Whilst much of the focus was on Max Verstappen sealing his third world title over the Qatar Grand Prix weekend just gone, another headline-grabbing story saw claims made that Audi might be considering a shock pull-out from their Formula 1 entry for 2026 onwards.
The giant German marque has begun the process of taking over the Sauber team, currently badged up as Alfa Romeo until the end of 2023, and is scheduled to complete its takeover ready for the 2026 F1 season, which will see Audi run a works team with its own power unit.
Indeed, the news was confirmed at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2022 to much fanfare.
Bringing in a name like Audi is something that F1 wants to see more of in the future, with the sport enjoying huge growth in popularity. Companies like Ford are also set to be in the mix from 2026 as they link up with Red Bull, whilst Honda is partnering up exclusively with Aston Martin.
These big automotive hitters like the look of where F1 is heading with certain aspects of its 2026 regulations, including sustainable fuels, and Audi is set to join the power unit production ranks alongside the aforementioned Honda and Ford (who are complementing Red Bull Powertrains) as well as the already established Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault.
The Audi project is one that F1 and many of the teams are going to cite as an example to follow for further potential teams wanting to join the grid – take note Andretti – and so any chance of the German giants suddenly pulling the plug would come as a blow.
Indeed, over the weekend, Radio Le Mans reported that the project is being reviewed and would be put to a vote by the board, with a decision on whether to continue with its F1 plans to be made at the conclusion of the 2023 season.
Radio Le Mans stopped short of saying Audi is definitely going to pull out of F1 before the project has really got going, but the suggestion that they could even decide to make a U-turn has naturally generated a fair few headlines off of the back of it.
“We have said [Audi’s F1 project] is being reviewed with no decision due until after the end of the F1 season,” said Radio Le Mans on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Naturally, Audi have totally denied that it’s wavering over its plans to join the grid: “Audi‘s F1 entry in 2026 is based on a decision of the Board of AUDI AG in alignment with the Supervisory Board of AUDI AG as well as the Board and the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen Group,” a statement read.
“The schedule of Audi Formula Racing GmbH for the build-up of the organisation and the development of the 2026 F1 Power Unit at the site in Neuburg/Germany remains unchanged.”
The line from Audi is that the manufacturer is still full steam ahead with planning for 2026, with preparations made to bring an end to other customer racing operations in other championships to help focus on its expanding F1 work.
Indeed, at the weekend, Audi held a Family Festival at their Neuberg facility to bring an update on the F1 side, with board member and chief technical officer Oliver Hoffmann and CEO of Audi Formula Racing Adam Baker also in attendance.
Nevertheless, the rumours have caused a stir inside the paddock and outside of it, with rumblings – though minor at this stage – concerning the story at the Lusail International Circuit over the weekend in Qatar.
Whilst it seems quite unlikely that Audi would now decide to pull out of F1, especially with the investment that it has already put into the programme, it has been described as still something that ‘could’ potentially materialise by some.
The general feeling in the paddock is that it would be a massive surprise, with one Sauber spokesperson describing the rumours over Audi getting cold feet simply as “crap”. Going on to ask why Audi would invest so much already if it was already having doubts about the project.
Of course, those connected to Audi and Sauber are hardly going to sit there and say ‘We’re going to pull out, that’s that,’ and so the lines given are to be expected.
Radio Le Mans maintains that a review of the project will be held at the end of the season, though, and so whilst that stays on the table, there remains even a slight possibility that a dramatic reversal could be pulled out of the blue by Audi.
As for Alfa Romeo and Sauber in the near future, meanwhile, the former is currently on course to leave the sport, whilst the latter could go back to its eponymous name for 2024 – though conversations are ongoing as to just what the team will be called and a full decision is yet to be made.
With the Alfa Romeo name, there have been rumours over whether the Italian brand could end up badging up the Haas cars for 2024, as they have done at Sauber, with the team also sharing close Italian ties with Ferrari.
On that front, though, there has been speculation but nothing more concrete than that.
This was shown first on: https://www.motorsportweek.com/2023/10/12/addressing-the-audi-f1-pull-out-rumours/