Audi to enter F1?


How big a story would it be were it to become clear that Audi was going to bin both its WEC and DTM programmes and take part in Formula 1 instead? These are the guys who race with four rings on their nose, this is the company that used to be called Auto Union.

Were that company and that logo to go head to head with Mercedes-Benz for the first time since war ended the golden era of Silver Arrows Grand Prix racing in 1939, would that not make something of a splash?

Well, on Friday afternoon a story did appear on a well known motoring website suggesting precisely that. Moreover it went on to speculate that Audi’s recruitment of Stefano Domenicali lent credence to the story, that Audi already has a 1.6-litre V6 F1 engine and that it would buy an existing team – probably Red Bull or Toro Rosso – and be on the grid in time for 2016. If true, or even close to being true, it would surely rank among the biggest scoops in recent F1 history.

Yet here’s the thing: if I go to all the places I trust to provide accurate F1 news, there’s no sign of the story at all.

What are we to make of this? Audi’s knobbled the media, including two of the largest broadcast corporations in the world? Unlikely. Said media doesn’t think it sufficiently important to be worth reporting? Hardly. Not one member of any of their staff or contributors has seen the story? I think we can rule that out. Which, so far as I can see leaves one option: they all think the story, which fails to mention a single attributable source, is cobblers.

Even so I put a call into Audi Motorsport and got this official response: “These rumours keep appearing. It’s pure speculation again this time and without any foundation. Audi Sport is committed to the @FIAWEC @DTM and GT racing. In 2015 we will add the Audi Sport TT Cup to our programme.”

For conspiracy theorists, such a reply is manna from heaven. Note that Audi stops well short of denying the story: in its ability to appear to make a strong and clear statement without actually saying anything at all, phrases like ‘pure speculation’ and ‘without any foundation’ could come straight from the Sir Humphrey Appleby guide to press manipulation. As for being ‘committed’ to the DTM and WEC it of course seems sure to take part in both in 2015. The story refers to a 2016 F1 entry.

But if the story is not true, why not simply say so? The answer is that such tales actually do Audi no harm at all and Audi knows it. It keeps the name in the headlines, associates Audi with motor sport’s Premier League without having to join it, destabilises rivals while, most importantly, keeping all options open. Audi’s top brass may affect mild public irritation but I suspect that in private they’re quite pleased.

So is it true? My guess – and it is no more – is that there may be some small seed of something in there somewhere, but do I think we’ll see a Red Bull-sponsored, Alonso-pedalled, Audi-powered Audi on the grid in Melbourne in less than 18 months time? I do not.

However I do think that F1 must be looming ever larger in Audi’s sights. I also believe that there must be pressure from VW to leave the WEC to its Porsche stablemate and that the DTM and its new TT one make series are not even close to an adequate motor sport portfolio for such a brand.

Mostly, however, I believe that for all its runaway sales, technological prowess and fashionista image Audi still lacks credibility as a manufacturer of consistently great sporting cars. F1 could help provide the last piece of the puzzle. And I think Mercedes-Benz becoming the first German marque to win the Constructors’ Championship actually makes Audi participation more rather than less likely. It has always lamented the paucity of proper and relevant competition at Le Mans and beating the works Mercedes team at the highest level of all must be immensely appealing.

But none of this makes F1 any more than an unspoken aspiration for Audi and I suspect it has a more pressing priority on its mind. It is now within three wins of matching Porsche’s record of 16 victories at Le Mans and while Porsche’s presence won’t make beating that total any easier, nor can I see Audi walking away from La Sarthe happy only to be the second most successful manufacturer to race there. And it is in the sports car world rather than that of F1 that, for now at least, I expect Audi to stay.


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