Official: Audi to enter Formula 1 in 2026 with own powertrain

Audi F1 concept 2022 front quarter

Audi will announce a chassis partner for 2026 by the end of this year

New rules for 2026 pave the way for Audi to begin development of its own F1 powertrain in Germany

Audi has finally cemented its entry into the 2026 season of the Formula 1 championship.

The long-awaited announcement – which has been on the cards for months – comes in the wake of the FIA’s approval of new F1 engine regulations for the 2026 season, which were broadly seen as a green light for Audi and sibling brand Porsche to enter the sport.

Audi will build its own powertrains at its motorsport headquarters in Neuburg, Germany, and both CEO Markus Duesmann and technical boss Oliver Hoffman – speaking at a press conference prior to this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix – have suggested the development programme will inform development of electrified road cars. “This is the first time in more than a decade that a Formula 1 powertrain will be built in Germany,” Audi says. 

There is no word yet on which chassis Audi’s engines will be mounted in, but the marque says it will announce a partner for 2026 by the end of this year.

But, hours after Audi’s confirmation of its 2026 F1 entry, Alfa Romeo announced it will end its title sponsorship deal with Sauber at the conclusion of the current season despite only recently renewing the agreement for 2023.

Speaking to reporters, Duesmann said: “Motorsport is an integral part of Audi’s DNA. 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.

“With the new rules, now is the right time for us to get involved. After all, Formula 1 and Audi both pursue clear sustainability goals.”

In order to focus completely on its Formula 1 efforts, Audi has scrapped plans to return to the World Endurance Championship with a new LMDh prototype. 

“Formula 1 is the next major milestone in Audi’s motorsport history,” said Julius Seebach, who will soon leave his role as boss of Audi Sport to “take on a new strategic business area in technical development, reporting directly to the executive board”.

Both Audi and Porsche were awaiting confirmation that the ‘motor generator unit – heat’ (MGU-H), which captures energy from exhaust gases, would be scrapped from 2026 as part of the rule revamp, given the significant cost of developing such a complex system that has no relevance in a road car development context.

From 2026, electrical energy for the hybrid drivetrain element will be generated exclusively by the more conventional kinetic recovery system, which works via energy recuperation under braking – much like on a road-going EV. That makes entry into the sport a vastly more attractive prospect for Volkswagen Group brands Audi and Porsche. 

The move towards the use of sustainable fuels in Formula 1 and the introduction of a cost cap for each team in 2023 were also cited as key motivations for Audi to join the sport. 

Audi says that there are already F1 powertrain test benches in place at its Neuburg development centre and that it has started to make preparations “in terms of personnel, buildings and technical infrastructure”. It has also formed a new company specifically dedicated to Formula 1 powertrain development, wholly owned by its motorsport arm, Audi Sport. 

Adam Baker, a recent Audi recruit from F1 governing body the FIA, will lead that new company as CEO of Audi’s Formula 1 project. 

Porsche, however, has yet to solidify its own plans for a Formula 1 entry, although it is widely reported to be acquiring a 50% stake in UK-based Red Bull Technologies, likely with a view to becoming the current top team’s engine supplier, following Honda’s exit from the sport last year. Details of exactly what shape this partnership could take remain to be seen and the German sports car manufacturer has not publicly commented on the reports.

As for Audi’s entry, the decision not to announce a partner team to run the new powertrain sparked surprise at a press conference held at the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday morning.

It has been widely reported that Audi has agreed an alliance with the Swiss Sauber team, currently running as Alfa Romeo, after high-level talks with McLaren were said to have stalled.

On the question of which team Audi will partner, Duesmann refused to be drawn. “That we will inform you as soon as we know,” he said, before adding “the decision on the team we will do this year.”

He did confirm that Audi has chosen not to set up a whole new team from scratch, saying there is “a high likelihood of having an Audi powertrain in an existing car. We won’t set up a team”.

The announcement was welcomed by F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali.  He said: “I am delighted to welcome Audi to Formula 1, an iconic automotive brand, pioneer and technological innovator.

“This is a major moment for our sport that highlights the huge strength we have as a global platform that continues to grow. It is also a big recognition that our move to sustainably fuelled hybrid engines in 2026 is a future solution for the automotive sector. We are all looking forward to seeing the Audi logo on the grid and will be hearing further details from them on their plans in due course.”

Mohamed Ben Sulayem, president of the FIA and a former rally driver, also attended the press conference. He described Audi’s entry into F1 as a “milestone”. “First of all, I drove Audis in my career. That was an amazing experience to drive four-wheel drive on the gravel,” he said. “This journey hasn’t been an idea that just came now. To be here, this is where the fruits come.

“It’s definitely going to change a lot. If we didn’t change the PU [power unit regulations] we wouldn’t have given the opportunity for new teams to come. There is no way a big manufacturer would come as a PU supplier if they didn’t stand a chance. They would be humiliated.”

Additional reporting by Damien Smith

Source: Autocar

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