Rumors are flying that Audi plans to dump its participation in World Endurance Challenge, LeMans and DTM to enter Formula 1. Internal pressure from the Volkswagen Group is pushing Audi to drop out of endurance racing in favor of sister company Porsche. Adding speculation to this rumor is that Audi just hired former Ferrari F1 team principal Stefano Domenicali who has no endurance or DTM racing experience.
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, are understood to be the prime targets, citing Audi’s (and Volkswagen Group chairman, Ferdinand Piech’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.
Audi has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright 13 out of the last 15 times—a staggering accomplishment. As the Audi dynasty piled up wins, critics wondered when the company might rest on its laurels. According to Auto Express, that time may be upon is. Audi may abandon both LMP1 and DTM to take a stab at the highest form of motorsport: Formula 1.
The report says key Audi insiders revealed that the company is developing a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 and eyes one of the Red Bull teams—Red Bull Racing or Scuderia Toro Rosso—as its toehold in the sport. Buying an established team makes sense, as that would provide invaluable institutional experience and ease the growing pains of a new squad in the process.
The report points out that the German automaker has strong ties to Dietrich Mateschitz, who owns Red Bull, and Volkswagen's ties with the energy drink company are real and substantial. Take WRC, where the two are joined at the hip in that series. A Volkswagen Group engine would be a more natural fit than the Red Bull RB10's current Renault powerplant.
The strongest evidence, however, is Audi’s hiring of Stefano Domenicali, who stepped down as Ferrari's F1 director earlier this year. Why else recruit Domenicali—who has no experience relevant to any of Audi's other racing programs—except as a Formula 1 consultant or team manager?
As we reported in May, Porsche’s Wolfgang Hatz revealed that the company first plotted its return to top-level racing back in 2010. There was a discussion about Hatz’s squad joining F1, but Volkswagen execs instead opted to run both Audi and Porsche in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
About half a year later, the FIA released their engine regulations for the new V6 turbo cars. It’s entirely possible that Volkswagen was aware of the upcoming regulations, decided then that Audi would begin transitioning into F1, and thus allowed Porsche to begin an LMP1 project to take up the parent company’s mantle in WEC.
Here's something else to consider: it's possible that Audi has been building and testing a 1.6-liter F1 engine in R18 mules since 2010. Many still suspect that turbocharged LaFerrari was actually a testbed for Maranello’s F1 engine, skirting rules about testing restrictions. Imagine what a camouflaged Audi LMP1 prototype could hide right out in the open. Perhaps the engine for a secret Audi F1 car?