A successful return to the top level of motorsport by Audi could spark a head-to-head rivalry with Mercedes-Benz that has lain dormant since the beginning of WWII, with the final years before the war seeing the two state-sponsored car companies dominate racing and land-speed record runs across Europe.
Audi’s departure from Le Mans will end an extraordinary period of dominance at La Sarthe. It has won the round-the-clock classic 13 times since 2000 and was beginning to threaten Porsche’s record of 16 wins. It has been genuinely beaten just once since 2000 (by Peugeot in 2009) and became both the first marque to win Le Mans with a diesel-engined car and the first to win with a hybrid.
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