Audi is venturing into Formula 1 in 2026. The ambitious project is costing the carmaker a lot of money. The boss thinks quick success is unrealistic. Nevertheless, another VW subsidiary could soon follow suit.

In the fine drizzle of Spa, Audi boss Markus Duesmann proudly stood behind a futuristic racing car. The four rings on the black-red-silver racing car were meant to show everyone: From 2026, the Volkswagen subsidiary will also be involved in Formula 1. It was the “perfect time” to enter the racing series and a “very special moment” for the brand, Duesmann affirmed, patting the Formula One bosses on the back. “A great day,” Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali also enthused with due enthusiasm.

Own engine, but not a completely new racing team

The carmaker will spend hundreds of millions of euros on its involvement in the top class of motor sport. The project is therefore “very long-term”, Duesmann affirmed. Audi wants to develop its own engine, but not build a completely new racing team. The future partner is to become official by the end of the year. Audi is expected to join the Swiss Sauber racing team. The amount of the purchase price and the size of the share package are still being haggled over.

Will Porsche join Red Bull?

Porsche, another VW brand, could soon announce its entry into Formula 1 in alliance with the Red Bull team of world champion Max Verstappen. This double entry, combined with the high costs, is quite controversial within the Volkswagen group. However, Duesmann assured that he and Porsche boss Oliver Blume were “on the same page” in their racing euphoria. Blume will also take over the chairmanship of the VW board on 1 September.

Formula 1 had made the entry of car manufacturers like Audi palatable. From 2023, the tightened budget cap per racing team will be further reduced to 135 million dollars per year. It makes an entry more financially predictable, even if Duesmann said of the Formula 1 venture: “Making money is always good, but we don’t have to.”

Hybrid engines with 100 per cent sustainable fuel

More importantly, the racing series has created a regulatory compromise. From 2026, hybrid engines are to run on 100 per cent sustainable fuel. The combustion engine in the power unit is to contribute only 50 per cent of the power, the rest is electric. This fits with the future direction of the car industry.

“Formula 1 and Audi are both pursuing clear sustainability goals,” Duesmann assured. World governing body boss Mohammed bin Sulayem spoke of a “milestone” when announcing Audi’s plans. For several years, the Ingolstadt-based company had haggled with the racing series’ bosses over the framework conditions for the commitment.

With the transformation to electric mobility, the XXL project Formula 1 can also be sold internally. “We have received a promise that we will get more money to Wolfsburg with Formula 1 than without it,” outgoing VW boss Herbert Diess had said. Already at the beginning of April, VW’s board of management and supervisory board had given the green light for Audi and also Porsche to plan “for a possible entry into Formula 1”.

Audi, however, does not expect quick success. Victories or even the fight for the world championship title in the first year after the entry are “not realistic”, said Duesmann. “Within three years we should be very competitive,” added the 53-year-old.

Developing a strong Formula One engine in less than four years would be a daunting challenge, admitted Audi’s chief technology officer Oliver Hoffmann. “It’s not a long way, we have to hurry,” he said. There is still a lack of staff and test benches at the motorsport factory in Neuburg an der Donau, and a hefty start-up financing is due. “We don’t give figures for the whole operation. But they are high figures,” said Duesmann.

Toyota should be a warning

The Audi boss knows what he is talking about. He was head of development at BMW’s Formula 1 intermezzo at the beginning of the millennium. Sauber was the partner then, too. When the hoped-for successes failed to materialise despite immense investments, BMW pulled out of the racing series in 2009 after only four years. Toyota’s failed billion-euro project should also serve as a warning to other manufacturers.

The sticking point for Audi and Porsche to enter the series was the future engine regulations. The established manufacturers such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault want to prevent their competitive advantages, which they have built up over the years, from dwindling and thus reducing their investments. During the summer break, however, the regulations were finally approved by the World Motor Sport Council.

Patience is not a strong point in Formula 1

“Nobody can expect to take part in the Champions League for the first time, get straight to the final and go home with the big trophy,” Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff had already warned. You can’t “just come and conquer”, you have to “give it time”. Patience, however, is not a strong point in Formula 1.