Christian Horner warns Audi: Don’t underestimate scale of F1 challenge

Thomas Maher
Audi F1 mock car is revealed at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, August 2022.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said Audi face a stern challenge to get up to standard when they enter F1 as an engine manufacturer for 2026.

In the lead-up to last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Audi made the long-awaited announcement that they will join Formula 1 from 2026 – the German manufacturer will become a new engine supplier.

The FIA also recently confirmed the plans for the 2026 engine regulations, with these being critical to the Volkswagen Group’s decision to enter the sport.

Yet to confirm a team with whom they’ll align with, or supply, Audi have begun work on their power unit with a new facility in Neuburg already boasting 120 employees, headed by former Cosworth and BMW engineer Adam Baker.

Christian Horner, who is overseeing the development of Red Bull’s own engine programme as their Powertrains division also looks ahead to 2026, has said F1 won’t be an easy task for Audi – despite their tremendous successes in other motorsports such as the World Endurance Championship and Dakar.

“You absolutely shouldn’t underestimate the scale of the challenge,” he told media during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

“I mean, it’s massive when you look at the current incumbents that we’re competing against, the longevity, the continuity that they’ve had.

“Of course, a company like Audi’s reputation talks for itself. But the scale and the size of the challenge, as we’ve seen ourselves at Red Bull, is enormous, especially when you’re starting from scratch. It’s exciting, because it is a challenge and, you know, you have to believe anything is possible.

“The regulations are a key aspect to that, and the timing, you know, thankfully the regulations were delayed 12 months to 2026, otherwise, I don’t think you would have seen either potentially Red Bull or Audi participating in the sport, but even 2026… You know, it’s 10 past midnight and Cinderella’s already buggered off.

“So, it’s tight, but that’s Formula 1 and that’s some of the creativeness and drive that happens within the teams and, you know, it’s going to be exciting to see more power unit manufacturers on the grid for 2026.”

Mercedes: Audi won’t struggle more than anyone else

Hywel Thomas, managing director of Mercedes‘ High-Performance Powertrains, said that Audi’s experience and capabilities mean they aren’t likely to struggle any more than any of the existing manufacturers as preparations for 2026 ramp up.

“Someone like Audi is not new to making combustion engines, they’re not new to making racing engines, and they’re not new to electrical racing,” he said.
Mocked-up Audi Formula 1 car. Spa-Francorchamps August 2022.

“So whilst I’m sure there will be a lot of new technology, a lot of differences, they’ll have, I’m sure, a very capable engineering team and a very capable operations team to back that up.

“Yeah, it’s going to be tough, but then it’ll be tough for all of us. We’ve all got the same constraints in terms of the cost cap. We’ve all got the same constraints for physics. And I’m sure the engineering teams of all the groups will be looking at these regulations with a lot of excitement, and with a lot of plans of how they’re going to exploit them.”

Mercedes shifting focus to 2026

Thomas also went on to explain that work at Mercedes’ engine facility at Brixworth has started on the ’26 engine programme, now that the regulations for the next cycle have been confirmed.

“We’ve got a project team working on 2026,” he confirmed.

“We continue to push very hard in our existing programmes as well. We’ve got a couple of projects coming to an end such as Formula E, which means we’re able to move some other people over to the 2026 programme, which is exciting.

“The regulations between now and 2026 (the engine freeze) have very much encouraged us to reduce the amount of engineering and the amount of business that is working on the existing product, by reducing things like the dyno hours, so it’s a bit of a moveable feast.

“We’ve got a good-sized project team already working on it and have done for a little while, as I’m sure everybody has. And as we go forward, we’re going to have to move more across because, although 2026 seems a long way away, it’s going to very quickly approach.”