Q&A with Audi Formula Racing Chief Technology Officer Stefan Dreyer

Audi is already testing the power unit it will use to compete in Formula 1 starting in 2026.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

July 5, 2024

6 Min Read
A rendering of what Audi's Formula 1 racer will look like in 2026.
A rendering of what Audi's Formula 1 racer will look like in 2026.Audi Formula Racing

At a Glance

  • Audi bought the Sauber Formula 1 team
  • They've already built and tested the 2026 power unit
  • The next step is full powertrain testing with the transmission mated to the power unit

As Formula 1 racing has exploded in popularity, thanks in part to the Netflix Drive to Survive docu-series, new manufacturers have announced plans to join the series when the next new technical specifications take effect for the 2026 season.

Ford has partnered with Red Bull and Audi is taking over the Swiss Sauber racing team, currently competing as Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber. Cadillac has announced its intent to enter as the engine supplier to Michael Andretti’s planned F1 team, but series organizers continue to rebuff Andretti’s efforts to join. Audi avoided such problems by buying an existing team, in this case, Sauber.

Even though Audi’s F1 effort will be launched from an existing team, building a competitive hybrid-electric Formula 1 power unit from scratch is a daunting task. When Honda re-entered F1 with McLaren in 2015, the result was so dismal that the team was an unbelievable 5.1 seconds slower than the pole sitter at the season-opening race.

Audi’s methodical approach, unlike the rushed Honda effort, will avoid such problems in part through thorough testing over the next year and a half. That started with the power unit successfully completing a full simulated race distance on the company’s dynamometer.

With this success, Audi Formula Racing chief technical officer Stefan Dreyer provided some insight into the team’s progress with a Q&A.

Related:What It Is Like Engineering an F1 Car

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Q: What has Audi Formula Racing been able to achieve during its two years of preparation?

Stefan Dreyer: We implemented a very ambitious modernization and expansion of our test facility. Today, we have 22 state-of-the-art test benches at the site. Our new development tools are state-of-the-art and have enabled us to achieve a steep learning curve.

By testing on the test bench under simulated racing conditions we gain important insights in this phase of the project. After the successful race distances with the Power Unit we will soon be doing the same with the entire drive system, which means the combination of Power Unit and transmission. At the same time, we are going full throttle with performance development in order to achieve the goals we have set ourselves.

Q: Which simulated tracks are being raced on the dyno?

Stefan Dreyer: We run the Power Unit on the test bench with different layouts from the current F1 calendar, depending on the purpose of the test. For example, Las Vegas is interesting for our development team in terms of overall energy management. Several alternating fast and slow corners and almost two kilometers of full-throttle driving on the Las Vegas Strip provide the perfect development environment for fine-tuning the combustion engine and the ERS (Energy Recovery System) components.

Related:Red Bull Racing Employs Ansys Simulation to Help Win F1 Races

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Q: How is the development department organized for this project?

Stefan Dreyer: It was particularly important to establish a broad base in all areas, to create a good foundation for the development of the individual components – combustion engine, electric motor, battery, control electronics, software – to coordinate them with each other at an early stage.

Our experience from previous motorsport projects with high-voltage technology, Le Mans, Formula E, but also from the current Dakar project, has helped us a lot. We have already proven in the past that we can develop conventional, hybridized, and purely electric drivetrains. Nevertheless, the challenge in Formula 1 is a completely different one in terms of cutting-edge technology and competition. This also applies to our partners and suppliers – we are experiencing a very strong commitment from all sides.

Q: Now that the construction of Audi Formula Racing’s facility in Neuburg, Germany is complete, is the team’s intensity increasing?

Stefan Dreyer: Intensity is a good keyword for our performance development. The regulations allow a total of three test benches for single-cylinder tests, for example, which are not limited by the FIA in terms of operating times. We use this maximum number at the facility as intensively as possible for the development of combustion processes for internal combustion engines.

Related:How to Build a Better Formula 1 Car

So far, we have achieved all the targets we set ourselves for performance and efficiency in this phase. In addition, our fuel development has been running since 2022 with a strong partner who has many years of experience in Formula 1. This is a really decisive factor for our project, as the new sustainable fuel for 2026 will have even greater competitive relevance.

Q: How important was the existing infrastructure at the Neuburg site?

Stefan Dreyer: The infrastructure created by Audi for motorsport in 2014 has been a very good basis. It has put us in a position to start Power Unit development in 2022. To adapt this infrastructure to the Formula 1 use case, we built a new building for additional test benches, state-of-the-art workshops and laboratories in parallel with our development activities. That enables us to continue development at full throttle.

Q: This means that for the first time in recent years, an F1 Power Unit is being developed in Germany again. Was it difficult to recruit employees for the Neuburg site?

Stefan Dreyer: Not only do we have a broad international base, but we have also strengthened our existing motorsport expertise at Audi Sport with external F1 expertise. This has helped to accelerate our learning curve considerably. Everyone is giving the project maximum speed and is eagerly looking forward to entering Formula 1. Motivation is extremely high, and we sense a strong team spirit.

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Q: What topics are Audi Formula Racing in Neuburg and Team Sauber in Hinwil, Switzerland already working on together?

Stefan Dreyer: On the technical side, we are already working in a genuine factory team mode across both sites. The focus here is on integrating the Power Unit with important details such as thermal management.There is also close cooperation on the gearbox. We develop the internals in Neuburg, while the structural parts such as the gearbox housing and rear axle are produced in Hinwil. Testing of the complete drive, consisting of the Power Unit and transmission, then takes place on our powertrain test bench. This division is expedient in terms of performance and expertise.

About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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