► Audi F1 team run by Stefano Domenicali
► Middle East investors, Red Bull title sponsor?
► Audi to withdraw from DTM, WEC
No, the contracts have not yet been signed. But according to information gathered from senior Audi officials at the Frankfurt motor show, this is only a formality - paving the way for Audi to join the F1 circus in 2018. While PR issued a luke-warm denial, the board of directors intends to go ahead with the project - potentially expensive collateral damage on the US emission scandal spurred by VW notwithstanding.
'Market research has recently confirmed once again the significance of F1,' a senior Audi manager told CAR. 'The rub-off effects are substantial; we see enormous potential for the brand once the race series invents itself in 2018.'
Click here to read our earlier scoop on Audi entering F1.
How can Audi afford to enter expensive F1?
Formula One is notoriously expensive - and even prospering Audi doesn't have bottomless pockets, especially now that extra funds are required to support connectivity and e-mobility in its road cars. Replies our man from Ingolstadt: 'If all goes according to plan, this commitment is going to be virtually cost-neutral.
'The biggest chunk of the up-front investment will be provided by a bunch of Middle East entrepreneurs. Instead of pedalling a marque or a specific product, they want to tap the commercial opportunities new F1 is offering. The idea is to use the Red Bull team as a door opener. Why Red Bull? Because of their success and experience, because of their top-class infrastructure and of course also because of the pending sponsorship agreement.'
Audi to pull out of DTM touring cars and WEC endurance racing
If the F1 deal gets the nod, Audi will withdraw from all other motorsport activities. While the DTM is handicapped by a controversial weight penalty regulation which punishes teams, not drivers, Le Mans has become an incestuous corporate battleground where Porsche finally interrupted Audi's winning streak at #LM24 in summer 2015. Endurance racing does cover most key markets, but its impact vs expenditure equation is relatively poor.
Right now, F1 is admittedly a bit of a farce with one team dominating to the detriment of spectator enjoyment. From 2018, however, grands prix should have fresh rules which should lay the foundation for much more competitive racing. Even though Audi has just extended the contract with motorsport chief Wolfgang Ulrich by two more years, this timing indirectly confirms the appointment of Stefano Domenicale (ex-Ferrari, now parked at Ingolstadt's special projects arm) for the 2018 season. Ferrari is of course the engine supplier RB Racing would love to sign up for 2016 and 2017. The making of Audi Red Bull Racing would require the hiring of additional chassis and drivetrain experts as well as aerodynamicists. Says our mole: 'We want to be fit to fight for the world championship by 2020.'