Rumors that Volkswagen will get involved in Formula One racing have been swirling around for months, primarily because it fielded a team in World Endurance Championship (WEC) racing for the first time this year. Observers think Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen, will soon withdraw from WEC competition as it makes little sense for VW to fund two teams in the same sport. Furthermore, Stefano Domenicali, former team principal for Ferrari’s Formula One team, was hired by Audi earlier this year after being shown the door in Maranello.
According to a BBC News report today, there may actually be substance to all that speculation. Eddie Jordan, former F1 team owner and now the BBC’s chief Formula One correspondent, says:
“The Volkswagen Audi Group is the second biggest car maker in the world and as such it needs to be in Formula 1. But it will not enter it while the sport remains under the control of Bernie Ecclestone, who VAG boss Ferdinand Piech dislikes on a personal and professional basis.
“Martin Winterkorn – the chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen – is being groomed as Piech’s successor and he has always believed that F1 is a great platform for the group’s brands. I am told he privately believes VAG should be a part of F1. If VAG did come to F1, I believe it would be with their own team, with the car designed and made in Germany.”
Formula One is known as being stunningly expensive with no guarantee of success just because a team spends a lot of money. Part of the dynamic is that rival German car company Mercedes Benz won the Formula One Constructors Championship this year after dominating the season from beginning to end. Volkswagen would probably like to steal some of the luster from Mercedes’ three pointed star.
But it’s more than that. Even though competing in Formula One is expensive, it pays big dividends in terms of advertising exposure to a worldwide market. For instance, observers say that the value to Mercedes from that exposure this year was as much as $2.8 billion. By contrast, Volkswagen got a paltry $30 million in advertising benefit from its sports car and touring car racing programs.
VW was one of the manufacturers that participated in the planning for the new hybrid power train package adopted by Formula One for 2014 and beyond. But it decided not to get involved, perhaps because of the animosity between its Piech and Ecclestone. But the 84 year old Ecclestone may finally be on his way out as the sport’s czar, according to a report on GrandPrix.com today. That could clear the way for Volkswagen to take the F1 plunge.
It takes time to make a mark in the fiercely competitive arena of Formula One racing, which is why any Volkswagen program would probably not take place prior to the 2017 season.