Can the VW Group resist F1’s lure?
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.