Audi at least six months behind rivals in F1 engine development

Jaden Diaz

Formula 1’s various teams are  already facing a demanding season, but across the field it is already time to think about the future. The 2024 projects largely already underway, and plenty of resources are being invested for the new engines to be introduced in 2026.

Aston Martin, for example, has acquired key technical figures and updated its development facilities. McLaren is in the process of finalising its new wind tunnel, having signed senior engineer Rob Marshall from Red Bull after snatching David Sanchez from Ferrari earlier this year. Among the teams that are restructuring for the future, there is also Sauber-Audi.

Sauber – Audi: James Key will be the technical director, Jan Monchaux already in gardening leave

McLaren has certainly been one of the most active for about 9 months now, in terms of restructuring and with a profound revolution desired by boss Zak Brown. However, it is not the only team that is reorganising itself for a better future, given the work taking place at Alfa Romeo Sauber – which will officially become Audi from 2026.

At the end of this season, the collaboration with the Italian brand will end, with Sauber continuing to use the Ferrari Power Unit up to and including the 2025 season.

After this, the German brand will take over, competing in the F1 World Championship as an official team and with an engine developed in Germany- on which around 260 employees are already working.

Some are from Audi Sport, others are Audi employees or have been signed externally. Staff recruitment is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with the 2026 power unit team set to consist of more than 300 employees.

Returning to Sauber, following the farewell of Frédéric Vasseur, Alessandro Alunni Bravi was formally promoted to the role of Team Principal, having already held other positions and responsibilities within the team

Andreas Seidl, formerly of McLaren, was convinced to become the new Sauber CEO, entrusted with the task of restructuring before the crucial 2026 season. Seidl is a young but already highly experienced manager, and will lead the team before Audi’s arrival.

The departure of Jan Monchaux from the Swiss team, already in gardening leave, is rather fresh news. His replacement will be James Key; the former Toro Rosso and McLaren engineer who returns to Sauber, a decade after his last experience at the Hinwil squad.

Key will also return to working alongside Andreas Seidl, his former colleague at McLaren, and the person who pushed for his return to the Swiss team. The English engineer, after six months of gardening leave, will start working as technical director on September 1st.

Staying on the topic of technical personnel, there was an interest from Audi in Mattia Binotto, currently still on gardening leave after leaving Ferrari at the end of 2022.

However, this interest did not go very far and – crucially – there was no visit from the former Ferrari boss to the Audi headquarters. 

This goes against the news that came from England and which was slyly reported by some Italian media, who described the Italian manager as very critical of the German giant.

Audi: At least six months behind the development on their new Power Unit compared to other engine manufacturers   

“Audi’s Formula 1 project has taken off in recent months,” said Oliver Hoffmann, board member for technical development at AUDI AG.

This has led to some important delays compared to the competition, given that Audi’s single-cylinder engine only started running on benches at the end of 2022 – while Mercedes and Red Bull Powertrain have been carrying out these important preliminary tests since last summer.

Audi’s first full hybrid unit, consisting of the combustion engine, electric motor, battery and electronic control unit, is scheduled to start running on the dyno by the end of this year and will form the foundation for the future.

Comparing this timeframe with a direct competitor, Ferrari started this work a few weeks ago, which again shows Audi’s current delay is around 6-8 months.

To be clear, this estimated delay regarding Audi’s infrastructure could be greater if their current progress is not up to scratch. For example, if the dynos have yet to be brought up to F1’s standards.

Audi F1

“We are in the conception phase of the new power unit and we are attaching great importance to details, for example on materials or production technologies, and we also want to focus on other factors, such as the energy management of the hybrid drivetrain. After all, efficiency is a key success factor for Formula 1 and the mobility of the future, these approaches will take both worlds forward., “said an unconcerned Oliver Hoffmann.

There is clearly plenty of time for Audi to make up for the accumulated delay, especially since they will – as a new entrant – be able to spend 10 million dollars more than its competitors this year and in 2024.

However, the rumours from Germany are anything but positive. There is talk of a project not at the level of the current demands of F1, with a very curious parallel to the eventually bankrupt entry BMW entry into F1 18 years ago.

There are some important similarities; such as Sauber’s own purchase, the duality between Switzerland (aerodynamics and chassis) and Germany (engine), as well as the very curious presence of some of the same players.

These include Adam Baker, the current CEO of Audi Formula Racing GmbH, a very important member of the BMW engine section at the time, and Andreas Seidl, who already worked in a key role in the Sauber-BMW era.

Author: Piergiuseppe Donadoni
Co-Author: Paolo D’Alessandro

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang