Volkswagen is seriously evaluating a move into Formula 1 as an engine supplier beginning in 2012, when new power unit regulations due to be introduced could make the sport attractive enough for the German car maker to get involved.
Although F1 has been rocked by the withdrawal of three manufacturers in the last 12 months – with Honda, BMW and Toyota all quitting the sport – the Volkswagen Group believes that the sport is actually becoming more attractive with the way rules are heading.
The German car manufacturer's representative, former F1 driver Hans-Joachim Stuck, says his company would not be interested in becoming a partner with a team – as was rumored several years ago when it was linked with a deal to buy into Red Bull Racing – but would be up for supplying engines. However, Stuck has made it clear that the possibility to supply power units to a number of outfits, especially if there was a "world engine," would be enough to attract Volkswagen into F1.
"If you're the world's largest manufacturer, it is natural that we're thinking about [Formula 1], but not before 2012," Stuck told AUTOSPORT about Volkswagen's F1 ambitions. "We're looking for innovative things, and Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. Two years ago there was some talk that Volkswagen was going to buy the Red Bull F1 team, which we didn't need to buy. Why should we stick with one team if we can give our engines to more teams?
"If you buy Red Bull and [its designer] Adrian Newey wants to go flying or fishing, the team is not successful anymore. Look at BMW. They bought this multi-million dollar wind tunnel and a supercomputer and they now close the doors. Building an engine and providing it to a team is the best way."
Stuck claims Formula 1's return to expanded grids, and low-cost regulations, has put the sport firmly on Volkswagen's radar. "Now, it's amazing; Formula 1 is going the right way," said Stuck. "Many manufacturers have pulled out – which I think is a great deal, because we have manufacturers that we don't know for how long they will do it. They should become engine manufacturers and then lease the engine, sell the engine or give it to somebody. Then you lose all the hassle with teams, wind tunnels, engineers, you know.
"It's like Formula 1 in my day. We had March, we had Lotus, and we had Ford engines. Then Renault came in as engine manufacturer, with a formidable engine. This was perfect.
"I followed Formula 1 for the last seven years with BMW and I always asked myself when only 20 cars were on the grid, 'What if we could have 30 cars?' Now we're getting back to this. We have three more teams next year, 26 cars and, by having a global engine, which is good in cost and reliable, we can have 30 cars on the grid."
The Volkswagen Group has recently enjoyed great success in racing with its different brands. Besides its multiple Le Mans wins with Audi, its World Touring Car titles with Seat in the past two years and its Dakar victory this year, Volkswagen also powered drivers with VW engines to the British and German F3 titles this, rounding out the season with victory in last weekend's Macau Grand Prix.