Volkswagen Group, the world's second biggest carmaker and Germany’s largest family business, is mulling an entry into Formula One, sources say.
Last month its rival, fellow German carmaker Mercedes, took out the championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking out first and second place respectively for the season, which runs from March until November.
The entry, which is expected to come from the group’s brand Audi, would not be the first family-controlled team, which include Williams F1, where second-gen Claire Williams is moving up the ranks, but also Ferrari, which is controlled by the Agnelli family’s Fiat.
Despite being on the working group of car manufacturers that decided on new rules for the 2014 season to make Formula One racing more environmentally friendly, Volkswagen has never entered the motorsport championship. This year Formula One introduced rules requiring V8 engines previously associated with the sport to be replaced with V6 hybrid turbo engines.
Reportedly, a clash of personalities between third-gen Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and head of Volkswagen’s supervisory board, and Formula One’s chief executive officer Bernie Ecclestone has hindered any entry from Volkswagen in the past.
However, rumours are circulating that Audi has hired former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali to conduct a feasibility review, to see whether a Formula One entry could be a good strategic move for the group.
Media reports say that some senior board members now believe F1 would be a more effective global promotional tool than its existing motorsport programmes – with Audi and Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, Audi in the German Touring Car Championship and Volkswagen in the World Rally Championship.
Volkswagen has not denied the rumours, and when questioned a spokesperson from the company pointed reporters to a statement made by its board of management chairman Martin Winterkorn in German newspaper Bild Am Sonntag last month, in which he suggested the group was happy with its existing commitments.
Formula One teams make their revenues from sponsorship and prize money, not to mention the huge marketing success Mercedes has seen this year with its domination of the winner’s podium throughout the season.
Next week the Formula One board of directors is meeting to discuss the appointment of a new chairman – rumoured to be Paul Walsh, former chief executive of drinks giant Diageo. Changes at the board level could put Ecclestone’s four-decade long tenure at risk.