Ahead of Audi’s arrival, Alfa Romeo will end their title sponsorship of Sauber at the end of the 2023 campaign. The Swiss team will continue to use Ferrari power units through to the end of 2025, before taking on Audi power for the following campaign.
A few weeks ago, in Spa Francorchamps, the company symbolised by the four interlocking rings had announced to the world their plans to enter Formula 1. From that moment, it was the end of August, a lot of water has passed under the bridges. The Porsche subsidiary, after trying to associate with Red Bull, has seen its program fail due to the sudden change of mind of the Austrian side. Perhaps also due to the fact that Honda may still be in the game even after 2025.
The Volkswagen group, which wants to be among the top teams in Formula 1 and not just a guest star in the most important racing series, has therefore staked all the chips on the Swiss team that, in the summer, had extended the partnership with Alfa Romeo by just one year, leaking the intention not to stay in Formula 1 beyond the 2023 championship. The joint press releases that we report below were published a few days ago:
“With around 30 years of competitive experience, Sauber is one of the most renowned and traditional teams in Formula 1. While the power unit will be created at Audi’s Motorsport Competence Center in Neuburg an der Donau, Sauber will develop and manufacture the race car at its site in Hinwil (Switzerland). Sauber will also be responsible for planning and executing the race operations. The timetable up to the first race with Audi participation in the 2026 season is ambitious: The expansion of the Neuburg facility in terms of personnel, buildings and technical infrastructure should be largely in place in 2023. The first tests with the power unit developed for the 2026 regulations in a Formula 1 test car are planned for 2025.”
The statements from the Swiss team “respond” to the announcement made by the German manufacturer:
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“Audi is the best partner for the Sauber Group,” says Finn Rausing, Chairman of Sauber Holding. “It is clear that both companies share the same values and vision. We are looking forward to achieving our common goals with a strong and successful partnership.”
Enthusiastic comments also from Frederic Vasseur, team principal and managing director of the Hinwil franchise: “The partnership between Audi AG and Sauber Motorsport is a fundamental step for our team as it continues to make progress towards the first appearances on the grid. Becoming the Audi works team is not only an honor and a great responsibility, but it is the best option for the future and we are fully confident that we can help Audi achieve the goals it has set for itself in its Formula One journey”.
What the official press releases do not specifically explain are the terms of the partnership. This will be a much stronger relationship than that between a supplier and a customer team. Audi will apply a sort of technical control that, legally, will not be comparable to that BMW had in 2005, when they acquired the team and then handed it back to Peter Sauber in July 2009. But, in essence, partnership with the Germans will be much tighter than one might think because the specialists from the Neuburg an der Donau team will take their expertise in the Hinwil office.
With this maneuver, Sauber and Audi, who will therefore not prevail over each other, intend, in the medium term, to climb the rankings and become a winning reality in a Formula 1 increasingly modeled by American ownership. The partnership formed by the two companies is a new power block which aspires to join the triumvirate that today leads Formula 1: Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.
But only the Maranello team comes out weakened by this new Central European motoring hub. Ferrari, to begin with, loses a business partner. It is true that the group which controls the historic Italian team will no longer have to pay Sauber to see the Alfa Romeo brand on the sides, but will not be able to count on the revenue guaranteed by the supply of engines. And it is not a zero-sum situation, because the economic income from marketing was quite substantial. So there is a first financial blow to recover from.
Furthermore, Ferrari will no longer be able to count on a precious ally in the meeting rooms where the balance of power in Formula 1 is shifted through the definition of new rules. It is one thing to know that you start with three votes, another to have only two.
Thirdly, even technically, Scuderia Ferrari will suffer a loos given the fact that, even if the rules are rather strict in this regard, a certain transfer of data and expertise is expected when an engine supplier is involved. As if that wasn’t enough, several technicians have, over the years, went from Ferrari to Alfa Romeo or the other way around, increasing the knowledge of both teams.
Sauber, let’s not forget, was also a sort of training ground for the Scuderia Ferrari drivers. Charles Leclerc did a very important ‘apprenticeship’ with the Swiss team, before being promoted to the Maranello team. Ferrari will no longer be able to find seats on the F1 grid for its talented Academy drivers so easily.
Clearly, the close working relationship between Audi and Sauber will officially begin from 2026, but already from 2024 the collaboration will become much closer. And we also most not forget that until the end of the power unit developed freeze, the Ferrari engines will still be inside the Swiss cars. With Audi that, indirectly, could steal some precious secrets.