Formula 1: Audi confirm first driver ahead of 2026 entry

Audi, Sauber, Formula 1 (Photo by Zhe Ji/Getty Images)
Audi, Sauber, Formula 1 (Photo by Zhe Ji/Getty Images) /

Former Toro Rosso reserve driver and Porsche veteran Neel Jani is set to join Audi as their Formula 1 simulator driver ahead of their venture into the sport in 2026.

Back in October, Audi announced their plans to join Formula 1 in 2026 by taking over the Sauber team. They acquired a minority stake in Sauber in January.

The acquisition marked an “important milestone” on the way to a strategic partnership between the Sauber Group and the German brand for 2026 and beyond. Sauber are set to cut ties with Alfa Romeo at the end of the 2023 season.

Sauber’s new partnership with Audi is slated to go much further than their relationship with Alfa Romeo, with the 2026 team set to become an Audi works operation. Audi eventually plan to take a majority stake in Sauber.

Audi plan to create their own power unit in their Neuburg, Germany headquarters, while Sauber plan to develop and manufacture the car in their Hinwil, Switzerland base.

There has been plenty of speculation as to which drivers might compete for Audi once they officially enter Formula 1 three years from now.

There are quite a few possibilities, considering the fact that nobody really knows who will and won’t be under contract with which existing teams that far down the road.

What will be interesting to see is if Sauber hire a driver (or drivers) for the Audi project before they officially enter Formula 1 in 2026, either for 2024 or 2025.

What Audi have already done, however, is named their first Formula 1 simulator driver as they develop their power unit. The 2026 season is set to see a set of new engine regulations, which played a huge role in skyrocketing the manufacturer’s interest in joining the sport.

That driver is Neel Jani. The 39-year-old Swiss driver never competed in Formula 1, but he was the reserve driver for Toro Rosso in 2006. He also tested for Sauber and Red Bull in the past.

Jani won two races in GP2 in 2005, and he won the 2007-08 A1 Grand Prix championship with a season which saw him notch four of his 10 career victories. He also competed in Champ Car in 2007 and secured three podium finishes.

His more recent success includes a win in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was one of two victories en route to winning the FIA World Endurance Championship that year, an IMSA SportsCar Championship win last year at Sebring International Raceway, and a win to open up the 2023 European Le Mans Series season in April at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Next. All-time Formula 1 wins list. dark

Jani has been brought in purely for developmental purposes, meaning that Audi will still need to find two drivers for their official Formula 1 debut in 2026. They reportedly have their eyes on several potential candidates, but again, it is far too early to know who might truly have a chance to land one of the two seats.