Following victories in 13 of the last 16 24 Hours of Le Mans races, Audi may take their racing to the highest level by joining the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari in Formula One - a move which may come as soon as 2016.
Having dominated the endurance racing world for over a decade, Audi may seek a fresh challenge by moving to Formula One.
Grand Prix History
Before Formula One was founded in 1950, Audi competed - alongside fellow German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz - in Grands Prix as Auto Union, a conglomerate of four different automobile companies that was formed during the Great Depression, in Chemnitz, Germany.
Born from economic hardships, the team's fortunes had turned around in its early Grand Prix races, winning in the Czech, Italian, Libyan, British, French, Swiss and Yugoslavian Grands Prix. However, the was short lived as peacetime between the second and first World Wars lasted but five years after Auto Union first began racing.
End of an era?
Audi have been hugely successful in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, as well as claiming seven Drivers' Championships and four Constructors' Championships to date since the DTM began in 2000 and as such, will leave a lasting legacy in motor racing, regardless of its fate in Formula One. It has also won two Constructors' Championships in the LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype) and LMP2 categories.
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There will, undoubtedly, be those who believe that it will be wrong for Audi to abandon all three of these racing disciplines - as was suggested to Auto Express by Audi insiders - to join Formula One at a time when new teams appear to be struggling.
But given its success across these championships and the budget required to fund all three, there is no question over whether or not Audi have the experience and the financial means at their disposal to put up a fight against the big teams once they've found their feet in Formula One.
Who would drive for Audi?
There is a chance that Audi could bring their own tried and tested drivers to Formula One from the WEC, DTM or Le Mans races.
One driver to have moved from the DTM to Formula One was 2010 DTM champion Paul Di Resta, though he failed to adapt to F1 and his mid-table finishes in the end-of-season points tallies reflected his mid-table Force India and his lack of promise.
As a result, Di Resta lost his drive with Force India after three seasons and moved back to the DTM.
If Audi were to take the risk of bringing in a Formula One newcomer then they may opt to have an experience driver on the team to help tutor and develop their new driver. There are several options, which depend largely upon the fate of the current driver market...
- Fernando Alonso
With Fernando Alonso likely to join the McLaren-Honda team next season, and with Porsche apparently taking interest in signing him to their Le Mans team if he were not to head back to the Woking-based F1 outfit, it seems highly improbable that he would be available to join Audi.
But if he were to take a year's sabbatical he would need a seat for the following year. It has been suggested that if he were to spend time away from Formula One it would only be to secure a drive at Mercedes in 2016.
However, given the combined success of Hamilton and Rosberg throughout the year it seems like a partnership that may last - unless, of course, their rivalry were to tear them apart.
Meanwhile, Alonso turned down Red Bull when the they first arrived on the Formula One scene and he may well give an untested Audi the same treatment.
- Jenson Button
He is another driver who may be forced to look for a seat elsewhere, unless McLaren choose to part ways with promising rookie Kevin Magnussen. He has been tipped to move to the Porsche Le Mans team (who appear to be keen on snapping up Formula One rejects) to drive alongside former F1 driver Mark Webber, who struggled to find success whilst under the pressure of Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Button has made it clear that he won't drive for free and Audi may well be able to cover his costs where established teams such as Sauber wouldn't.
He has proven himself on many an occasion as a Formula One great, though he lacks the aggression that has been shown by his teammates through the years.
- Robert Kubica
Yes, the Robert Kubica that sustained potentially career-ending injuries in a rally crash in 2011. In an article on GMS, Kubica was cited as being almost ready to re-enter Formula One, where he was destined for success until his injuries forced him out of the sport.
Whilst there may be no seats for this coming season, Audi's 2016 entry may be the perfect opportunity for Kubica to get back behind the wheel of a Formula One Car on a regular basis.
- Other potentials...
There are other drivers, such as Paul Di Resta and Jean-Eric Vergne who will see this as a potential opportunity to return to Formula One (Vergne will leave Toro Rosso at the end of the 2014 season), but if Audi want the best drivers then they will have to fight for them, with Gene Haas' 'Haas F1 Team', making its Formula One debut in the same season.
Whilst there has been no official statement regarding a potential Audi F1 team, it seems like the logical step for an already established motorsport team who have the knowledge and the funds to compete in the highest form of racing.
However, whether their F1 form will stay true to their success in other forms of racing remains to be seen.
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