In August of last year, we were somewhat shocked when Audi confirmed that it would enter Formula 1 in 2026. Rumors had swirled for many years that Volkswagen Group was considering entering the sport with one or more of its brands, even as Audi and then Porsche racked up win after win in other categories. But those rumors never seemed to go anywhere, earning a kind of vaporware status similar to the infamous Duke Nukem Forever.
That game did eventually see the light of day, though, and so too will Audi's F1 ambitions when it takes over the Sauber team as F1 ushers in a new set of technical regulations. We recently spoke with Oliver Hoffmann, Audi's board member for technical development, who told us more about the company's F1 plans and how entering that sport should help some of its road cars.
Audi will be new to F1 when it joins the sport in three years, but it's certainly not new to motorsport. In the 1980s, it made a name for itself—and its "quattro" all-wheel drive technology—in the World Rally Championship. More recently, it dominated endurance racing for almost two decades, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans 13 times between 2000 and 2016, plus two World Endurance Championships and nine American Le Mans Series championships. While doing so, it proved the value of new technology that transferred to its road cars—direct injection gasoline engines, direct injection turbo diesel engines, hybrid powertrains, and laser beam headlights, to name just a few.
After a few years in the doldrums—a fallow period following Audi's withdrawal from the sport at the end of 2016—endurance racing is going through something of a renaissance. There's a new rulebook, which keeps costs much lower than the hundreds of millions of euros that Audi and Porsche spent on fiendishly complicated so-called LMP1h race cars, and Audi was set to take part until it reversed that decision last year. I asked Hoffmann about why the company is making such a sudden switch when sports cars seemed to be a more natural fit for the brand.
"For us, it's very, very important to be progressive and to be pioneers on the technology itself. When we looked at 'what is the right motorsport series for the future,' it was very important for us to show 'vorsprung durch technik' and to be progressive, and I think Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport," Hoffmann told me.
It was actually the new cost-controlled regulations, along with a lot of standard parts, that doomed Audi's sports car program. "I really appreciate, cost-wise, bringing technological solutions together to say, 'OK, there's a platform solution,' but there's not enough room to be innovative," he explained. (The ruleset known as LMDh, which Audi was going to enter, requires participants to use the same standard transmission, hybrid battery, and electric motor.)
Ironically, Formula 1's program to rein in costs was a big factor in making that series more attractive to Audi. But a larger draw was new powertrain regulations starting in 2026.
Along with a switch to carbon-neutral fuels, the new technical rules made the sport highly attractive to automakers once again—Ford will be represented in F1 in 2026, as will Audi, Alpine, Honda, Ferrari, and Mercedes-AMG. Cadillac is also looking for a place on the grid.
F1 cars currently use two different hybrid systems. There's an MGU-K, which harvests kinetic energy under braking, and an MGU-H, which uses a turbine spun by exhaust gasses to also charge the battery. The MGU-H has been extremely expensive to develop and has limited road car applications, so it's being dropped for 2026. Instead, the MGU-K will be far more powerful to compensate.