Internal boardroom power struggle deep within the VW Group appears to have positioned one of its brands closer to a Formula 1 entry in 2018.
Ferdinand Piech – the 78-year-old chief of the Volkswagen Group – has been effectively shunned by the VW Executive Committee of the Supervisory Board, which has recommended that CEO Martin Winterkorn (pictured left) be offered a new extensive and long-term contract from 2016 onward.
This comes after Piech was believed to be orchestrating the removal of his former favourite from the company, and an emergency meeting was called last week to resolve the internal power struggle.
Piech will have to relinquish his role as chairman of the VW Executive Committee of the Supervisory Board in 2017. The boardroom shift could see plans set in motion for a new decision making processes that could see the VW Group restructure its motorsport programme in the coming 18 months.
Winterkorn took over as CEO of VW Group from Bernd Pischetsrieder in 2007. Prior to that, he had worked as Chairman of the Board at Audi AG, and was a big supporter of its racing projects in sportscars and the DTM. Winterkorn has overseen the expansion and growth of VW Group in recent years to further enhance its status as the leader of EU automakers.
Piech, a member of the Porsche family who strategically moved the ailing brand upmarket from its 1990s doldrums, recently criticized Winterkorn for VW's poor performance in the USA.
VW is made up of several shareholders, with Porsche Holdings SE owning the leading percentage. The rest of the board is made up of unknown and private shareholders: Qatar Holding LLC, led by Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, plus the State of Lower Saxony and other German industrial investors.
Why F1 move is on the radar
The VW Group has long been rumoured to be looking at a Formula 1 entry with one of its brands. Audi is widely understood to be the most likely to undertake an F1 programme, but Motorsport.com understands that Suzuki and Bugatti have also undertaken feasibility studies in recent years.
Audi last year employed three key ex-F1 staff members. They were ex-Ferrari F1 team team principal Stefano Domenicali, former BMW and Williams engineer Jorg Zander and Gabriele Delicolli, who is a former Ferrari simulator specialist.
In 2011 Wolfgang Durheimer, director Bentley and Bugatti, told German magazine Auto Motor Und Sport that “if [the VW group] is at the forefront of the auto industry, I can imagine us competing in Formula 1 in 2018. We have enough brands to pull it off.”
An end to VW's 'personality issue'
The main stumbling block to this previously has been the fact that Piech did not like F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, and despite the two having only met on fleeting formal occasions there appears to be a mutual dislike between the two on a personal basis.
However, Ecclestone said during the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend that he would step down if Audi demanded it as a condition to enter F1.
The VW Group currently structures its racing successfully around the thriving World Endurance Championship (Audi and Porsche), the World Rally Championship, Rallycross and F3 (VW) and GT racing (Bentley and Lamborghini). It produces road cars under the brands Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda and VW.
VW also owns the Bundesliga team VF Wolfsburg, where the company is based and was a sponsor of the 2014 Winter Olympics.