Audi's transition to Formula 1 began in earnest in 2014 when the company hired now Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali, but the plans were ultimately scuttled by dieselgate.
Speaking to Australian media today in Japan, Lamborghini chief executive officer Stefano Domenicali admitted that he was originally hired by Audi to move the brand into Formula 1.
Domenicali was the director of the Ferrari Formula 1 team from 2008 to 2014, when he resigned to take the job at Audi. Rumours circulated around that time that Audi would leave its endurance racing and DTM commitments to take on Formula 1.
When asked about this today, Domenicali was quite frank about the rumours.
"At the beginning, for sure," he said of leaving Ferrari to head up Audi's move into F1. "In the situation where we were, it was almost two years ago, they wanted my experience in that exploration, but I was also involved with other activity also mainly related to mobility, new process and new activity. That is the real answer."
While Domenicali didn't admit that the plans were killed by dieselgate, it's quite clear that the timing lines up, with dieselgate blowing up for the Volkswagen group around September 2015 when the plans would have been well underway. Audi also confirmed around this time it would scale back its World Endurance Championship campaign from three cars to two for 2016. Porsche, also part of VW Group of companies, also pared down its WEC operations from three to two cars at the same time.
Domenicali then joined Lamborghini as the chief executive officer in February 2016, which fits in with the general timeline. Domenicali's close relationship with Fernando Alonso led to rumours at the time that he could be lured to an Audi Formula 1 team, should it be formed.
Either way, it's fascinating to see that Audi almost made the transition into Formula 1 and today could have been racing alongside the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Audi last competed in grand prix racing in 1933-39, its classic Auto Union race cars engaged in a fierce rivalry with Mercedes-Benz.