I think it’s fair to say that there has always.
I been an aspect of looking at the rules and seeing where there is an advantage,’ David Ingram said of Audi’s 40 years in motor sport.
‘Just look at Le Mans – direct injection for the early R8 then diesel technology and hybrid technology has been Audi still keeping Vorsprung durch Technik very much in mind and applying it to the competition vehicles as well as the road vehicles.’
From the Audi Quattro rally cars until recent times, there was indeed a very clear pattern of developing a unique solution, deploying it mercilessly and then moving on. Or as one brand management guru put it: the ideal business model.
Just as it was intended, the Quattro and its rally programme propelled Audi into the stratosphere and gave Ferdinand Piech a landmark success from beyond the Porsche family name. He swiftly rose from heading Audi’s technological innovation to heading the entire company, and as Audi grew through the 1980s into the 1990s he made it to the top of the entire Volkswagen empire.
Porsche, meanwhile, had suffered a severe contraction in its business when the economic boom of the 1980s turned into the protracted recession of the 1990s. Its fight back to profitability under combative CEO Wendelin Wiedeking often saw him lock horns with Piech, who knew that despite his distaste for the Porsche family, the technical collaboration between Volkswagen and Porsche was the key strength of both houses.
Piech’s battle with Wiedeking enraptured the German financial media as the gun-slinging Porsche boss first tried to sell his firm to Ford (thereby ending the collaboration with VW) and then tried to buy Volkswagen. ‘Either I’m shot dead, or I win,’ Piech famously said at the time.
In the end, Volkswagen bought Porsche and Wiedeking was fired. After 34 years, dominion over both Porsche and the global automotive industry became Ferdinand Piech’s alone and through his efforts, the Volkswagen Group stood tall over Daimler-Benz, BMW, Ford and all the rest.
Unfortunately for Piech, his time on the throne was not to lead to Pax Romana across this empire. An attempted coup by Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn grew increasingly ugly until somebody somewhere tipped off the authorities in America that VW diesels had been programmed to fool emissions testing. The emissions scandal cost Volkswagen billions in a catastrophic defeat for all of the players. The governments of Europe and the USA were out for blood, and both Winterkorn and – after considerable encouragement – Piech reluctantly fell on their swords.
The post-Piech culture at Audi is clearly demonstrated in motor sport’s fall from grace. When Audi launched its range-topping RS5 in 2017, the ad campaign featured the car – its quattro nameplate removed, but assuredly a four-wheel-drive GT – standing still on a drag strip while a racing car hurtled off beside it. The campaign slogan was: Nothing to prove.
Today, Audi’s competition programme revolves around the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters touring cars and all-electric Formula E racing. Both are categories in which most of the technology is pret-a-porter: Audi’s racing cars share common chassis, transmissions, suspension, aerodynamics and much of their motor design with their competitors and thus cost little to run, but equally they prove nothing of significance.
The most popular cars around the world that are carrying the four rings are those of Audi Tradition: Ferdinand Porsche’s Auto Union grand prix cars and Ferdinand Piech’s Audi Quattros. Audi Tradition tops the bill at motoring events the world over, mystifying new generations with the performance, the riotous soundtrack and the technical brilliance that created these inestimable cars.
Rumour has it that Audi might return to Le Mans with a hydrogen project sometime around 2022. A return to developing groundbreaking technology is long overdue and if it comes to pass you can be certain of one thing: such a car will carry the quattro name.