Rumours are continuing to circulate that Audi will enter F1 in 2013 in order to take advantage of the new engine formula. Motoring experts have speculated that Audi would become involved in the sport ever since the Paris Motor show in October last year when Porsche chairman Matthias Mueller commented that it made little sense for his company to continue to compete against its sister company Audi in the Le Mans series.
The new rules
Audi has recently announced a $15 billion investment programme starting in 2011. These extra funds will be used to hire up to 1,200 extra staff members and upgrade facilities as the company strives to improve its products, mainly through focusing on ways to improve the fuel efficiency of its vehicles with fuel prices continuing to grow.
After much debate with the car manufacturers currently involved in F1 as well as Honda and Audi, the FIA has revealed the new technical regulations for the 2013 season will reduce engine sizes from 2.4 litre V8 motors to 1.6 litre turbo charged units and increase the capacity of the KERS systems from the current 60kw to 120kw. The 2013 engines will only produce 700bhp and are expected to make the F1 cars up to 40% more fuel efficient. However, the most important improvement resulting from these rule changes will be that the sport will become much more relevant to the road car industry with Renault revealing that 75% of its road cars will be powered by small capacity turbo engines like those used in F1 by 2015. This is very relevant to Audi given its plans to focus on fuel efficiency, with technical advances made in F1 being much more likely to be applicable to road cars under the new regulations.
Although Audi’s finances are much improved over how they were a couple of years ago, the company is still not keen on ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into an F1 project that has no guarantee of success. The company has been reluctant to enter F1 in the past due because of this, having witnessed rival firms enter the sport unsuccessfully and gain little benefit. The most spectacular car manufacturer failure in past few years has been the Toyota F1 team which operated on an alleged annual budget of $400 million but failed to win a single race throughout its eight year existence. The most successful years for the team were following the recruitment of experienced F1 designer Mike Gascoyne in 2004, but he was dismissed in 2006 after objecting to the way that the team was being run. The failure of the Toyota F1 team is therefore generally blamed on bureaucratic failings, with the Toyota Company determined to set up its own F1 team and run it in its own way, refusing to listen to experienced F1 personnel. It is therefore likely that if Audi do enter the sport they will do so as an engine supplier to an existing well established team.
However, Audi will be entering a much less costly sport than the one that Toyota participated in with the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA) drawn up between the teams meaning that the costs have been reduced by over 50%. It is believed that this has helped remove the final barrier which was holding Audi back from entering the sport.
There are a number of teams who are open to the prospect of a new engine supplier in 2013 with a number of engine deals being concluded at the end of 2012. The highest profile of these teams is the Mclaren, Red Bull and Williams operations. All three of these teams have won races in the past and their existing well structured and experienced staff would help Audi enter the sport as seamlessly as possible. However, Mclaren are believed to be keen to build their own engines for 2013 to support their new found independence following the split with long-term partner Mercedes Benz. The Woking based team has already built its own engines for its MP4-12C road car and it is believed that the same facilities will be used to build the F1 engine.
This leaves Red Bull and Williams, both of whom are believed to be in competition to secure the Audi deal. Williams is believed to have sent its CEO Adam Parr to Qatar during the Abu Dhabi grand prix weekend to meet with Audi shareholders as the team attempts to gain an advantage over its rival. The team hasn’t won a race since 2004, but this is mainly blamed on a lack of financial backing following the split from BMW with the team confident that it could return to winning ways given sufficient funding from a major backer such as Audi. However, it is not clear how the sacking of highly rated German Nico Hulkenberg will affect their chances.
In theory, Red Bull would be the better option for Audi given that they are the reigning F1 world champions and have access to another young German driver who has already established himself as champion material, Sebastian Vettel. Audi also has an existing relationship with Red Bull from the DTM championship where Red Bull sponsors a number of the factory Audi team cars. However, the Red Bull F1 team is a massive operation with over double the staff numbers of Williams. This could make it difficult for the team during the downsizing operation required for the RRA over the coming years. The team could also be set to lose Sebastian Vettel in 2013 with both Mercedes and Ferrari competing for his services which would likely substantial reduce the appeal of the team to Audi. It is therefore a direct competition between Red Bull and Williams over who will gain Audi’s support and it is a very difficult one to call, but it seems very likely that Audi will finally make an attempt on the F1 championship.