In Neuburg an der Donau, not far from Audi’s headquarters in Ingolstadt, Adam Baker is orchestrating the Formula One project for the German carmaker. The Volkswagen subsidiary is developing the engine in the Upper Bavarian renaissance town, while the chassis is being built by the experienced Swiss veteran team Sauber headed by the new CEO Andreas Seidl. Audi will then compete as a works team in Formula 1 from 2026. Baker reveals the German manufacturers’ Formula 1 plans.
Adam Baker grew up on the Mornington Peninsula. The peninsula with its coastal charm and wine country is a recreational area south of the Australian metropolis of Melbourne.
Until a few years ago, Formula 1 still traditionally started the new season in the capital of the state of Victoria. But the Corona pandemic has also shaken up the racing calendar. Will Formula 1 return to Melbourne for the season opener by 2026? For Baker, at any rate, the Grand Prix start with Audi in front of family and friends would be something very special. But the Formula 1 project manager, who has held a German passport since 2018, has long felt at home in Germany.
“For me, Bavaria became home 15 years ago,” Baker told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur at Audi’s Driver Experience Centre, where the meeting rooms are named after race tracks. He took his seat at Sebring, a circuit in the US state of Florida.
“Munich is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the city is so international. In the countryside, on the other hand, it’s different. When you experience village life for the first time and can really integrate there, you experience how warm the people are.”
Conquering Formula 1
“We have signed up for the period 2026 to 2030. We want to be in a position to be fighting for wins after three years,” said Baker, who at the same time is bracing himself for a difficult early period.
“You have to be realistic. The first and second year can also be tough. It’s very difficult to predict though,” he admitted.
Baker studied mechanical engineering in Melbourne, later becoming an engine engineer with Formula One engine manufacturer Cosworth before heading up Formula One engine development for BMW.
“We were proud then with BMW-Sauber that we improved our performance year on year. We finished second in the constructors’ championship in the second year and then won the first race in the third year,” Baker recalled of the BMW-Sauber collaboration from 2006 to 2009.
“Personally, I feel there’s still a score to settle.”
Audi wants to be competitive in three years
Because BMW made an abrupt exit at that time. Sales problems due to the global economic crisis and a disappointing 2009 season in terms of sport prompted the board to act.
At that time, the current Audi boss Markus Duesmann was head of development. Wins or even a fight for the world championship title in the first year after the entry were “not realistic”, Duesmann said when announcing the entry in Spa in August.
“Within three years we should be very competitive.”
Audi wants to make the most of Formula 1’s booming platform. That the motorsport pinnacle wants to become more sustainable fits in with the car manufacturers’ self-image. The cost cap also makes the billion-dollar venture more predictable.
However, Audi, which has been preparing its entry for almost two years, will have to open its books at the turn of the year.
“We will be standing on our own two feet with Audi Formula Racing GmbH from 1 January due to the cost cap. We have therefore bundled all activities in a new GmbH. This allows Fia to identify and assess all costs associated with the Formula One project,” explained Baker, who is the managing director of this GmbH.
Since 2021, there has been a budget cap in Formula 1. This is intended to prevent an arms race among the teams without regard to financial resources. Equal opportunities and financial stability are the goals. From next season onwards, Red Bull & Co. are only allowed to spend 135 million US dollars (the equivalent of around 127 million euros) per year.
From 2026, new technical regulations apply
The financial framework has been at least as important for a newcomer like Audi as the new technical regulations that will apply from 2026.
“On the power unit and chassis side, it will be the biggest change in the technical regulations for 20 or 30 years. It opens up greater opportunities to be competitive faster as a newcomer,” said Baker.
The cost cap will ensure fair competition. But the challenge will be “as enormous as it has ever been in Formula One”, found Baker, who was previously safety director at Fia, the world governing body for automobiles.
“If you do a good job, there’s a chance you can be right up there at the front in 2026.”
But industry leaders Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes claim the top spots for themselves. Audi is even building on for the XXL project. A new building of around 3000 square metres at the motorsport centre in Neuburg will primarily house new test benches for the development of the drive unit. This will create the “best possible conditions for being successful in the pinnacle of motorsport”, said Audi Board Member for Technology Oliver Hoffmann.
Baker reports to Hoffmann on the development steps. The power unit is currently being developed, and Audi will be working with Sauber on the concept for the new Formula 1 car at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. Testing is scheduled for 2025 before the real thing comes in 2026 with the construction of the racing cars.
“The pressure from outside is palpable, we also expected it. We are aware of the size of the challenge,” Baker admitted.
“We can already foresee what we will have to achieve to be successful in 2026. That’s why the pressure we put on ourselves internally at Audi is just as great.”