Opinion: Audi-Sauber deal proves F1 needs more teams like Andretti

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On Wednesday, Audi finally confirmed the details of its entry into Formula 1 in 2026 by announcing a strategic partnership with Sauber.

Under the deal, the Swiss outfit, currently competing as Alfa Romeo, will become the de facto Audi works team, with the company set to buy an increasing stake in Sauber over the coming years.

Then, come 2026, the German manufacturer will produce the new power units at their Motorsport Competence Center in Neuburg, while Sauber will be responsible for the chassis and operation of the team from their base in Hinwil.

This isn't the first time Sauber has made such a deal as the team competed as BMW during the late 2000s, winning their only Grand Prix in Canada in 2008. 

Kubica BMWSauber CanGP

And ambitions are also set high this time, with Audi targeting success within three years of their entry onto the grid.

This arrangement though comes at an exciting moment for F1 amid booming interest from fans and potential entries.

Porsche is still actively seeking to enter F1 in 2026, despite talks of a partnership deal with Red Bull falling through.

Honda too appears to have regretted its decision to leave at the end of 2021 by extending its cooperation with Red Bull until 2025 and potentially considering another return in 2026.

While F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has also suggested other manufacturers are also in communication about entering.

But the key question about these manufacturers is how far would their interest in F1 go.

Are they solely focused on becoming power unit suppliers or will they take the plunge of launching their own team too?

Andretti MiamiGP

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk over new teams joining the grid, led by Andretti, which is desperate to join the grid in 2024.

Yet despite having the finances and the appeal of being American, their approach has been strongly rebuffed by most teams and Domenicali himself.

For the teams, the reasoning is mostly financial as more teams would potentially mean less prize money despite any new entry having to stump up $200m that would then be equally shared among the current competitors to avoid dilution.

But in Domenicali's case, his thought is any new team entries should be reserved for manufacturers because they would offer more value to F1, instead of an independent team like Andretti.

However, the extortionate costs of F1 have meant the last manufacturer to go all in on an engine and chassis project was Toyota in 2002, with all manufacturer entries since being takeovers of existing teams.

Toyota 2002 FraGP

And while the much-talked-about budget cap for constructors, and a similar one for engine suppliers being introduced in 2025, have reduced the cost of competing.

Collabs such as the Audi-Sauber one do feel indicative of the route most manufacturers would likely want to take to enter F1.

Currently, there are plenty of options on the grid available for such tie-ups, like Williams, Haas, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri.

But if F1 is serious about attracting new teams too, then even Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who has been one of the most vocal opposers of Andretti's bid, hints the teams would also be more open-minded too with manufacturer support.

“Formula 1 thrives because we have 10 teams, each with a different DNA, dedicated to Formula 1, most of which have spent more than a few billion over many years,” he said via motorsport-magazin.com.

“That has made Formula 1 what it is today.

“If a new team wants to join, anyone is free to propose it to the FIA, then the FIA and F1 have to investigate whether that team is suitable for our business. That has not been the case so far.

“If a team comes with a new engine supplier and says this is what we want to do, then, of course, it’s a whole different ball game and will trigger different considerations, that’s the point for me as a team owner. It’s not a problem to share the cake if the cake is bigger.”