Audi to Enter Formula 1
In case you missed it, Audi has announced they will be joining the Formula 1 grid beginning with the 2026 season, both as a team and as an engine manufacturer. Unfortunately, it won’t mean that a new team will be added; rather, Audi and the Sauber team are now partners. (Sauber is currently in an agreement with Alfa Romeo; however, that comes to its conclusion at the end of the 2023 season.)
Why is Audi joining Sauber in Formula 1?
Audi has a long motorsport tradition all the way to the roots of the company. Audi’s predecessor company, Auto Union, created racing cars pre–World War 2. In fact, the nickname “Silver Arrows” doesn’t just refer to Mercedes. Sure, Mercedes is one of the Silver Arrows and is typically known by that title today; however, I bet you didn’t know that originally, the other arrow was Auto Union.
In 1980, Audi also introduced the concept of all-wheel drive to rally racing and performed very well there until other manufacturers caught up.
In the 2000s, Audi dominated endurance racing — Le Mans specifically — with 13 wins in 15 years at Le Mans. Only Porsche has won Le Mans more than Audi has. Audi left the WEC at the conclusion of the 2016 season to focus on GT racing, and now, in 2026, we’ll see Audi, Sauber, and Formula 1 together: Audi will return to the top-tier motorsport with Formula 1.
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Why Will Audi Join Formula 1 in 2026?
Quite simply because that is when new engine regulations come into effect, and they align more closely with Audi’s road car goals and are more palatable for a new engine manufacturer to enter Formula 1. The big changes we’ll see for 2026 engines are:
The MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat) is a motor unit that sits on the shaft of the turbocharger. The downside to having the MGU-H is that there is an additional cost to manufacturing engines and maintaining them. A simpler engine configuration tends to attract new manufacturers, and Audi went for it. We may also see a more challenging car to drive with the introduction of turbo lag.
From 2026, all engines will be fueled by sustainable, synthetic fuel. Motorsports is often at the bleeding edge, and synthetic fuel is one area where they are forging new paths. Synthetic fuel is chemically exactly the same as the fossil fuel you put into your tank; however, it is sourced from materials that do not require drilling. Have a read over on Wikipedia.
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In 2026 we’ll see Formula 1 engines with an even larger hybrid component, and Audi embraces this Formula 1 change. Currently, the hybrid portion of the power unit creates 150 kW of power. In 2026, we’ll see it nearly triple to 350 kW. There will also be a larger MGU-K that will harvest even more of the braking energy and store it in the battery. As a result, the cars will require even less fuel. Currently, cars are allowed 100 kg of fuel for the race. In 2026, when Audi joins Formula 1, that will be slashed to 70 kg. That will mean that from the period of 2013 to 2026, Formula 1 cars will be using less than half of the fuel they once used to go the same distance with the same amount of power, but they will do so faster. It is an unbelievable rate of evolution.
These three major changes are naturally more in line with an auto manufacturer’s road car goals. Globally, auto makers are mandated to get better fuel efficiency, and in some countries, there are already mandates to create no new internal combustion engine cars in the near future. Climate change is real, and auto manufacturers are on the bridge to the full electrification of their fleets. By entering Formula 1 with Sauber, Audi has an experimentation laboratory with which technologies can directly trickle down from Formula 1 to the road cars you and I drive.
Additionally, from 2023, there will be cost caps imposed on Formula 1 engine manufacturers. It seems that the FIA is serious about getting F1’s spiraling costs under control, and that certainly must be appealing to a new manufacturer, as it levels the playing field a bit.
Personally, the team at CMC Motorsports® and I are very excited to see Audi enter Formula 1. Not just as a “new face” but also as a new engine manufacturer that has clear goals of bringing F1 tech to future road cars.
About the Author
Jared Nichols is a motorsports analyst and hosted the F1 Explained podcast. He writes on a variety of motorsports topics.