Abt Sportsline’s bid to take over Audi’s ABB FIA Formula E World Championship entry following the upcoming season is in doubt after talks stalled.
Audi announced last November that it would leave Formula E at the end of the 2021 season, but confirmed it would honour a commitment to supply its powertrain customer team, Envision Virgin Racing, for the final season of Gen2 competition in 2021/22.
But a further plan for Audi to find a buyer for the grid slot it will relinquish this summer has now come to nothing, meaning Formula E Operations will take control of finding a new entrant.
The Abt Sportsline organisation which ran the Audi operation from the start of Formula E in 2014 until it became a fully factory entry in 2017 was believed to be among the contenders to take over after the works programme’s exit.
What’s now the Audi Formula E team was 100% owned by Abt when the series began. Abt has enjoyed long and successful ties with Audi through various motorsport programmes, most notably in the DTM – where it will still be involved in 2021 as that series transitions to GT3 machinery.
Audi acquired the entrants’ licence from Abt at the start of the 2017/18 FE campaign which was the final season of Gen1 competition.
Allan McNish led the project as new team principal, while the team became a further amalgam of Audi Sport and Abt staff.
Although Abt would not comment on the recent talks and the revelation that the entry will revert to Formula E ownership this summer, The Race understands the team is deeply frustrated that a deal could not be reached with Audi senior management in the required time.
The prospects of a new entrant coming into Formula E will therefore handled directly by FEO later this year.
This could be conducted in a similar manner to how the Trulli Formula E team’s entry was acquired by Jaguar in a transaction completed in the autumn of 2015.
Speaking about the situation regarding the entry, an Audi spokesperson told The Race “as planned, this season will mark the end of the successful involvement with our factory team Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler” and that the “licence will revert to the FEO at the end of the season as agreed in the regulations.”
The spokesperson added: “There were talks with various interested parties, but for various reasons no contract could be closed.
“The powertrain including the Audi MGU05 is also homologated for season 8 (2021/22) and will be used by the customer team Envision Virgin Racing.”
It is not clear what the financial implications of the reversion of the entry has in terms of the value of the slot franchise overall.
The fact that the entry will now go back to Formula E is likely to open up another potential avenue for McLaren to enter the championship next season.
Its CEO Zak Brown is holding a series of meetings with FEO executives and some existing teams in Riyadh this week.
Brown already holds a relationship with the Andretti Autosport organisation through a partnership with his United Autosports team in the Extreme E electric off-road series and a similar arrangement in the Walkinshaw Andretti United Supercars team in Australia.
Manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo and Hyundai/Kia are also known to have expressed interest in Formula E recently.
A new manufacturer could feasibly come in for the 2021/22 season and use a satellite team in a manner similar to how Mercedes ran with the HWA Racelab entity in 2018/19 to tee up the full factory effort that began in 2019/20.