Can the VW Group re­sist F1’s lure?

F1 Racing - - POWER PLAY -

Will Audi or another Volk­swa­gen Group brand use Red Bull as a plat­form on which to en­ter F1? It’s a story that will not go away.

The links be­tween Red Bull owner Di­et­rich Mates­chitz and VW go back a long way, and the two com­pa­nies are close. But that’s not what has got ev­ery­one talk­ing. The idea of Audi com­ing into F1 – ei­ther with Red Bull or by tak­ing over the team – started to gather pace last sum­mer. And Audi’s re­cruit­ment of for­mer Fer­rari team prin­ci­pal Ste­fano Domeni­cali as vice-pres­i­dent of new busi­ness ven­tures only in­ten­si­fied those ru­mours.

Be­fore Christ­mas, it emerged that Domeni­cali had car­ried out a fea­si­bil­ity study on an F1 en­try and pre­sented it to the board. Then, early in the new year, in­sid­ers at the top of both F1 and the Ger­man car in­dus­try said they were con­vinced that a deal had been done for Audi to buy Red Bull Rac­ing for £500m and that it had the full sup­port of chair­man Ru­pert Stadler.

But, the sources said, it was scup­pered at the 11th hour when it was ve­toed by the chair­man of the VW su­per­vi­sory board, Fer­di­nand Piëch, who has a long-stand­ing an­tipa­thy to­wards F1 – rooted, many be­lieve, in a per­sonal dis­like of Bernie Ec­cle­stone.

Then, in April, Piëch re­signed, af­ter los­ing a board­room power strug­gle. Audi in­sisted they still had no plans to en­ter F1, only for Stadler to say that it was “an op­tion; not at this mo­ment, per­haps, but it’s still an op­tion”.

The fol­low­ing month, at the Span­ish GP, Red Bull motorsport ad­viser Hel­mut Marko told the BBC: “If we don’t have a com­pet­i­tive en­gine in the near fu­ture then ei­ther Audi is com­ing or we are out,” although he also said that “of­fi­cially there have been no talks”. In­evitably this caused a stink, and Marko went on Red Bull’s own TV chan­nel to say the in­ter­view had been “com­pletely dis­torted”.

Shortly af­ter­wards, an Audi spokesman told Reuters that F1 was “not a topic for us”, and Stadler told a Ger­man news­pa­per: “F1 needs to solve its prob­lems on its own.”

And now? Horner says: “Audi have enough is­sues for them to be fo­cused on them­selves. They’re a big com­pany go­ing through an aw­ful lot of change. We have no open di­a­logue with Audi or VW.”

But have Red Bull had any di­a­logue? Horner re­sponds: “There has been no di­a­logue with VW or Audi. All I can tell you is what I know.”

Make of that what you will.

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