Audi’s winning record across motorsport makes an F1 entry a thrilling possibility

News Focus

Posted on

| Written by

If, as seems increasingly likely, Audi is about to commit to enter Formula 1, it will be the latest in a series of championships the manufacture has tackled over the last four decades.

Of course success in one form of motorsport is no guarantee of the same in F1. But a habitual error can manufacturers make when they go motor racing is failing to understand what makes it a completely different endeavour to building and selling road vehicles. Audi’s track record across a range of disciplines shows they understand it better than others – and indicates they are not content merely to be participants.

Through the eighties and nineties the company used motorsport to showcase its four-wheel-drive ‘Quattro’ technology. This found its first and arguably greatest application on loose surfaces, notably rallying.

In the first half of the eighties, Audi’s Quattro, A1, A2 and S1 machines delivered over 20 World Rally Championship victories and took the team to the 1982 and 1984 constructors titles. Its drivers Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist were also crowned champions.

Audi brought four-wheel-drive to rallying…
It wasn’t able to recapture that glory in the second half of the decade. The abrupt end of the ‘Group B’ and ‘Group S’ rally classes on safety grounds, while Audi was working on a potent new car for the latter category, set it back. But its four-wheel-drive technology transferred well to circuit racing.

Audi swept America’s Trans-Am series in 1988 with its 200, winning eight out of 13 races. The regulators responded, as regulators often do, by outlawing the four-wheel-drive system which gave the team their edge.

Undeterred, Audi prepared an assault on another American tin-top series, IMSA, with a new car loosely based on the 90 Quattro. The wide, muscular machine produced 720bhp from its five-cylinder, 2.2-litre motor. It missed the opening races of 1989 in Daytona and Sebring, but wins in seven of the remaining rounds for Hans-Joachim Stuck was enough for him to place third in the championship. Audi were second in the teams’ point standings, ruing the two races they missed.

Stuck won Germany’s touring car championship the following year and another Audi driver, Frank Biela, succeeded him in 1991. The 27-year-old clinched the crown by winning both races in the finale at Donington Park in Britain.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Costs escalated in the DTM over the following years. While Mercedes and Alfa Romeo took the spoils, Audi looked elsewhere, backing the increasingly popular Super Touring formula over Germany’s spectacular but increasingly expensive series.

…and touring cars, where it added more trophies
Audi looked beyond Germany, including to Britain. Biela made a successful assault on the British Touring Car Championship in 1996 with his A4, built to the hugely popular Super Touring regulations.

Again the Quattro had a clear edge – Biela took eight wins on his way to the title – and again the rule-makers made them pay. Four-wheel-drive cars had to carry a significant weight penalty the following year, which neutered their advantage.

But Audi’s next pursuit of success, in the Le Mans 24 Hours, would vastly outstrip their achievements elsewhere. They arrived in 1999 as rivals BMW and Mercedes were heading for the exit: The former having won with their Williams-honed V12 LMRs, the latter withdrawing after a series of shocking aerial accidents.

By 2000 Toyota had also canned their Le Mans programme. Audi cleaned up, filling the top three places on the podium with their Joest-run R8s. This began an astonishing 15-year stretch during which Audi almost monopolised success in the world’s greatest endurance race. Their triumphs were interrupted only by wins for Bentley in 2003 and Peugeot six years later.

Audi were first to win at Le Mans with diesel and hybrid power
Audi’s 2006 victory was another technological milestone: The first for a diesel-powered car. They saw off a fierce new threat from Peugeot over the next two years, before the home team finally bagged a win in 2009. Following that it was back to business as usual for Audi, now also up against Toyota, beating the Prius manufacturer to take the first Le Mans victory with a hybrid.

When their crown finally slipped it was to another Volkswagen Group brand, Porsche, whose record of Le Mans victories Audi made serious inroads into over just a decade and a half. They also won the first two seasons of the revised World Endurance Championship for constructors.

An Audi-backed Abt team entered the first season of Formula E in 2014 and three years later the entry gained factory backing. Abt’s Lucas di Grassi won the 2017-18 title and the Audi-run squad took the teams’ championship the following season. But by then the brand and wider Volkswagen Group was reeling from the implications of the Dieselgate scandal and the team’s WEC programme had been canned.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Alongside these programmes, Audi joined its German rivals in the reformed DTM where it enjoyed more success. At times the competition was extraordinarily tough. In 2007 it withdrew its cars en masse from a bruising, incident-filled encounter at the Circuit de Catalunya after several clashes with Mercedes drivers.

Battle rejoined? Audi and Mercedes sparred in DTM
Eight years later it was the one dishing out the blows. At the Red Bull Ring Audi driver Timo Scheider was notoriously instructed “schieb ihn raus” – ‘push him out’ – by team chief Wolfgang Ullrich, whereupon he knocked two Mercedes drivers into a gravel trap including eventual champion Pascal Wehrlein.

Controversies aside, Audi also piled up the silverware for team and drivers. Over the final four years before the series went through another of its periodic metamorphoses 12 months ago, Audi took a trio of title doubles.

Audi is now hoping to turn its golden touch to another new endeavour, the Dakar Rally, which it will contest for the first time next month using a new alternative drive concept vehicle. The Audi RS Q E-tron uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo sourced from its DTM entry to charge a battery, which powers a pair of electric motors, one on each axle. It aims to be the first manufacturer to use a drivetrain incorporating electric motors to compete for overall victory against rivals using conventional engines.

In the meantime it is also preparing for a return to Le Mans. And the manufacturer has been closely involved in the shaping of Formula 1’s next set of engine regulations, due for introduction in 2026.

They added Formula E titles before moving on
Now Audi appears to be on the cusp of announcing an entry into F1, telling CEO Stefano Domenicali and outgoing FIA president Jean Todt last week it intends to confirm its entry early next year. That would potentially put it up against Mercedes – again.

Audi’s fierce rival has enjoyed extraordinary success in F1 over the last eight years. Lewis Hamilton’s defeat to Max Verstappen on the final lap of this year’s world championship was the first time in that period a championship has not gone Mercedes’ way. Last week, while the team deliberated whether to appeal over the controversial conclusion of the race, Audi congratulated the FIA for ensuring a fair conclusion to the season right up to – it stressed – the final lap of the championship.

The possibility of Audi going up against Mercedes in F1 – not to mention Ferrari and the rest – is therefore an absolutely riveting prospect. But with the new engines almost five years away, we may have to wait a while to see it.

2021 F1 season

Browse all 2021 F1 season articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

23 comments on “Audi’s winning record across motorsport makes an F1 entry a thrilling possibility”

  1. Audi making the FIA, Formula 1 and the current PU suppliers jump through hoops without even putting pen to paper is a win for Volkswagen already.

    1. @proesterchen One of the big errors of making the turbo/hybrid regulations was failure to pay sufficient regard to the interests of those manufacturers not currently in F1, but interested in entering in the future. Remember the original specifications were revised to placate the existing manufacturers, which also had the effect of putting off prospective future entrants. The whole point of the turbo/hybrid regs was to attract new competitors to F1, but aside from Honda (who have always been fair-weather F1 competitors, and true to form have since withdrawn) they have been a massive failure in this regard.

      That F1 is learning from its mistakes and appears to be on the cusp of welcoming a new engine supplier for only the second time in well over a decade is unquestionably a good thing.

      1. That F1 is learning from its mistakes

        They have not learned, though. They have, again, done all the work and even thrown a stick between the current PU suppliers’ legs, but still failed to get Volkswagen to sign by their target date.

        Now Volkswagen can play games again, having already proven who’s top in this relationship, and extract more value (or inflict more harm, like last time around) before really having to commit.

      2. @red-andy the VW Group and Honda both registered to be participants in the technical working groups that resulted in the current engine formula from the start, so the sport was actively engaging with other manufacturers that were not in the sport at the time.

        Furthermore, contrary to your claims, the sport actively shaped the regulations to what VW wanted at the time – indeed, they started out paying more regard to what VW wanted than to what the current manufacturers wanted.

        As Newey himself pointed out, the original choice of a four cylinder engine was because VW insisted on having that type of engine – even though the other manufacturers didn’t want it, it was pushed through because of VW insisting on it and promising to join if they changed the regulations to accommodate that type of design.

        The regulations were revised, but only after VW had already withdrawn from talks and no other manufacturers had yet confirmed they would enter.

        1. This is exactly what I recall too. The switch from 4 to 6 cylinders only happened after VW had confirmed it would not be joining after all. Of course, this hybrid era has seen the most history revisionism of any era :-)

          1. But that was then and this is now. I fail to see how Audi has made F1 ‘jump through hoops,’ when it seems to me there have been constructive talks with many sides within and without F1 able to air their preferences, and ultimately they have all agreed on the next format, with the removal of the MGU-H and with more electrification. And I don’t think the number of cylinders has been an issue. Pre-2014 was a whole different ball game with imho likely poorer management and direction under BE, and with hybrid pu(s) being so new and such a departure for them. All at a time when the costs to be in F1 were still so huge. I feel F1 is now much more prepared and organized for the next gen pu and new entrants to F1 be they as whole new teams or as suppliers, or even entities wanting to buy a Haas team for example.

    2. Yawn.
      All you’re doing is continuously demonstrating your own lack of understanding.
      So, if you’re agenda based posting to try make a point, the point I’m seeing is that you’re a bit simple. Or alternatively it’s not agenda based, & you really just don’t understand it …
      Personally, I suspect its the latter …

  2. Depends if they come as Motor supplier or as new team but F1 needs more PU suppliers. I hope as total new team as we need more teams. We will see if they sign this march to enter F1 accord.

  3. I don’t reeeeally see the point of Audi in F1. Like the COTD yesterday, I don’t really see the point. Why would VW chose them over Porsche? Porsche wants carbon free fuel, and F1 is going that direction. Audi is going EV. I don’t think beating Mercedes is so high up Audi’s list that they’d risk everything to get in F1 and be competitive in a reasonable period of time…

    1. I got your thinking but Porsche already committed to LMDh.

      1. FERCSA, Audi has also already committed to that same LMDh project – both Audi and Porsche have signed a deal with Multimatic to use their chassis, with Multimatic indicating the intention is that Audi and Porsche will combine their resources for a joint development effort.

        1. Porsche has always been the VW brand who’s primary focus is sports cars. Porsche will have Penske running factory backed teams with their new LMDh in both IMSA and the WEC starting in 2023. Audi will be running essentially the same car, but only in the WEC, and that may only be a works affiliated car. Audi had previously announced they would also have factory teams in both IMSA and the WEC, but then later said they wouldn’t and people wondered why they changed their mind. It sure looks like they’re taking the money they would have spent on factory sports car teams and are instead putting that into an F1 program.

    2. I still fail to understand why any manufacturer would invest heavily in any form of ICE if it will be banned 10 years after. I just dont get it.

      1. Internal combustion engines maybe totally banned in Europe in 10 years, but there are plenty of places in the world where towns and cities are spread out(i.e. the western United States and parts of Africa), and there is no way that the needed electrical vehicle charging infrastructure will be built in 10 years time. I’m pretty sure the ICE won’t totally disappear from passenger vehicles for the next 40 years.

  4. Audi looked beyond Germany, including to Britain. Biela made a successful assault on the British Touring Car Championship in 1996 with his A4, built to the hugely popular Super Touring regulations.

    Germany itself also had a Super Touring championship – the STW – during that time as an alternative to the expensive DTM. Audi won here in 1996 as well, with Emanuele Pirro in the A4.

    Next to Pirro were quite a lot of names that an F1 fan had heard before:

    Thierry Boutsen, Ivan Capelli, Hans-Joachim Stuck, Johnny Cecotto, Joachim Winkelhock, Michael Bartels, Riccardo Patrese, David Brabham, Enrico Bertaggia, Karl Wendlinger, Christian Danner, Stefano Modena, Gabriele Tarquini, Nicola Larini

  5. Given the above-described record of Audi in various motorsport branches, and taking into account the general behavior of car manufacturers in Formula 1, I reckon it would be the best outcome for Formula 1, if Audi set up its whole basis (infrastructure, factory with PU development) from scratch instead of taking over an existing infrastructure of an England-based team.

    Something like Toyota pulled off in early-2000s, having its base/factory in Germany. There are few more incentives to such solutions nowadays (Brexit) and it could help the sport to internationalize a bit more as well. Mercedes in 2009 made a bargain, they acquired a team that on its own or with new private entry could have been competitive for some years. True, they still invested a lot in the facilities and people (& lots and lots into PU development), but so did other car manufacturers some years ago. BMW and Toyota invested huge sums of money yet in contrast to Mercedes their success was minimal.

    On the other hand, Toyota ultimately developed car was reportedly more than promising, and Honda retired on the verge of its own likely dominance, so it would be nice to see Audi going that way. Once they decide to retire (like Mercedes will inevitably) the infrastructure, people and investments could be taken over by a private team, or at the least by another car manufacturer. A nice way to re-establish the 11-team strong lineup.

  6. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I thought VW swore off all non-EV motorsport after deisel-gate. Obviously they’ve changed their minds having quit FE with Audi and will return to prototypes in a big way, but whose to say they won’t flip back? I’m a little worried F1 is making too many concessions for a company that tends to change its priorities at a moments notice.

  7. Sorry if I’m being stupid, but I’m struggling to work out whether this Audi entry is planned as a full works team or just as an engine supplier. Could someone clarify, or is that not yet known?

    1. @f1frog I don’t think it’s been confirmed yet. I personally would like to see them as a works team, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they only entered as an engine supplier. In the latter case, I suspect it would most likely be Red Bull who they supplied, as they are doing their whole in-house PUs for the next few seasons anyway, so depending on how that turns out I guess depends whether or not they take an engine supply or keep producing their own PUs for the new era.

      Additionally, I believe Audi were actually very close to joining F1 as RB’s engine supplier (apparently 1 week away from signing a contract) before diesel-gate emerged and they pulled the plug.

      And finally, I’m sure they’re now in RB’s good books after that ‘fair conclusion’ jibe at Mercedes in the letter to Todt.

      1. RandomMallard My take on what Horner has said about RBR’s future with their Powertrain Unit, is that they never want to be a customer of someone else’s pu again. They have already built themselves up to be able to produce and maintain the current Honda pu until 2025, and imho come 2024 they will be fully into the R&D required to make their own next gen pu’s for 2026 onward, and that way have their own fate entirely in their own hands as a complete, under-one-roof works team. My take from Horner was that he would certainly do his due diligence regarding a partner if someone came to him with an intriguing enough offer, but that is really not their main focus. i.e. I personally will be quite surprised to see a partnership with Audi and RBR. If they were close to signing something in the past, well, that was then and this is now and imho RBR have moved on, and it is only upward that they are looking, not sideways to become a customer again. You can’t win Championships as a customer in this era of more-complex-than-ever pus that require in-house marriage to chassis for any chance of success. If Audi were to join RBR it would be imho them bring their resources to the Powertrain Unit at RBR so that everything would be in-house, and I’m not sure that makes any sense for Audi.

  8. I can only see Audi entering if they have been developing the current F1 engines for last 3 or 4 years, which they may well have been doing.

  9. I’m confused, the last article said Audi were entering in 2022, but this article says it’ll be in 5 years?…

    1. @sato113 The article merely stated that Audi may (sounds likely that they will) make their entry into F1 official in early 2022. The entry will be for 2026 when the next gen of pu(s) will be in the cars.

Comments are closed.