From 2026, the first Audi factory racing car for Formula 1 will be built in Hinwil, Switzerland. There are still three years left to strengthen the Sauber racing team. The strategic partners have to invest in the infrastructure and recruit new staff.
Audi has already taken the first steps on the way to Formula 1. The Motorsport headquarters in Neuburg an der Donau is being upgraded. Audi is building another building there for the engine test benches and is also increasing its staff. Around 220 employees have been working on the engine project so far. The manufacturer has set a target of 300 for mid-2023.
That's roughly the size of Red Bull Powertrains. Ferrari and Mercedes employ twice as many. More than 800 employees work in Brixworth in the Mercedes engine forge. That's a significant difference that at first seems difficult to make up for. However, Audi has built up good know-how for electric drives through its time in Le Mans and the Dakar Rally. And from 2026 it will be weighted just as highly as the combustion engine - and will be more important in development.
Audi has teamed up with Sauber to build the car. There is talk of a strategic partnership. Audi will gradually acquire shares in the racing team so that a factory racing car will be built for the 2026 Formula 1 season in Switzerland. From then on, the four rings will characterize the Hinwil location. Until then, there are still a few steps to be taken. The Sauber Group needs a better infrastructure with test benches for the car and more staff. For example, a "Virtual Test Track" – VTT for short – for cars, engines and transmissions is Audi's construction site.
More engineers, better tools
As the new CEO, Andreas Seidl will be the top construction manager. Audi-Sauber poached him from McLaren. Seidl's task is to get the racing team fit so that the entry into Audi runs as smoothly as possible. He is familiar with this task. At Porsche, the Bavarian helped set up the LMP1 project. With the result of three overall Le Mans victories between 2015 and 2017.
Audi has set itself ambitious goals. The premium brand wants to be competitive within three years of entering Formula 1. Based on previous experience, this usually takes at least around five years. The budget caps for chassis and engines should help to shorten the path to competitiveness. But you also have to invest in the racing team.
With sixth place in the team world championship this season, Sauber has shown that the structures are right. That a capable technical team is at work, working efficiently. But to get to the top of Formula 1, it takes more everywhere. More engineers and better tools. And there is a timetable for that.
Sauber with room for improvement
Sauber has had a few dreary years in which you drove in the rear of Formula 1. It was the result of a lack of investment in the Formula 1 team between 2009 and 2016. Money was tight at the time, which eventually had to take revenge. In Formula 1, standing still means going backwards. In 2017, Sauber even fell to the last place in the World Cup. This was followed by three eighth places, a ninth place in 2021 and sixth place in 2022. The last time Sauber finished the world championship this high was in 2012. The engineering team made the right decisions to immediately build a car at minimum weight and embark on an aggressive development schedule for the first races of the season.
As you can see, it took an eternity for the racing team to meet its own standards again. Until you had fought your way back into the broad midfield, although you didn't even fully exploit the budget cap this year. So there is still room for improvement – even without an Audi. The lack of money meanwhile slowed down the development. Around ten million are said to have been missing up to the upper limit.
With this money you can take intermediate steps in development. Without it you have to take a "break" and pool your resources. An example: With money you could develop a new front wing for the fifth race and further improve it for the tenth race. Without it, you save yourself the intermediate stage and just build the second wing, which on paper promises the greatest possible gain in time.
Software update for wind tunnel
When Finn Rausing and his company took over the racing team a few years ago, there was money in the till again. Sauber was able to invest in the infrastructure again. But Formula 1 is also a game of patience. There is no such thing as quick success. The rejuvenation, which was not so necessary on the hardware side of the development tools, but especially on the software, only took effect gradually - and especially in 2022.
A major weakness was brought to light in the past season. It takes too long for ideas from the technical office to be seen on the racetrack. Sauber needs to increase production capacity. Large investments are necessary to turn a small team into a large one over the years. Money has to flow into new machines and of course also into the personnel for the production of the cars. These infrastructure projects are already up and running. There is a clear plan of what to do. The new CEO, Andreas Seidl, will certainly contribute and promote his ideas.
Audi is very familiar with the Sauber wind tunnel in Hinwil. The racing car for Le Mans and the class one car for the DTM have already been developed around four hours' drive from their own motorsport headquarters. The past season showed that Sauber can rely on its wind tunnel.It spits out reliable results. What works in the wind tunnel also brings better lap times on the racetrack. The hardware is good. The software still needs an update at one point or another.
Sauber recruits engineers
This also applies to computer development. Clean needs to invest in better CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software to approach the level of the top Formula 1 teams. CFD technology is developing at breakneck speed. You have to keep up to date and invest in new clusters. The driver simulator is also subject to constant further development. Sauber has been running its own in Hinwil for a year and a half now. You're definitely still a few steps behind the top teams.
We have already spoken about new employees for production that the racing team has to hire. Sauber also needs more engineers for vehicle development – for example aerodynamicists. In Hinwil, between 500 and 550 people are currently employed for the entire Formula 1 team. 200 to 300 fewer than the top teams in the premier class. More people equals more ideas. And more projects.
In 2022, Sauber shifted the resources in the development department to next year's car early on, even though new parts were added to the C42 in Japan and Austin. Parallel development can be managed (better) with more engineers. Clean has to grow – so that Audi can play in the concert of the big ones. That's the claim.
More wages, less inflation
Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull had to cut staff as part of the introduction of the budget cap. But the big bloodletting that some had expected never happened. It's not the case that Audi can hardly save itself from applications. At least that's what you hear. One problem: If you want to poach engineers, you have to give them more. Means: pay more. And that in turn clashes with the budget cap. With Seidl as site manager, Sauber-Audi has to be extremely skilful.
The high wage level in Switzerland is also repeatedly mentioned as a reason that speaks against the new partnership. Engineers in England cost a team proportionately less. On the other hand, inflation in Switzerland is currently only around three percent. In England/Europe, on the other hand, it is over ten percent. And in Switzerland the tax rate is lower. So there are advantages and disadvantages, which are greater or smaller depending on the world situation.