Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Audi in F1 - a fan's point of view

By Tarek Ramchani

There are no doubts that Audi is one of the most successful brands in motorsport. The four rings has already won almost everything in rallying, touring cars and sportscar racing. Audi is still winning with all of their factory built race cars: the R18 e-tron quattro, RS 5 DTM and the R8 LMS ultra. Yet many fans still dream about the ultimate move, to see Audi in Formula One.

Way back in the 1930s Audi's predecessor, Auto Union, had competed in Grand Prix racing. The Silver Arrows from Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz dominated that golden era. Legendary cars from Auto Union like the Type C and Type D cars. But what about seeing Audi in what is seen as the pinnacle of motorsport?

Here is my very personal point of view about all of this, so you have to expect subjective thoughts. As said earlier Audi has won almost everything around the world, mainly at Le Mans. Many believe that the time has come for the big move into the F1 circus. The idea is great no doubts. Who would not want to see Audi cars at Monaco, Monza and around the world in F1? A lot of rumors in recent years have been developed and heard regarding this. And on many occasions Audi officials have always denied this, and argued that F1 is not a target for Audi. These rumors and speculations increased with Porsche's announcement that they would return to Le Mans in LMP1 with a full factory effort. But if Audi was ever to enter F1, it would most likely push Audi AG and the Volkswagen Group to end Audi's Le Mans and WEC program. It's very hard, if not impossible to see the brand doing a triple and very expensive set of programs: F1, Le Mans and DTM. The DTM is very important for the German market, thus Le Mans would probably be sacrificed in that case.

To be honest, if I had to choose between Formula One and Le Mans for Audi, my choice will go immediately to Le Mans. I do follow Formula One, the races, the drivers and the teams. Yet there is always something missing in F1 compared to my enthusiasm for Le Mans and sportscar racing in general. Formula One has a bigger audience and is more popular than Le Mans, no doubts about that. However, Le Mans is something unique, all the tension at La Sarthe for a race that only happens once a year. FIA WEC is very important, but Le Mans is Le Mans. All the tension and all of the passion from the fans. A place for top and elite manufacturers to battle in the upper LMP1 and GT division as well. 365 long days of waiting, then you win or you lose at the mother of endurance races. A single outright win gives any victorious brand great satisfaction. Formula One is a succession of Grand Prix races in a 20 race calendar. Excluding Monaco, and maybe Monza with all the passion from the Ferrari tifosi, all the other races are nearly identical and similar.

The format is different as well, here it is not about endurance versus sprint, but a talk about drivers. F1 is a sport about drivers and individuals, no matter that many argue that it is a team sport. People remember the drivers who won Monaco, Monza and the overall World Championship title more than the teams they raced for. Therefore fans do care a lot more about the drivers, than for the teams or the engine suppliers. In contrast Le Mans has always been a battle of the brands and less about the drivers. The Le Mans cars are also always remembered by the fans. Cars like the Audi R8, Porsche 962, Porsche 917, Mazda 787B, Toyota GT-One and many more, will forever be in the hearts of racing fans the world over. Unfortunately that's not the case for F1 single seater cars, and excluding some of the die-hard F1 followers, it is hard to remember the various different F1 cars.

There is also the technology. Let's be honest, F1 cars are so sophisticated now that they are more related to aeronautics than the automotive industry. Sportscars are also sophisticated, but they have always been more closely related to the world of production cars. The engine power at Le Mans is very open, you see cars with hybrid, diesel, petrol and even electrical in the years to come. At Audi the transfer of technology from the Le Mans Prototypes to the Audi road cars is very frequent, if not crucial. Audi Sport itself is part of the Audi Research and Development department. Audi races to win championships, but they also use all of the data and experience learnt from the track, to transfer this into their road cars.

The cars themselves are also different, F1 is increasingly looking like a spec formula now, the cars look very similar to each other. LMP1 cars on the other hand are different in their designs. An Audi R18 e-tron quattro is way different from a Toyota TS030 Hybrid or a Lola B12/60 Coupe. In 2014 all of the LMP1 cars will have to be closed prototypes, but before that specification the brands were fully free to choose between open top spiders and closed cars. Unfortunately you don't have that freedom of choice in Formula One.

For all the reasons given, I fully believe that Audi racing at Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship does make a lot more sense than Audi competing in Formula One. To see an Audi LMP1 car taking the overall win at Le Mans is more glorifying than an Audi F1 car, or worse, a F1 car that is only powered by Audi. Anyway, only time will tell about any possible move into F1.

Photo credit: Fourtitude