Audi to Enter Formula 1, Although Some Questions Remain

Audi has just dropped the big one: They will officially enter Formula 1! This has been rumored for literally years, but now it’s confirmed. And not just by the F1 press corps, but by Audi itself and Formula 1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali.

“From 2026, the premium Audi brand will compete in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship with a specially developed power unit,” Audi said in a statement to the media. “The project will be based at Audi Sport’s facility in Neuburg near Ingolstadt. This is the first time in more than a decade that a Formula 1 power train will be built in Germany.”

More Sustainable & Cost Effective

After years of kicking butt and taking names at Le Mans, Audi bowed out in 2005. That was when the rumors started: Where were all those engineers and mechanics going to go? What was Audi going to do, just quit? Was this due to internal pressures from corporate sibling Porsche? The most obvious answer was they were leaving to join up in F1. The real answers were slightly different and much more complex. Yet, here we are, 17 years later, and Audi has made it official.

According to Audi, the reason for diving into Formula 1 is to be more sustainable and cost-effective, citing F1’s goal of becoming a carbon-neutral racing series by 2030. “The new technical rules, which will apply from 2026, focus on greater electrification and advanced sustainable fuel,” Audi continued. “In addition to the existing cap on costs for teams, a cost cap for power unit manufacturers will be introduced in 2023.”

“Motorsport is an integral part of Audi’s DNA,” added Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG. “Formula 1 is both a global stage for our brand and a highly challenging development laboratory. The combination of high performance and competition is always a driver of innovation and technology transfer in our industry.”

Regarding the “specially developed power unit,” Audi is building the engines, not the entire car. Or, to be more precise, they will be producing the power units comprising of a V6 internal combustion engine and a battery-driven hybrid powertrain. Essentially Audi will be doing what Honda was doing for Red Bull. But that it’s the first time in more than a decade that a Formula 1 powertrain will be built in Germany? That’s a bit of shade. Oh, Porsche? SLAP! BMW? SLAP! Mercedes AMG Petronas? Come at me!

However, the most important bit is the plan to become more sustainable. Audi’s owners, the Volkswagen Group, got caught up in that whole “diesel-gate” scandal and, in response, are moving towards EVs in a big way. They are also looking for good press about being cleaner, greener, and more future-forward in their thinking. In other words, we need to change, and F1 is changing in the right direction, so let’s do this together. “With the new rules, now is the right time for us to get involved,” Duesmann said. “After all, Formula 1 and Audi both pursue clear sustainability goals.”

It’s a win/win on a lot of levels. Audi gets to join the big leagues (finally!), the FIA has another flagship competitor, and fans get to see just what Audi can do at the highest level of racing. 

Audi F1 car
Photo: Audi AG.

Audi In F1: To Be Determined

VW and Internal Divisions: From what I have long gathered, one of the factors in Audi taking this long to get involved was internal bickering. Audi is owned by VW, and VW owns lots of other makes. So why Audi? Why does Audi get to go F1 racing? Why not VW itself or another brand? This leads us to the second point:   

Porsche: This is the most significant sticking point of all the whispers I have heard covering the sport. Of all the carmakers within VW, which one has the most racing heritage? Porsche, of course. So why isn’t the Stuttgart gang doing this? I don’t know, but the rumors are rampant, and you’ve got to imagine the Porsche boardroom is billowing smoke and flames today. And what if Porsche decides to get into F1 anyway? Talk about rivalry! 

Andretti Autosport: This may explain why Michael Andretti’s offer to buy Sauber Alfa Romeo went south (Andretti later added it was about the control of the team). I still think it’s a dumb move on the FIA’s part (Mikey would have made a great addition), but why go with Andretti Autosport when you can go with Audi?

Which Team: What is most conspicuous by its absence in Audi’s press release is that no team is mentioned. That last line, “Audi will announce a decision on which team they will be lining up with in 2026 by the end of this year,” speaks volumes. That means Audi will be an engine – sorry, power unit supplier only. They will not be doing an entire team like Ferrari and Mercedes.

So who will Audi be partnering with? The long-standing rumor has been Sauber Alfa Romeo, who is currently running re-badged Ferrari engines. That would be the smart choice, given Sauber’s state-of-the-art facilities and depth of talent. The other choices are Haas (which I doubt) and Alpha Tauri. Williams is a long shot, especially since they seem firmly in bed with Mercedes.

Alpha Tauri makes for an interesting possibility, especially when you consider the supposed long-running and high-level talks between Porsche at AT’s parent company, Red Bull. If Red Bull becomes Red Bull Porsche, then there’s a certain logic in Alpha Tauri becoming Audi Alpha Tauri.

The future will show us soon enough, but in the meantime, welcome to the big leagues, Audi! Good luck! (You’re going to need it.)

Longtime Automoblog writer Tony Borroz has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He lives in the northeast corner of the northwestern-most part of the Pacific Northwest.

Photos & Source: Audi AG.