The chairman of Volkswagen, Ferdinand Piech, has quit – effectively opening the door for one of the car manufacturer’s many brands to enter Formula 1.
Piech – the 78-year-old chief of the Volkswagen Group – resigned from his role on Saturday. He has long been viewed as the reason VW had not entered F1 in recent times, due to his personal feud with F1's commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone.
As previous reported by Motorsport.com, Piech had been effectively shunned by the VW Executive Committee of the Supervisory Board recently.
However, his move to resign is understood to have taken the Group by surprise.
VW’s Supervisory Board recommended that CEO Martin Winterkorn be offered a new extensive and long-term contract from 2016 onward, after Piech had been attempting to orchestrate Winterkorn’s removal.
Piech had become isolated after a five-to-one vote against him and in Winterkorn’s favour.
An emergency meeting had been called to resolve the internal power struggle – essentially a showdown between Piech and Winterkorn – and now the end game has played out.
Deputy Chairman Berthold Huber has assumed leadership of the board until the election of a new chairman.
Background to a boardroom battle
The boardroom shift could set in motion a new decision-making processes that would mean the VW Group restructures its motorsport programme in the coming 18 months.
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.
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.
Winterkorn a ‘racing fan’
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.
This sparked the showdown between them – and ultimately his exit.