What does Audi and Porsche’s entry to Formula One suggest about the sport's future?
Written by Ashlie Church, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
It’s 2022. Our cars are smaller, more efficient. Some are electric, some are hybrid and almost all that aren’t, are already headed that way. However, through all the discussion and development of eco-friendly road cars, the roaring of Formula One can be heard, still very much petrol-powered, but with new sustainable fuel options being developed year on year and of course, the hybrid battery powered engine allowing drivers to harvest and save energy as they lap the track. However, in the distance too, there is the gentler growling of the newer E Series; Formula E and Extreme E, bringing to light fresher and greener pastures for motorsport. With all this noise, it brings new interest, or rejuvenated interest, I should say. In the past few weeks and months and potentially years, Audi and Porsche, both owned by the Volkswagen Group (VW), have had their interest piqued by the advancements made in the world of motorsport in terms of a greener racing, perhaps suggesting a return to Formula One, and in the last few days rumours have been circulating of the definiteness of VW’s entry to the sport. However, the question is poised: what would be the benefit of having these two historic names back in the game?
A quick look back: both Audi and Porsche have been involved in motor racing, of some sort, for nigh on a hundred years; starting early in the 1920s and 30s, frequently entering campaigns for series such as rally car and both the European and American Le Mans as well as Formula One. However, in more recent decades, there have been successes in Super Touring for Audi and Le Mans for both. Porsche had also been active in Formula One also, working with McLaren in the early nineties, however this time with far from perfect results. Porsche never made the jump to any of the electric series, however Audi did with the Audi Sport Team partaking in the Formula E Championship, as well as powering the Envision Virgin Racing team.
However, it is VW themselves, who own both Audi and Porsche, who are the deciding factor on this entry to Formula One. Still dealing with the fallout from the emissions scandal in 2015, VW have been a leading producer of electric vehicles, more than any other global car manufacturer for this very reason. This news is made more interesting with comments made by Ross Brawn earlier in the year that his discussions with the Volkswagen Group were mainly surrounding the topic of sustainability and developing a more sustainable fuel ready for their entry in 2026. Even if VW’s move is for selfish reasons, to continue to clean up their image, is this necessarily detrimental? I would posit that it isn’t.
Not only do these discussions make Formula One a more attractive and marketable move for both VW and any other company wanting to enter Formula One, but it will also create a beneficial partnership for Formula One and VW. It will force the series to safeguard its own future and relevancy in a world where the environment is at the forefront of most discussions. Long has Formula One seen itself as a bastion of engineering development and innovation; I’m thinking back to Mercedes’s mid race-weekend adverts, boasting their fuel research endeavours. It is this element of the sport which will become increasingly important as time wears on and where the focus will lie. The change is less to do with any zeitgeist movement, any change in fan demographic or leadership for that matter, and purely a sign of the times.
The media is already saturated with Attenborough documentaries and news pieces about environmental protests. The fact that VW is so focused on sustainability, despite Audi and Porsche’s long history with motorsport meaning it wouldn’t ultimately be a surprise for them to re-enter Formula One regardless of their stance on sustainability, is itself a positive step forward, reminding everyone that Formula One’s carbon footprint is being watched and monitored as time goes on, just as VW’s was back in 2015. It seems, if sources are to be believed, that VW were happy with what they have heard and seen from potential teams McLaren and Red Bull, whom offers will be made to, and not only will it potentially entice new teams and manufacturers into the series, but also maintain the sport’s relevance as we head into the future.