The rumour mill has been going on for months, but the Volkswagen Group will enter F1 with its Audi and Porsche brand. The board of directors gave their approval on the 7th of April this year, and Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen Group, confirmed on the 2nd of May that Audi and Porsche would enter.
The exact plans for both Audi and Porsche on how they would enter F1 are not confirmed, but the outline is that both brands will commit to an F1 project in 2026. With board approval and a general timeline set, F1 fans (and likely current F1 teams) are guessing and theorizing about both brands might do in F1.
Theories on how Audi will enter the F1
One of the dominant theories was that both brands would link up with a current team to work on a powertrain. The F1 team often mentioned as the partnering side is Red Bull Racing. The consensus was that Volkswagen Group, in the form of experts from Audi and Porsche, would form one team. However, since the confirmation, that now is being questioned.
There seems to be a consensus that it’s “only” Porsche who will work together with Red Bull Racing on their powertrain - there are also rumours that it won’t be the powertrain but other parts to the car. This would mean that Audi will take on a whole different project in F1. There is still a persistent rumour that Audi might “buy” a team or even go the Andretti route and try to bring in a different team altogether.
The latter seems to be sparking significant debate as current F1 teams are concerned about what this does to the commercials of the F1 sport.
Audi’s history with F1
Audi’s entry into F1 should not be a surprise for avid fans. There were earlier flirtations as far back as 2010, leading to serious rumors that Audi was about to enter in 2013. The story goes that Audi was lobbying the FIA to set V4 engines as the standard. This did not happen, and V6 engines were made regulations. This is why 2026 is significant; it is the year when new regulations around powertrains are set to take effect. As opposed to Audi, Porsche’s involvement in F1 was more than rumours. Their last stint was in 1991 as an engine supplier to Footwork. Before that, they were an engine supplier to McLaren in the 80s.
F1’s transformation in recent years
The news that Audi and Porsche are entering F1 comes when the sport is getting a real boost. Having bought Formula One from previous owners CVC Capital Partners in 2017, Liberty Media has made some significant changes that divide F1 fans. They have even further commercialized F1 bringing it in line with the type of sponsorship and branding you might see in other popular sports. They have looked at regulation through the lens of creating more excitement for the viewer.
Liberty Media has also linked up with partners traditionally not on the track, such as Netflix. Drive to Survive, the Netflix original show that provides an up-close and personal experience of F1, with unprecedented access to F1 teams, principals, and drivers (although current World Champion Max Verstappen refuses to cooperate), has led to the increased popularity of the sport.
In the US, where F1 usually sat behind motorsports such as Indycar and Nascar, the popularity has exploded. A 2022 survey says that half of US F1 fans say that the Netflix show played a part in their decision to tune into the sport. 57% of the people interviewed by the survey say they became a fan in the last five years.
F1’s worldwide appeal and changing demographics
And it’s not only in the US; it’s one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide. Take China, for example; followers of the F1 across social media, including TikTok, Weibo, and WeChat, were up 40% in 2021. The sport itself is also speaking to a younger and more diverse group. One survey says that the average age of a fan had gone down four years versus a study in 2017. Also, female participation has doubled at the same time.
Very few sports or entertainment ecosystems can show such growth and progress in diversifying like F1.
It will come to no one’s surprise that the racing calendar is changing as the sport goes through a renaissance. Especially in the US, we’ve seen tracks added next to the Austin, TX track that has been on the calendar since 2012. For the 2022 season, Miami has been added, and for 2023 there will be a race in Las Vegas.
With F1 growing in popularity across the States and other countries across the world, there has been an increase of sports bets placed on the F1 tournaments. UK punters can now head to one of the many new sportsbooks available online, with most offering F1 sports bets. Typically, the most popular F1 bet is predicting which F1 driver will win the Grand Prix race.
Audi’s reasons for entering F1
This growth and change in fanbase haven’t gone unnoticed at the Volkswagen Group. It would make sense for Porsche to get into the sport to link their brand to high performance and quality traits. It even makes sense to do it as a partnership, as the average Porsche driver is not necessarily reached by mass marketing. However, it would make complete sense for Audi to get into F1 in a much grander way.
Let’s not forget that one of Audi’s key competitors, Mercedes-Benz, has a significant footprint in F1 with Mercedes-AMG Petronas.
With their competitor in the mix, the timing of 2026 seems to carry even more significance. Mercedes has dominated the sport in recent years. They accumulated eight consecutive Constructor World Champions since 2014. As of the start of 2022, with new regulations in play, Mercedes have seemed to struggle and seemed to be bottom of the top 3 teams, with Ferrari and Red Bull ahead of them.
It feels as if regulations are evening the playing field, especially for top teams, to get into the sport and have a chance to come out shining. It seems the right time for a prominent OEM such as Audi to come in, not just partnering with a current F1 team but fully taking the reins to add to the excitement and make it a four-way race.