Audi and Sauber: Will They Won't They?
Written by Ishani Aziz, Edited by Simran Kanthi
The Formula One rumour mill has been working overtime in these past months over the F1 debut of certain Volkswagen Group manufacturers. Since the not-so-secret whispers about Porsche and Audi making their F1 debut began, fans had eagerly been expecting both companies to announce their entries officially. Earlier this month, Audi answered, stating that they will be joining the world of F1 as a power unit supplier by 2026. What’s more, the German manufacturer announced on 26 August that it would align with an existing F1 team by the end of 2022. Audi has flirted with several teams openly so far, but Sauber has been chosen as the obvious favourite despite no official announcement at the time of writing. So what does this potential deal mean for both parties? And what can we expect from Audi as a power unit supplier?
The official announcement was made by the Chairman of the Board of Management, Markus Duesmann earlier this month, but Audi has been eyeing an entry into F1 for a while. The Volkswagen Group may have been waiting for the release of the 2026 engine regulations and rule changes to make a formal announcement. The developments of Audi in F1 could have been in development as early as 2014, when the current F1 boss Stefano Domenicali worked with Audi AG for a short stint, to work on “new business initiatives”. The 2026 PU (power unit) technical regulations were released in July, and thus probably the catalyst in the lead-up to Audi’s announcement. As a PU supplier, Audi will take the 2026 regulations on board by keeping the same V6 internal combustion engine configuration but incorporating the new electrical power and sustainable fuel. It will also aim to align with the manufacturing cost cap that comes into effect in 2023, and the aim to be ‘Net Carbon Zero’ by 2030. The entirety of the PU project will be run in Neuberg, Germany.
After its debut announcement, Deusmann stated that Audi would benefit from partnering with an existing team. He said, “The starting position for development is much better if you start with an existing car.” Audi had already negotiated with several teams including McLaren, Aston Martin, and Williams. However, Sauber’s current owner, Finn Rausing had particular demands (including that the Sauber group be kept at Hinwil) which were not met by the aforementioned teams. So instead, Sauber quickly emerged as the favourite candidate.
If such a partnership should occur, it would imply that Audi would buy shares from Rausing, with the latter acting as a minority owner. Apparently, Audi would begin with 25% of the Sauber shares, which would gradually increase to 75% control of operations. The deal is said to resemble that of the Sauber-BMW partnership of 2006-2009, whose development Deusmann had headed between 2007-2009. It also includes the chassis construction being entirely in Hinwil, which Rausing was insistent upon, while the PU operations will be confined to Neuberg.
Sauber’s current partner also seems to confirm the new deal with its departure. The Alfa Romeo CEO, Jean Philippe Imparato stated that the five-year partnership with Sauber will come to an end at the close of the 2023 season. Imparato’s announcement came the Friday before Audi’s announcement, which seems to solidify the coming deal.
While fans are now increasingly certain that this deal is coming, it does leave questions concerning Porsche. The Volkswagen Group approved both their Porsche and Audi brands for F1 entry earlier in August, with Porsche possibly taking a 50% stake in Red Bull, but no such announcement has officially been made. The explanation so far has been that neither Porsche nor Red Bull wanted to commit until the 2026 engine regulations were finalised. With those regulations having been signed off on 16 August, this doesn’t seem to be what’s holding either party back. The move for both Volkswagen Group members to manufacture their engines separately seemed illogical, as the parent branch would have to fund two separate projects instead of pooling the resources. However, Deusmann justified the scheme by stating that the focus should be to optimise the individual teams. With that being the case, different teams with unique chassis designs warranted unique power units.
The Audi-Sauber deal is an exciting prospect for both parties involved. As we know with Honda, newcomers to F1 often have a long waiting period before they see any rewards (it took five seasons for Honda until they had a championship-contending car). In characteristically German fashion, Audi hopes to be competitive within about three seasons from their debut. It will no doubt take time for them to catch up to the new rules, and they are far behind current manufacturers, but thankfully 2026 is a long way away. In the meantime, fans can await a new name change for the Sauber team, and hopefully some exciting logo and livery designs.