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How Audi’s Dakar win reveals its F1 ambitions should not be underestimated

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Audi has confronted heavy backlash over the best way its motorsport division has been managed over the previous couple of years. The choice to section out all its sportscar racing programmes and go all-in on Formulation 1 has aggrieved even probably the most loyal followers of the German marque. Even former groups and drivers haven’t shied away from levying criticism at some board-level adjustments that they feel have damaged the very brand and sporting image of Audi.

Since Audi has loved immense success in sportscar and touring automobile racing, critics argue that pulling out of the DTM, LMDh (just weeks before the car was supposed to begin testing) and manufacturing unit GT3 competitors goes towards the very historical past on which the Audi Sport model has been constructed on.

Formulation 1 could also be in impolite well being and witnessing unprecedented recognition, however Audi has by no means actually been related to single-seater racing. In spite of everything, past a short interval within the Nineteen Thirties in its Auto Union guise, Audi has by no means competed in grand prix racing. So the choice to place all its weight behind its upcoming undertaking has been puzzling for various onlookers.

One other argument that the naysayers have is that Audi is forgoing the prospects of outright victories in legendary races akin to Le Mans 24 Hours and Daytona 24 Hours solely to trundle within the midfield of a 20-car F1 grid. F1 has all the time been a tough nut to crack for large automobile makers; aside from Mercedes and Renault, no mainstream producer has lifted the constructors’ title for the reason that world championship was established in 1950. The likes of Toyota, Honda, BMW and Jaguar have all tried their luck constructing within the pinnacle of motorsport, solely to understand that their company constructions didn’t permit them to outgun skilled and slick race groups.

Even those that have witnessed Audi rating 13 victories on the Circuit de la Sarthe are sceptical about how it can enter F1 as a new manufacturer in 2026 and upend the status quo. Success in F1 simply doesn’t come straightforward.

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Nonetheless, whereas it’s only pure to query if an enormous company like Audi can adapt to the fast-paced world of grand prix racing, one solely wants to have a look at the best way it has rotated its Dakar Rally programme as proof that it will probably finish the triopoly of Pink Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari.

Picture by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Audi’s Dakar programme is successfully being pulled, together with its sportscar efforts, to deal with its F1 2026 entry

It has been an open secret that Audi was planning to pull the plug on its last remaining factory effort after the 2024 season. This left an actual risk that it was going to return empty-handed from Dakar after three years of making an attempt, if it had didn’t win the forty sixth working of the occasion this January. One can solely think about the questions that will have been requested if Audi had been going to enter F1 in 2026 after its final manufacturing unit programme had been a failure. That merely wouldn’t have been acceptable for a model with the historical past and status of Audi, not after three years in competitors.

Simply have a look at fellow Volkswagen Group model Porsche, which is now doubling down on its Formulation E crew in 2024 after lacking out on the championship but once more final 12 months. It has extended its commitment to the series until the end of the Gen3 cycle (having beforehand been the one producer to not assure that) and obliged driver Antonio Felix da Costa to give up on a Hypercar drive in WEC so he may deal with bettering his qualifying performances in Formulation E. Porsche, a fair greater large of the sportscar racing world, won’t hand over earlier than it lastly wins the title with its manufacturing unit crew…

Audi is not any completely different and it has completed all the pieces in its capability to win the most important prize in cross-country rallying.

Dakar 2024 was nothing as anticipated and rivals – notably Al-Attiyah – paid the worth of underestimating the Ingolstadt-based marque. From the very starting it was clear that the homework Audi had completed was paying off

When it entered Dakar for the primary time in 2022, its maiden outing was thought-about largely a hit. Mattias Ekstrom’s ninth-place end with the novel RS Q e-tron, constructed utilizing know-how it pioneered in Formulation E and DTM, was a proof of idea and confirmed that it was potential to be aggressive towards its conventionally-fuelled counterparts. With some fine-tuning and upgrades, it ought to have been potential for the model with 4 rings to construct on its debut end result.

Perception: How Audi took the Dakar by storm in 2022 with its hybrid game-changer

Nonetheless, its second look in Dakar in 2023 was nothing in need of a failure. As an alternative of creating a serious leap after a 12 months of working the automobile, Audi took a step backwards in each efficiency and reliability, permitting Toyota to run away with victory in some of the one-sided contests within the rally-raid’s latest historical past. Each Carlos Sainz Sr and Stephane Peterhansel had been pressured to retire from the occasion, and Ekstrom within the sole-surviving Audi may solely salvage a 14th-place end.

This was not the end result Audi had wished and its engineers went again to the drafting board, transforming the RS Q e-tron that had terribly underperformed within the deserts of Saudi Arabia. In what was successfully a top-to-bottom overhaul, virtually all parts of the automobile had been revised, from chassis, transmission and bodywork to the software program that helped handle the complicated electrical and combustion powertrains.

Important weight-saving measures had been undertaken and the automobile was extra strong than ever earlier than to face up to the impression of something it hit within the vastness of the desert. If the automobile broke down, drivers would have been in a position to restore it sooner due to the work that went into decreasing upkeep instances.

Audi was far from favourite going into this year's Dakar Rally having struggled for performance and reliability in 2023

Picture by: A.S.O.

Audi was removed from favorite going into this 12 months’s Dakar Rally having struggled for efficiency and reliability in 2023

Nonetheless, the general public sentiment was not in favour of Audi. Prodrive was anticipated to be the brand new king of Dakar after hiring Nasser Al-Attiyah to associate Sebastien Loeb, with Toyota more likely to emerge as its chief rival regardless of having a brand new and comparatively inexperienced line-up. Audi was doubtless going to must battle to be the perfect of the remaining, supplied it may get the reliability sorted.

Because it turned out, Dakar 2024 was nothing as anticipated and rivals – notably Al-Attiyah – paid the worth of underestimating the Ingolstadt-based marque. From the very starting, it was clear that the homework Audi had completed was paying off, with Ekstrom profitable the Prologue and Peterhansel staking his declare on Stage 2. When the rivals started to falter one after the opposite within the first week, Sainz put in a sequence of spectacular performances in his RS Q e-tron, retaking the lead within the 48-hour Stage 6 after Overdrive’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi rolled his buyer Toyota Hilux.

When nine-time World Rally champion Loeb was rising as a critical risk in the beginning of the second week, the Audi trio united to help Sainz’s bid for general victory. On Stage 9, as an example, Ekstrom opened the street for the Spaniard whereas Peterhansel acted as a rear-gunner, making certain he was coated from either side. Through the tough penultimate take a look at that was laid full of huge rocks, each Ekstrom and Peterhansel had been once more out there at a brief discover for help, making certain he had somebody to name in in case of punctures and larger reliability dramas.

The Prodrive operation, which consisted of a number of impartial groups, lacked this sort of unity. Its star 2024 signing Al-Attiyah withdrew from the rally after a sequence of reliability dramas, ironically after claiming that Audi “would go home” after three days in Dakar.

This left Loeb on his own and he wanted to maintain the foot on the throttle, having incurred a big deficit within the first week resulting from punctures and different points. So when he closely broken the suspension of his automobile on the penultimate day after hitting a rock, he was sidelined for greater than an hour till one other Hunter arrived at that time of the stage. Even that was a fortunate second for the Frenchman, who was ready to exit the stage and restart a day later after calling in his help crews.

At Audi, this state of affairs was by no means going to occur, as each Peterhansel and Ekstrom had been completely satisfied to tackle a supporting position as soon as it was clear that they had been not within the working. The duo additionally scored three particular person levels wins between themselves – Sainz didn’t win any – exhibiting the automobile was not solely constant but in addition had the outright tempo.

So when the Dakar 2024 lastly completed after practically 8000km of racing over two weeks, Sainz and Audi were crowned champions with a winning margin of more than one hour over the Overdrive Toyota of Guillaume de Mevius, with Loeb ending up third.

A lot of the instant consideration was stolen by Sainz, who grew to become the oldest winner of Dakar on the age of 61 and added a fourth victory to its tally. However simply as essential was a historic triumph for Audi, which confirmed that it’s potential to win the most important prize in cross-country rallying with various types of propulsion techniques.

Meaning when it formally broadcasts its exit from Dakar, there would hardly be anybody complaining about what was a comparatively quick programme in comparison with its stint in WEC, DTM and even Formulation E. It gained Dakar truthful and sq. towards rivals like Prodrive and Toyota, and in addition added to its legacy in rallying, 4 a long time after Stig Blomqvist gained the 1974 WRC title on the wheel of an Audi Quattro.

In Sauber, Audi has a associate crew that understands the ins-and-outs of F1 and a manufacturing unit that has all the fashionable gear to work on chassis and aero

With the Dakar rally out of the best way, Audi can now shift its focus again in the direction of F1. The German producer is devoting a variety of assets on its new undertaking that can run in affiliation with Sauber, with the present Stake F1 crew morphing into the works Audi crew, hiring key employees to convey the worker depend extra consistent with the highest groups. As a way to get a brand new engine programme working from the bottom up, Audi can be constructing new services inside its Competence Centre Motorsport in Neuberg which was already the house for its defunct programmes in Dakar, FE and LMP1.

In Sauber, Audi has a associate crew that understands the ins and outs of F1 and a manufacturing unit that has all the fashionable gear to work on chassis and aero. Sauber has been run as a full works crew earlier than and the erstwhile BMW Sauber operation will present each classes and new learnings for Audi because it prepares to make its personal entry into the high-profile world of F1.

It gained’t be a straightforward recreation although, and even Sauber’s technical director James Key has admitted that it won’t be until 2027 that the “final product” is ready. So if Audi isn’t aggressive straight out of the gates in 2026, don’t draw any conclusions. The German marque will finally discover its manner in what’s its most bold racing undertaking ever.

Audi's Dakar success on what is expected to be the final year of the programme showed the strength of the F1-bound manufacturer

Picture by: Audi Communications Motorsport

Audi’s Dakar success on what is anticipated to be the ultimate 12 months of the programme confirmed the energy of the F1-bound producer

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