In August last year, Audi announced their plans to enter F1 in a works capacity in 2026, taking advantage of the sport’s growing popularity worldwide. October saw the news that Sauber, currently operating as Alfa Romeo Racing, would become their “strategic partner” and use their Hinwil facility to build the chassis. At that time, Sauber revealed that Audi would purchase a stake in the team at some point.
Now, Sauber has confirmed that Audi has gone ahead and bought an unspecified stake in the Swiss-based team, as planned. Sauber called it an “important milestone” for Audi’s much-anticipated F1 debut. They also stated that the Sauber Group is “pleased” with the acquisition.
To accommodate Audi’s F1 program, the German manufacturer is building a separate factory at Neuberg in Germany to develop the power unit. This 3,000-square-metre building will house test benches for the hybrid engine and is an expansion of the site that was previously the home of Audi’s successful LMP1 program in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The extension of the site is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2024.
By then, Sauber will operate in F1 under its name, ending their agreement with Alfa Romeo after the end of the forthcoming season. They will continue to use Ferrari engines until 2025 before transitioning into the works Audi F1 squad the following year.
Even in a boom, it’s rough being at the back
As the first complete set of accounts reported under Dorilton Capital ownership, a quick look at the 2021 Williams accounts reveals the difficulties faced by backmarkers in securing sponsorship despite Formula 1’s increasing popularity. The team reported total revenues of £96 million yet still recorded a loss of £12m. Despite 2021 being their first year under the budget cap and first under F1’s revamped (secret) prize fund, which is estimated to pay 20% more for tenth in the (2020) classification than previously. With bonuses included, Williams pulled around $60m (£48m in 2021) in prize money.
Insiders suggest that Williams earned $20m (£16m) from drivers, with half of this coming from contributions for keeping George Russell ‘warm’ for Mercedes and the other half from Sofina and other Latifi family-linked brands for sticking Nicholas in the second seat. The accounts show that Williams sold its intellectual property rights to Dorilton subsidiary BCE IP for £48m, which £14m is reflected as a premium payment after the deduction of debts. This brings the total to £80m, with the balance generated by a handful of non-Latifi sponsors, such as Acronis, Versa, and Ponos. None of these sponsors are big players.
Although Williams signed two brands – Duracell and B&O – for 2022, it is unlikely that they will soon hit F1’s budget cap of $135m (£105m) for racing operations unless partner deals increase significantly. The two incoming brands are also unlikely to pay top dollar to the ailing team, and Gulf’s involvement with Williams is not expected to bring much generosity either. It is clear that, despite F1’s boom times, it is still tough being at the back.
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