Countdown to 2026

Preparations continue at breakneck speed ahead of Audi’s entry to Formula 1 in 2026.

When Audi enters Formula 1 in just two years it won’t just be a new horizon for the Audi brand but for the entire sport, with new rules taking effect that same year – but preparations are well advanced and Audi Formula Racing’s CEO Adam Baker and CTO Stefan Dreyer are more than happy with the way things are progressing.

3 July, 2024

In the heart of Audi Sport’s sprawling facility at Neuburg, the engineers and technicians at Audi Formula Racing GmbH (AFR) have been hard at it for the past two years working on the development of the F1 hybrid drive that will power the brand’s entry into the world’s top tier of motorsport. Although work on the Audi F1 Power unit is being conducted behind closed, locked doors, AFR CEO Adam Baker and AFR CTO Stefan Dreyer are extremely pleased with the progress to date.

“After just two years, our Power Unit, consisting of a combustion engine, electric motor, battery and control electronics, is running dynamically on the test bench,” says CEO Adam Baker.

“Successfully marrying the various components into a single unit is the result of hard work and great teamwork. The Audi Power Unit has already covered simulated race distances on the test bench. We gained a lot of testing time with the individual components in 2023 and were able to incorporate the experience gained into the next construction stages in parallel. Significant milestones and goals have been achieved, which gives the entire team a good feeling.”

As you would expect, the facility is state-of-the-art with 22 test benches at the site allowing testing under simulated racing conditions which allow important insights on how the units will operate under different stresses come race day.

Adam Baker (left) and Stefan Dreyer at the state-of-the-art facility at Neuburg.

“After the successful race distances with the Power Unit we will soon be doing the same with the entire drive system, which means the combination of Power Unit and transmission,” says CTO Stefan Dreyer.

“We run the Power Unit on the test bench with different layouts from the current F1 calendar, depending on the purpose of the test. For example, Las Vegas is interesting for our development team in terms of overall energy management. Several alternating fast and slow corners and almost two kilometres of full throttle driving on the Las Vegas Strip provide the perfect development environment for fine-tuning the combustion engine and the ERS (Energy Recovery System) components.”

It’s an exciting time, that although still two years away has become very real for all involved.

“Hearing the Audi Power Unit being simulated today on tracks like Spielberg, Singapore or Las Vegas, not only gives everyone involved goosebumps, but also gives us the feeling that we are a big step closer to our first race in 2026,” says Adam Baker.

For the team it represents a great milestone but it is not exactly new territory in many respects, given the brand’s tremendous successes across Le Mans, Formula E and most recently Dakar.

“Our experience from previous motorsport projects with high-voltage technology, Le Mans, Formula E, but also from the current Dakar project, has helped us a lot. We have already proven in the past that we can develop conventional, hybridised and purely electric drivetrains,” Baker reflects.

“Nevertheless, the challenge in Formula 1 is a completely different one in terms of cutting-edge technology and competition. This also applies to our partners and suppliers – we are experiencing a very strong commitment from all sides.”

And while there have already been huge strides in the development and testing, the pace will remain relentless every minute of every day in the lead up to 2026.

“There have been special milestones almost every month since the start of the project in spring 2022, for example the start of construction for our infrastructure expansion, the start of testing for the single-cylinder, the first test bench run of the electric motor and the V6 engine and the first race distances with the complete Power Unit,” reflects Baker.

“The fact that our entire team can fully concentrate on the development of the Power Unit for 2026 is an advantage for Audi. The remaining time until 2026 is all about achieving our development goals in terms of maximum overall vehicle performance with full focus. It will remain exciting until the first race – and after that, of course, too.”

Standards and regulations are strict to say the least. Meeting all guidelines handed down by the FIA as well as hitting internally applied targets makes for a high-pressure mix.

“So far, we have achieved all the targets we set ourselves for performance and efficiency in this phase,” says Dreyer.

“In addition, our fuel development has been running since 2022 with a strong partner who has many years of experience in Formula 1. This is a really decisive factor for our project, as the new sustainable fuel for 2026 will have even greater competitive relevance.”

In addition to the technical restrictions are the cost cap restrictions for the development of the Power Unit, adding another dimension to the. Challenge.

“Like all other Formula 1 teams and Power Unit manufacturers, we were faced with the challenge of setting ourselves up accordingly. It’s all about cost-cap efficiency and cost-cap conformity,” according to Baker.

“One advantage was that we were able to start on a blank sheet of paper, so to speak, creating our own company, Audi Formula Racing GmbH, for the project. We had a clear picture of structures, systems, processes and the right mindset right from the start. The topic of finance has a direct impact on performance due to the cost cap. There has never been such a direct link between operational efficiency and sporting success in Formula 1. The fact that we can operate at the limit of the cost cap with PU development puts us on a par with our competitors.”

With work also continuing at pace at Sauber’s Hinwil site in Switzerland, the project has a truly international flavour, with both parts of the team working well toward the ultimate goal.

“On the technical side, we are already working in a genuine factory team mode across both sites. The focus here is on integrating the Power Unit with important details such as thermal management,” says Dreyer.

“There is also close cooperation on the gearbox. We develop the internals in Neuburg, while the structural parts such as the gearbox housing and rear axle are produced in Hinwil. Testing of the complete drive, consisting of the Power Unit and transmission, then takes place on our powertrain test bench. This division is expedient in terms of performance and expertise.”

It’s a motivated, high-precision team effort, and it will have to be just to meet the deadline and then to compete at motorsport’s highest level. But all is progressing to plan and motorsport fans have every reason to be excited about what 2026 and Audi’s entry to Formula will bring.

“Not only do we have a broad international base, but we have also strengthened our existing motorsport expertise at Audi Sport with external F1 expertise. This has helped to accelerate our learning curve considerably,” says Dreyer.

“Not only do we have a broad international base, but we have also strengthened our existing motorsport expertise at Audi Sport with external F1 expertise. This has helped to accelerate our learning curve considerably.”

Roll on 2026.