Why Audi's F1 arrival is not just to make up the numbers

Audi to enter Formula 1 in 2026 – but partner team remains a mystery - GETTY IMAGES
Audi to enter Formula 1 in 2026 – but partner team remains a mystery - GETTY IMAGES

Audi have confirmed Sauber as its works partner ahead of its planned 2026 entry to Formula One.

The Volkswagen-owned marque announced at the Belgian Grand Prix in August that it was entering the sport. But it remained coy on which team it would partner with.

It was an open secret in the paddock that Sauber had been chosen. Alfa Romeo, which currently holds the title sponsorship of the Swiss team, confirmed that same race weekend in August that its deal with Sauber would conclude at the end of next year.

The Hinwil-based team are expected to revert to ‘Sauber’ for 2024 and 2025 and will continue to use Ferrari power units for those interim seasons.

F1’s new regulations for 2026, which feature an increased electrical component in engines and fully sustainable fuels, were the key factor in convincing Audi to enter.

Stefano Domenicali, President and CEO of F1, said in a statement: "The combination of those two names is a very exciting prospect for our sport.

“It highlights the strong momentum that Formula 1 has and the belief in our strategy to further grow and enhance the sport while delivering on our sustainability plans to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030 with advanced sustainable fuels in the cars in 2026.”

Analysis: Sauber a 'shrewd' partner for Audi

By Tom Cary

The presence of Audi on the grid from 2026 is a big deal for Formula 1. As the sport’s chief executive Stefano Domenicali noted in his statement, the fact that another manufacturer wants to get involved is a sign of F1’s increasing attractiveness to brands and partners (Porsche’s deal with Red Bull has fallen through but Audi’s fellow VW-owned manufacturer are also keen to enter in 2026).

Understandably, fans will only care about whether it makes F1 more attractive on the track.

Can an Audi-Sauber partnership take the fight to established big guns Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull?

In a word, yes. Audi is certainly not entering to make up the numbers. The German manufacturer has a track record of winning when it focuses its energies and resources on something (see WRC, WEC, Formula E).

F1’s new budget cap makes its task significantly easier, levelling the playing field, while the new engine regulations planned for 2026 gives Audi a natural entry-point and a decent lead time to get itself organised.

Sauber is also a shrewd partner.

While a McLaren-Audi partnership would have been exciting - talks broke down earlier this year - Sauber have consistently punched above their weight since 1993 and new funding from owner Finn Rausing has meant they have been able to upgrade their software and hardware.

They have an excellent factory and simulator and a state-of-the-art wind tunnel, which Audi know well, having rented it for various projects in the past including for their World Endurance Championship programme.

As Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff noted in August: "F1 is the hardest competition in the world for automotive manufacturers. It is only going to get harder with the arrival of Audi."