Jacques Villeneuve takes shot at Renault over ‘very dangerous’ Audi F1 2026 entry

Jamie Woodhouse
A studio image of Audi's F1 showcar

A studio image of Audi's F1 showcar

1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve says manufacturers like Audi can be prone to a sudden change of heart and so “very dangerous” for the series, as he pondered how successful the team will actually be.

Audi will join the Formula 1 grid in 2026, coinciding with the introduction of new chassis and power unit regulations. Initially, a partnership to make Sauber the Audi works teams was going to be their route in, but now Audi intends to purchase the team fully in time for their F1 arrival.

‘Are Audi joining in Renault way or to actually be racers?’

Sauber therefore are at the stage of building up for the Audi era, though the team risks being a base in need of vast improvement for the German brand, with Sauber still searching for their first point of the F1 2024 campaign.

After starting the new F1 regulatory era strong in 2022 under their previous Alfa Romeo identity, it has been a story of decline for the team since, which Villeneuve argues already will hamper Audi upon their arrival, as the improvements required cannot “happen overnight”.

“They’re joining with a team that hasn’t been any good for so many years,” Villeneuve told Sports Illustrated. “And you just can’t invent know-how. It’s something that you build over time.

“You can see it with Williams. They stay kind of good for a while, but you pay the price of pay drivers, of all that, you pay it late. And now the team has been rebuilding, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It also takes time. So, it won’t happen overnight.”

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The next question mark which Villeneuve has is over Audi’s intentions for their Formula 1 team.

Despite the talk of wanting to reach the very summit of F1, Villeneuve pointed to Renault, a team which speaks of the same ambitions for their team Alpine, yet also finds itself without a point so far in F1 2024. Since Renault returned to the grid as a manufacturer in 2016, just one race win has been achieved.

Alpine has recently rubbished speculation that Renault are considering selling the team, as Villeneueve also warned that manufacturers can be “very dangerous” for F1 when it comes to the threat of withdrawing, versus independent teams like Williams who exist for Formula 1.

“And then how are they joining?” Villeneuve continued. “Are they joining the same way Renault/Alpine joined just to be part of F1 and make some image or to actually be racers and try and go out and win? That we don’t know.

“What’s dangerous with constructors when they come in is they can easily in five minutes decide, ‘okay, we’re gone, bye’ and they leave and they don’t care. They’re great for the sport, but they’re also very dangerous in that respect. Where a team like Williams cannot leave. It exists with and because of F1. What does Williams do if they stop F1? Nothing.

“So, you’re kind of secure in the knowledge that they will find a way to persevere to get better and because it’s their bread and butter.”

Current Sauber drivers Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu are fighting to make themselves a part of Audi’s future, with the contracts of both drivers set to expire at the end of the F1 2024 campaign.

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