Development of the Audi Power Unit for F1: Significant milestones and goals achieved

Complete F1 Power Unit runs on the test bench

By Franck Drui

28 June 2024 - 10:05
Development of the Audi Power Unit (…)

Work on the Power Unit for Audi’s Formula 1 entry has been underway for more than two years. The specially created Audi Formula Racing GmbH (AFR) in Neuburg a. d. Donau is responsible for the development of the F1 hybrid drive (“Power Unit”) and has successfully completed the set-up phase. Together with the Hinwil facility, the team from Neuburg will form the future factory team with which Audi will compete in the top class in 2026. The Audi F1 Power Unit “Made in Germany” is making great progress behind closed doors. AFR CEO Adam Baker and AFR CTO Stefan Dreyer provide an insight into the current status.

Work on the development of the Audi Power Unit for Formula 1 has been underway at the Neuburg facility since spring 2022. What has been achieved so far?

Baker: After just two years, our Power Unit, consisting of a combustion engine, electric motor, battery and control electronics, is running dynamically on the test bench. Successfully marrying the various components into a single unit is the result of hard work and great teamwork. The Audi Power Unit has already covered simulated race distances on the test bench. We gained a lot of testing time with the individual components in 2023 and were able to incorporate the experience gained into the next construction stages in parallel. Significant milestones and goals have been achieved, which gives the entire team a good feeling.

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.

On which tracks has the Audi Power Unit already been driven?

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.

Baker: Hearing the Audi Power Unit being simulated today on tracks like Spielberg, Singapore or Las Vegas, not only gives everyone involved goosebumps, but also gives us the feeling that we are a big step closer to our first race in 2026.

How has the development department set itself up for this challenging project?

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.

Even though the construction in Neuburg has been completed, is the intensity still increasing?

Baker: There have been special milestones almost every month since the start of the project in spring 2022, for example the start of construction for our infrastructure expansion, the start of testing for the single-cylinder, the first test bench run of the electric motor and the V6 engine and the first race distances with the complete Power Unit. The fact that our entire team can fully concentrate on the development of the Power Unit for 2026 is an advantage for Audi. The remaining time until 2026 is all about achieving our development goals in terms of maximum overall vehicle performance with full focus. It will remain exciting until the first race – and after that, of course, too.

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. 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.

A cost cap has also been in place for the development of the Power Unit since this year. How can we imagine day-to-day business under the FIA’s cost cap?

Baker: Like all other Formula 1 teams and Power Unit manufacturers, we were faced with the challenge of setting ourselves up accordingly. It’s all about cost-cap efficiency and cost-cap conformity. One advantage was that we were able to start on a blank sheet of paper, so to speak, creating our own company, Audi Formula Racing GmbH, for the project. We had a clear picture of structures, systems, processes and the right mindset right from the start. The topic of finance has a direct impact on performance due to the cost cap. There has never been such a direct link between operational efficiency and sporting success in Formula 1. The fact that we can operate at the limit of the cost cap with PU development puts us on a par with our competitors.

How important was it to be able to fall back on an existing infrastructure at the Neuburg site?

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. All new test benches are now in operation and enable us to continue development at full throttle.

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?

Baker: The local proximity to our parent company Audi in Ingolstadt is a great advantage for us in many ways. There are many technical experts in the region, especially for the development of drivetrain components. The other F1 Power Unit manufacturers are based in the UK, France, Italy and Japan. If you want to bring in employees from competitors, they usually have to move to another country – that’s a challenge, but it’s no greater for us than for anyone else. People not only have to be prepared to change employer, but also the country. The fact that we were successful in recruiting experienced engineers and technicians from all other Power Unit manufacturers shows that our project and the location are attractive – also for international experts and talents. We now have a broad mix in the team with employees from 23 countries.

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.

Can you give us an outlook? What topics are Neuburg and Hinwil already working on together?

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.

Baker: We made an early start with the 2026 concept team in Hinwil back in January 2023. This work is now being intensified with the current chassis regulations. Our goal is clear: to fully exploit the advantages and possibilities of a factory team in terms of packaging and integration of the Power Unit.

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