Who is new VW CEO Matthias Muller – and what's his attitude towards racing? Charles Bradley finds out...
When the firestorm of scandal has subsided, what is left standing is just as crucial as what went wrong in the first place.
Volkswagen’s road-car emissions test-rigging fiasco, which has even prompted a German criminal investigation, claimed its bigwig scapegoat in chief executive Martin Winterkorn last week. As Kate Walker pointed out last week, Winterkorn was the likely driving force behind the marque’s future entry into Formula 1, so what about his successor Matthias Muller?
Well here’s the good news. He’s a chief executive with an engineering background (the successful Audi A3 was his baby) and a motorsport-enthusiast father – a keenness for the sport he is said to have inherited.
And while his focus is very much going to be on repairing the damage of an in-house crisis on a global scale, he’s unlikely to swing an axe on racing programmes that reflect so positively on the brands.
Let's face it, the group needs all the positive PR it can get right now.
Little chance of F1 anytime soon
An F1 entry, which I do believe was on the agenda, is now most certainly on the back burner once again while the house is put back in order. Apart from that, I’d imagine the only true threat to VW’s World Rally Championship, rallycross and Formula 3 campaigns is one of belt-tightening budgets if its share price doesn’t recover in time.
Of course, there’s also the sister brands to consider. While Audi appears perilously close to being embroiled in the meltdown too, its World Endurance Championship and DTM programmes should stand alone on technical (WEC) and marketing (DTM) reasons.
Muller is a former Porsche brand boss, and knows all about its sportscar legacy. Working alongside R&D director Wolfgang Hatz, the true driver of the LMP1 project, again I see no reason for the rug to be pulled from beneath its increasingly-successful WEC campaign – he's even been in the pits watching races.
Hatz’s position, however, has come under scrutiny as the investigation into who knew what progresses. He is currently suspended, as he is responsible for all engine and transmission development across the VW Group, and that would be a major political blow for the 919 Hybrid squad if his head were to roll.
Advancement through competition
Being an engineer and racing fan, Muller is said to be a huge advocate of learning from technology in motorsport, so the sensational hybrid systems of the current LMP1 ruleset should really sit well with him.
I do hear that he’s never been an advocate of F1, believing its scope for promoting brands via engine supply doesn’t work. And if you look at Renault and Honda right now, you can see his logic as people only tend to talk about you if you underperform.
The overriding view is that Muller has been appointed because he’s the safest pair of hands on the books, and is well connected across the brands.
Those hands will be in full fire-fighting mode in the wake of this incredible storm, and while Winterkorn is surely not to be the only sacking, there’s no immediate reason to fear for VW Group’s motorsport activities any time soon – as long as the company is allowed to stabilize and rebuild its reputation.
PS: there must be no motorsport scandals from here on in, so it’s a good thing the DTM’s “push him out” saga happened before this new, larger scandal broke…