Audi announce new simulator driver as they take next step in F1 power unit development
Audi have signed Swiss racing pro Neel Jani as their new simulator driver as they take the next step in developing a power unit for their Formula 1 project. Jani, 39, is a former test and reserve driver for Red Bull Racing and, as a member of the Porsche factory team, he won the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2016 as well as the famous 24-hour race at Le Mans.
German brand Audi announced last summer that they would enter F1 from 2026, when new regulations come in, and would be building their own power unit. They soon struck a deal to take over the Sauber works team – currently Alfa Romeo – for their entry.
Plenty of preparation has gone into the project, with the likes of Andreas Seidl leaving McLaren in December to join as the new Sauber CEO while former McLaren technical director James Key will join the team in September.
Jani, who has also driven in GP2 and Formula E, will now have his own important role to play for Audi as he supports the development of the power unit with his vast experience. An update of the dynamic driving simulator for the work on the F1 hybrid powertrain is also being run at Audi’s Neuberg site in parallel.
“I am delighted to accompany Audi on their way into Formula 1,” said Jani. “It is both an honor and a great responsibility to be involved in a project of this magnitude at an early stage.
“I am sure that with my experience from Formula 1 and [sportscar] projects I can forge good links between theory and practice.”
Oliver Hoffman, Member of the Board of Management for Technical Development of Audi AG, added: “Just like in production development, simulation plays a major role in our Formula 1 project.
“Our simulator is an important tool for the power unit development. It requires a development driver who, in addition to a grasp of technology, brings versatile experience to the project, especially in terms of energy management in racing conditions.”
Audi have also stated that, since the end of 2022, testing of a one-cylinder engine has been delivering “valuable results” for the development of the power unit. The manufacturer added that the continuing concept phase is laying the groundwork of the power unit for 2026, when the new regulations will provide for increasing electrification.
The electric motor will deliver nearly the same output as the internal combustion engine and the 1.6-litre turbo engines will be powered by sustainable synthetic fuel.
“At the moment, we are mainly focused on fundamental concept questions with high relevance to performance,” said Adam Baker, CEO of Audi Formula Racing GmbH.
“However, in evaluating various technical solutions we rely not only on digital methods. Know-how, experience and practically relevant development are indispensable elements of drawing the right conclusions from the simulation.
"With that combination, we can assess various operating strategies at an early stage and pave the way for efficient energy management of the power unit.”
Audi have also said the first hybrid power unit, consisting of the internal combustion engine, electric motor, battery and control electronics, is planned to be run on their dyno before the year is out. That will then provide the basis for the future vehicle concept going forward.