Ex-Toyota racer linked with Audi F1 team principal role

Sam Cooper
Cristiano da Matta sat on a wheel. Cologne, January 2004.

Cristiano da Matta sat on the wheel of his Toyota car. Cologne, January 2004.

A former Toyota racer has been linked with the role of team principal at Audi as the German manufacturer prepares for its Formula 1 entry.

The arrival of Audi onto the F1 grid was first initiated in May when then-CEO of Volkswagen Herbert Diess announced that both Audi and Porsche would be entering the sport in 2026.

While Porsche’s entry has hit a stumbling block following the collapse of a deal with Red Bull, Audi’s arrival as an engine supplier for the time being was confirmed before the Belgian Grand Prix.

There have been no shortages of rumours when it comes to Audi also having their own team on the grid with a suspected purchase of the Sauber team, who are ending their partnership with Alfa Romeo after 2023, their most likely route in.

Development preparations at Audi are already underway, those having begun six months ago, and the F1 department in Neuburg is already 120 people strong, headed by Adam Baker who is a former Cosworth, BMW and FIA man.

As the details of the deal with Sauber, which is rumoured to involve Audi buying 75% of the company, are being finalised, Audi have also been working on the logistics of their future operation and are said to have lined up a candidate for the role of team principal.

Italian publication Gazzetta Motori has reported that Cristiano Da Matta is the man in the frame for the job. The Brazilian is of racing pedigree having driven for the Toyota F1 team in the 2003 and 2004 seasons before moving back to the United States, where he had previously competed in IndyLights, to take part in the Champ Car World Series.

At the age of 48, Da Matta would become the second youngest team principal on the grid, just 58 days older than Red Bull’s Christian Horner.

Horner has warned Audi that they should not underestimate the challenge of F1 despite being one of the largest car manufactures in the world.

“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.”