Former Grand Prix driver turned Audi motorsport chief Allan McNish has described a “very busy” but “exciting” time for the manufacturer as work continues to gather pace ahead of their Formula 1 entry.
Last year, Audi announced plans to enter F1 in 2026 – when new engine regulations come into play – as a power unit supplier, before confirming that they will make Sauber their works team.
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Audi will create the power unit at their factory in Neuburg, Germany, while Sauber will develop and manufacture the car at their headquarters in Hinwil, Switzerland.
McNish, who is now Director of Coordination for Audi Group Motorsport after a spell leading the brand’s Formula E team, spoke of the hard work being put in by employees already involved in the F1 project, and the general feeling of excitement amongst them.
“I tell you, it’s been a very busy last 18 months, certainly… 2022 has been pretty much hectic, like I’ve never seen before. To think that ‘26 is still quite a long way away… but it’s only around the corner,” McNish told the Motor Sport Magazine Podcast.
“I’ve been involved now for over 20 years with Audi, and this is part of that progression. It’s an exciting time. I don’t think there’s anybody within the company that’s not looking forward to that first race in 2026.”
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But McNish, who contested the 2002 F1 season with Toyota in-between three class victories at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans (including two wins for Audi), made clear that he is not underestimating the challenge ahead.
Using his own career as an example, he continued: “Obviously I was with Toyota at Le Mans, and then jumping into F1 it was a completely different game. Just in terms of the personnel, [it] had to multiply by three, to be able to produce an F1 programme.
“Admittedly, that was 20 years ago, that was when budgets were unlimited, engines were unlimited… you would use three engines through the course of an F1 weekend. Now, you’re looking at basically that number over the season – so there are a lot of changes.
“However, what was very clear to me, was when I moved from Toyota at the end of 2002 to Renault, for the third driver – remember they had the Friday testing at that point – and also the reserve role there, my first lap in the Renault around Barcelona, my first-ever lap, was quicker than my qualifying lap in the Toyota.
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“So the difference between, I would say, people that are fighting in the middle, where I have to be honest, Toyota were towards the end of the season, at best, to where you’re fighting for race victories, is a huge gulf. I don’t think anybody can underestimate that sort of level.”
For the time being, the current Sauber-operated Alfa Romeo team will enter 2023 looking to build on sixth position in the constructors’ standings, with Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu continuing behind the wheel.