The potential entry of premium German auto manufacturers Audi and Porsche into Formula 1 has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport for the last couple of years. Finally, fans have received confirmation of parent company Volkswagen’s plans to push forward with the addition of two new teams to the F1 grid.
In an interview with Reuters on the 2nd May, Volkswagen Group chief executive Herbert Diess revealed that its two premium brands had “run out of arguments” against joining the sport, after the company’s Board of Directors had come to a consensus that Formula 1 would provide the business with more money in the long-term than it would cost to maintain the teams’ operations.
Speaking on the timing of the decision, Diess added: “You can’t enter Formula 1 unless a technology window opens up which means, in order to get there, a rule change.” The rule change in reference is part of the latest alterations to constructors’ rules announced by the FIA last December, which set out the organisation’s drive to reduce the sport’s environmental impact as one of the worst offenders in carbon emissions through further electrification of hybrid engines. Among these environmental considerations will be changes to fuel types (starting from 2026), and updates to power unit construction that Formula 1 hope will prove “attractive to new power unit manufacturers”. Now, it seems, Audi and Porsche have answered this call and decided to capitalise on this opportunity to create their own power units in the next three to four years.
It is not known for sure whether the two manufacturers will attempt to form partnerships with existing grid teams, or create their own from the ground up; but Diess explained: “At Porsche [plans are] already relatively concrete, at Audi not so much.” Elaborating, the executive said that while both teams would be entering separately and without the VW name, the Group is currently placing greater emphasis on Porsche’s development due to the brand’s higher price premium and its focus on becoming what Diess describes as the “sportiest car brand in the world”. It is therefore likely that Audi will enter the sport through a partnership with an existing team, whereas Porsche will form an entirely new team which employs its own powertrains and direction. The move represents Porsche’s re-entry into Formula 1 following a 30-year hiatus, and Audi’s first foray into the highest level of motorsport.
Both teams have spent the last several years investing heavily in GT racing, rallying, and electric motorsports; with Porsche already having had a strong presence in Formula E and both brands having had pioneering roles in the development of LMH hybrid vehicles (successors to the LMP-class cars) for use in the world-famous Le Mans 24h race. The German manufacturers’ focus on hybrid and sustainable racing in recent years has partly been an effect of the Volkswagen Group’s attempts to revive its public image in the wake of the 2015 ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, when the corporation was found by the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency to have installed software in up to 11 million cars worldwide that had enabled them to cheat emissions tests. Given the FIA’s move towards using more sustainable fuel types and reducing the carbon footprint of Formula 1’s huge logistics operations, the Board has concluded that the time now seems appropriate for Volkswagen to involve itself in the sport.
Advertising opportunities in Formula 1 are also touted by Diess as having been instrumental in their decision, as Liberty Media’s success in rejuvenating the spectacle’s popularity has greatly expanded audiences worldwide. Netflix’s Drive to Survive proved to be a huge draw for new fans, especially in North America: last year, McLaren CEO Zak Brown described the show as having been the “single most important impact for Formula 1” in the region. Growth in the Americas has been a major influence in the decision by Formula 1’s managing director Ross Brawn to add a Miami GP to this year’s calendar – which will take place this weekend – and a race weekend in Las Vegas that will be held starting from 2023. As Porsche and Audi both seek to annually increase revenues and appeal to younger client bases, a move into Formula 1 could prove to be extremely lucrative for the pair.
With several issues continuing to plague the defending constructors’ champions Mercedes this season and an exciting battle underway in the midfield, news of Porsche and Audi’s plans is another interesting injection of fuel to the Formula 1 mix. When the teams finally appear on the grid, the clash between the two titan German groups of auto manufacturing, Daimler and Volkswagen, should certainly be one to watch.
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