Audi to Formula 1, or as I like to call it, the Ross and Rachel situation of the motorsports world. Audi has been linked to Formula 1 more times than I care to remember. Then diesel-gate happened and the whole of Audi’s motorsports programs was thrown into question. The LMP1 program closed up shop at the end of the 2016 WEC season. Audi’s factory backed R8 LMS GT3 program in the Blancpain Endurance Championship followed suit. It seemed for all purposes Diesel-gate had landed a devastating blow to Audi’s motorsports division.
While the true damage of diesel-gate to motorsports within the Volkswagen Auto Group may never be clearly understood, It would appear that the cancellation of these programs might have been a simple reallocation of money to make a move up to Formula 1. Reports out of Germany (via f1i.com) indicate that Audi’s interest in Formula 1 has gone from a curiosity to a much more hands on approach. The future of engine regulations are going to be discussed tomorrow in Paris and a representative from Audi is going to be there.
Audi has stated in the past that they would not involve themselves in Formula 1 until the sale of F1 was finalized and the future regulations were settled. Formula 1 has a new owner in the form of Liberty Media. As for the second part, Audi appears to be taking a more hands on approach to the future regulations.
What does this all mean and when would Audi theoretically enter F1? Not for a while would be my guess. The regulations being discussed would not take effect until 2022. That provides a lot of time for circumstances to change. Audi does not do anything half ass in their motorsport programs. If they’re going to show up they are going to show up to win. This makes the cash strapped backmarker that is Sauber a curious team to partner with.
Or does it? Sauber has met high levels of success with BMW and Mercedes during their long history. While partnered with BMW Sauber gave the might of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari a good fight. Sauber had massive success racing prototypes with Mercedes, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1989. Sauber has the ability to compete they just need the finances to do so.
In addition to past successes there is one other element that makes Sauber a likely partner for Audi, Jorg Zander. Zander has history with both companies. Before becoming the Head of Technology at Audi Sport Zander worked for Sauber during their days with BMW. He has seen first hand the success Sauber is capable of when they are partnered with the correct manufacturer.
At this point all we know is that Audi is sending someone to be involved in the discussion. We know the discussions are surrounding the 2022 engine regulations. That is all the rest is pure speculation. Frankly Audi deserves to be in some form of high level motorsport. Personally I’d like that to be back in LMP1 or even DPi in the States. That said, Audi in Formula 1 would be very interesting. Formula 1 needs more top flight teams. Mercedes and Ferrari are the class of the field this season, imagine if Audi joined that fight and Red Bull got its hands on competitive power unit? Suddenly Formula 1 gets very exciting.