Volkswagen to buy Red Bull F1 team?

Volkswagen is on the verge of buying the Red Bull Racing F1 team, according to BBC F1 pundit Eddie Jordan.

Jordan told BBC Sport: “Red Bull and VW have been in on-and-off talks for more than a year and I understand that the fundamentals of a deal for the sale of the team have been agreed. An arrangement whereby VW would take it over, becoming the fourth major manufacturer in F1, and Red Bull would continue to enjoy the high profile that comes from a major sponsorship suits both parties.”

Red Bull has cancelled its engine deal with Renault for next year, after two seasons of underperformance. It is expected to use Ferrari engines from next season. According to Jordan, the team would still use Ferrari engine under VW ownership until its own power units were ready for the 2018 season.

Volkswagen has been flirting with Formula 1 for many years, but former Board of Management chairman Ferdinand Piech vetoed an entry last time the issue came up. Piech was ousted from his position earlier this year and new CEO, Martin Winterkorn is known to be in favour of joining the F1 grid.

A tie-up between Volkswagen and Red Bull would not be unprecedented. The energy drinks company sponsors VW’s World Rally Championship team, and previously backed the German giant’s efforts on the Dakar Rally.

Should it go through, the deal makes complete sense on both sides. Now the biggest car manufacturer in the world, having overtaken Toyota earlier in 2015, VW clearly feels a presence at the pinnacle of world motorsport is a necessity, to go alongside its campaigns in the World Rally, World Rallycross and World Endurance – via Audi and Porsche – championships. Buying out an existing team obviously means facilities and personnel are already in place, drastically shortcutting the process of getting on the grid.

On Red Bull’s part, it would be able to save a huge amount of money by scaling back its presence in F1 to that of a sponsor, rather than an entire team – though Red Bull has one of the biggest sponsorship budgets in the world, across a bewildering variety of sports, it isn’t bottomless and F1 costs it at least $200 million a year.

So, let’s assume VW buys out Red Bull. The question then becomes: which brand does the team race under? Audi is the name that always comes up, based largely on its success in Le Mans racing – the squad is the second most successful in the 24 hour race, with 13 wins. But there seems to be little appetite for F1 within Audi Sport. The top LMP1 class Audi contests allows much greater technical freedom and pretty much all the technology used is relevant to road cars – Audi’s current R18 e-tron machine is a four-wheel-drive diesel-electric hybrid. By contrast, F1 is incredibly tightly restricted, with little technical crossover to road cars. The on-track action is usually much more exciting in the WEC, as well.

Porsche is a possibility. It has history in F1, both as a manufacturer and engine supplier. But it’s efforts seems to be focussed entirely on the WEC, where it currently leads the points standings.

But, of course, Volkswagen has a large portfolio of brands to choose from. Bugatti, for instance, which was one of the greatest names in pre-War Grand Prix racing. Bentley seems unlikely as it is so intrinsically linked with sports car and GT racing. But Lamborghini could work. It has no real racing heritage and is a direct competitor with Ferrari, though that would make using Ferrari engines, even as a stop-gap, rather awkward.

But here’s a thought: a Volkswagen Group-owned team would be perfectly within its rights to change name every year. Why not Skoda F1 Team? Or even Scania F1 Team?

Personally, though, I think the team would simply run under the Volkswagen brand itself. It makes by far the most sense.

But this is all speculation. We will have to wait and see if any such deal is done, then we can sort through the ramifications.

By Only Motors

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