Volkswagen Group is conducting a feasibility study on whether its Audi brand should enter Formula One to challenge rival Mercedes-Benz, a report said.
Ousted Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali is conducting the study, British broadcaster BBC said. Domenicali joined Audi Nov.1 with responsibility for "new business and mobility services."
Audi is "seriously" looking into an F1 entry, which could happen in 2016 or 2017, company sources told Automotive News Europe.
The BBC report coincided with news Bernie Ecclestone may soon be marginalized in his role as the F1 chief. Ecclestone and VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech "have long had a difficult relationship," according to the BBC's Chief F1 writer, Andrew Benson. "At least one of them would need to leave their current position before a VW Group brand could enter F1," Benson said.
VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, who is being groomed as Piech's successor, favors Audi joining F1 to emulate the global marketing success achieved by new F1 champion Mercedes, Benson said. Winterkorn "has always believed that F1 is a great platform for the group's brands. I am told he privately believes VW Group should be a part of F1," he reported.
Winterkorn told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag last month: "Our brands in motorsport are as successful as ever, whether in the DTM with Audi or Le Mans with Audi and Porsche, or in the World Rally Championship with Volkswagen. We feel we have a really good position," he said.
The BBC said that Audi would enter F1 with its own team based in Germany, refuting reports that have linked a potential VW Group return with the Austrian Red Bull team. Piech has a close relationship with Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz.
Audi motorsport head Wolfgang Ullrich last month knocked down speculation about a possible F1 entry, saying "there is no decision that we are going in that direction."
Audi today told Automotive News Europe that the reports were “rumors” and declined to comment further.
Luca Ciferri and AutoWeek contributed to this report