Why F1 fears the two-headed VW beast – MPH


VW's entry with both Porsche and Audi looks like all but a done deal: will the two-pronged attack circumvent cost cap rules though?

Christian Horner at 2022 F1 Bahrain testing

With VW looking likely to link up with Red Bull in some form, Horner has already been beating the drum in support of the agreed concessions to new manufacturers

Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

The VW Group has still yet to officially confirm its interest in joining Formula 1 from 2026 but we can take it as read that it will do so, having given both its Porsche and Audi companies the go-ahead to proceed with their programmes. What is becoming clear now is that these will actually be two completely separate projects, rather than a single technical programme shared by two brands, as had originally been assumed.

Porsche is expected to align with Red Bull Powertrains (though this has still not been signed off) while Audi engineers previously deployed on the Le Mans programme will develop what was originally a Porsche F1 PU project from 2018. Audi is also attempting to buy into an existing F1 team and discussions have reportedly been had with McLaren, Williams, Aston Martin and Sauber.

Although VW does have previous form in competing motorsport projects between its companies, it’s still an unexpected way for the group to be entering the high-cost world of F1. It is also about to present F1 with some serious challenges in keeping existing manufacturers and teams happy, because there is enormous potential here to circumvent the intent of the cost cap and other restrictions around the new power units.

McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo at 2022 Bahrain Grand prix

McLaren are one of the rumoured potential partners of Audi: would the team benefit from the two-pronged VW entry?


The next power unit regulations, though yet to be finalised, have been formulated to accommodate the VW Group’s wishes (and those of Red Bull Powertrains). They will retain the V6 turbo format but will lose the current ERS-H element while featuring a much bigger electrical energy store and deployment. There are limits on the dyno hours and spend – but there is currently an allowance for new manufacturers to go beyond the nominal cost cap by $10m in the first two years and $5m in the third. There is also a $15m allowance for capital expenditure for equipment/facilities.

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It’s been configured in this way to encourage new manufacturers to enter, not to be scared off by the prospect of the technological head start established by the existing manufacturers. Those existing manufacturers have been instrumental in structuring it in this way.

But the concern now is that the unforeseen way VW is set to enter makes it possible in theory for all sorts of shenanigans to exploit these allowances as competitive loopholes. There are so many questions so far unanswered. Will the Red Bull Powertrains project feature IP from the existing Honda-based PU? How much Porsche will be in any Red Bull Powertrains engine? Could the Audi and Porsche engines actually end up being essentially the same? Would Porsche, Audi and Red Bull all be eligible as new manufacturers? Could it be possible in theory for a single technical programme to actually benefit from three lots of allowances and thereby get a huge advantage in dyno hours and research costs?

None of this is to suggest that this will happen, but as things stand they are the questions which the new set of circumstances pose.

Unsurprisingly, existing manufacturers are looking at the situation with some concern. Toto Wolff: “It’s not clear yet who actually enters as a power unit supplier and who declares themselves as newcomers. It could well be that there are three companies from the same group that are entering as newcomers. The picture is still very unclear and whether $15m CapEx  [capital expenditure] is enough or not enough, there are much bigger topics that we need to agree on – which we haven’t.”

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - 2019/05/25: Team Principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Executive Director Torger Christian Toto Wolff (L) and Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto of Scuderia Ferrari (R) in the paddock during the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Both Wolff and Binotto have expressed reservations about the rules relating to VW’s entry

Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto has much the same concerns. “We need to consider what we define what is a newcomer and what are the benefits of a newcomer? All that needs to be clarified and defined. There is also the IP transfer. IP transfer should not be possible; that was agreed. How we translate that into a wording needs to be decided.” IP transfer between Audi and Porsche. IP transfer between existing Red Bull Powertrains and Porsche. How can it possibly be sealed and clear-cut?

Christian Horner seems to be getting on with the campaigning already and in Melbourne said, “When you look at our competitors, that in some cases have obviously had 70 years of investment on the engine side, to think that you can have a facility fully operational and equipped within the next eight months, is unrealistic.”

This is going to run and run.