Yesterday a news story broke that slipped under the radar somewhat, but for the regular TJ13 readers, the connoisseurs of F1, your humble narrator picked up on it.
Andrew Abbot of renowned ‘niche’ motorsport publication TouringCars.net, wrote an article on the future of racing for the VW Group. In it the writer quietly went about his business publishing a press release sent out by VW Group. Of course most F1 news outlets missed this story as currently VW Group doesn’t have anything to do with Formula 1. And as of yesterday, nor will they ever in the future.
The first paragraph of the article by Abbot is seismic in it’s impact on manufacturer participation in all motorsport, including F1.
“Volkswagen has confirmed that it will stop backing all motorsport programmes which feature internal combustion engines, instead shifting focus to electric mobility programmes.” writes Abbot.
Based in Europe, the Volkswagen Group operates in 153 countries. VW is the Group’s original marque, and the other major subsidiaries include passenger car marques such as Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, SEAT, and Škoda.
Of course, many of these marques are steeped in motorsport lineage, most notably and certainly in recent decades – VW, Porsche, Audi and Bentley.
The story behind the press release is focused on the VW marque, but with the others being under the same group, it certainly isn’t going to be long before others follow suit. Certainly Honda, Mercedes and Renault will be looking at this move too.
With Mercedes uncertain about their future in F1 beyond next year, and with plenty of rumours about selling the team and even returning McLaren to works status (READ MORE ON THAT HERE), the writing is surely on the wall for big manufacturer involvement in Formula 1 as it stands with hybrid Power Units. It is worth noting that F1 wouldn’t be allowed to become fully electric, as the FIA Formula E series has a legal claim to that.
The motivation for VW began with the Diesel scandal, also known as Dieselgate or Emissionsgate, which started in September 2015, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to VW.
The fallout of this scandal saw the sacrifice of several high profile motorsport efforts including the VW Rally team that ceased competing in 2016, along with Audi in the WEC (World Endurance Championship), with Porsche following soon after. Both Audi and Porsche have substantial histories of success in endurance racing and in particular the famous and historically important Le Mans 24 hours.
In order to rebuild its reputation, VW marque from the VW Group has now taken this unprecedented step to not race at all with internal combustion, and this includes its customer support. Indeed last year the all-electric VW I.D R took on the iconic Pikes Peak Hill Climb when it claimed the overall record.
The fallout from this electrification only policy will include the TCR category of World Touring Cars, but will surely hit the various single-seat formula’s powered by VW.
“Volkswagen Motorsport broke new ground with the ID.R, and with its records around the world it demonstrated the enormous potential of electric drive,” said Dr. Frank Welsch, Member of the Board of Management for the Volkswagen Passenger Cars Brand.
“Now is the time for the next step towards the future: in motorsport, Volkswagen is resolutely committing to e-mobility and will say goodbye to factory-backed commitments using internal combustion engines.
“In addition to the ID.R as a technological pioneer, the MEB will in future be the second, production-related pillar in Volkswagen’s motorsport programme.
“The role as a technological pioneer will continue to be taken over by the ID.R electric race car, which has set important milestones for electric mobility with records at Pikes Peak, Nürburgring, Goodwood and Tianmen.
“In addition, Volkswagen Motorsport will develop new motorsport concepts for the ID. family on the basis of the Modular Electric Drive Toolkit (MEB), on which numerous electric production vehicles will be based.”
Motorsport Director of VW, Sven Smeets, concurs with the policy saying:
“Electric mobility offers enormous development potential, and in this regard motorsport can be a trailblazer: on the one hand, it serves as a dynamic laboratory for the development of future production cars and, on the other, as a convincing marketing platform to inspire people even more towards electric mobility,” said Smeets.
“That is why we are going to focus more than ever on factory-backed electric drive commitments and continue to expand our activities with the development of the MEB. Innovative technology relevant to the car of the future is our focus.” concludes Smeets.
Volkswagen decided to boost its spending on the development of electric vehicles and digital services for the next five years to nearly 60 billion euros ($66 billion) during the meeting of its Supervisory Board.
This marks an increase of around 36 percent over the German giant’s previous plan, which was set at 44 billion euro. The annual investment in the areas of hybridization, electric mobility and digitalization amounts to 12 billion euros ($13.2 billion).
Do not underestimate the seismic shift that is occurring with car manufacturers. F1 exists in it’s own bubble, but history tells us that if you want an idea of where top flight motorsport is headed, you need not look further than the manufacturers.
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