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Audi’s F1 project under fresh uncertainty as senior figure faces exit

Audi’s Formula 1 project is facing fresh uncertainty amid indications that one of the key figures behind its entry into grand prix racing looks set to leave the German manufacturer.

Oliver Hoffmann, Head of Technical Development at Audi Sport GmbH, with Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi AG, with the new Audi Sport concept car

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Just a few months after CEO Markus Duesmann, regarded as the key advocate for its F1 project, left the company, it now appears that one of its other architects, chief development officer Oliver Hoffmann, is also set to move on.

Hoffmann's long-term contract as CDO had been extended as recently as last year, but according to a report in the German Bild newspaper, he could be forced out of the company.

The reason for his departure is said to be a difference of views with current Audi CEO Gernot Dollner over the future of the company.

Hoffmann is also blamed for the fact that Audi is struggling with sluggish sales figures, and that the models planned under his direction have either not been as successful as hoped or had been repeatedly postponed.

It is understood that the Audi Supervisory Board is due to discuss the Hoffmann issue on Thursday, after which the Volkswagen Group's Supervisory Board could have the final say at the beginning of March.

A potential change could have implications for Audi’s F1 plan, with it believed that Dollner wants to move Hoffmann to the grand prix project.

Oliver Hoffmann, Head of Technical Development at Audi Sport GmbH, with Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi AG

Oliver Hoffmann, Head of Technical Development at Audi Sport GmbH, with Markus Duesmann, Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi AG

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Hoffmann is well versed on the development of the F1 entry for 2026, having appeared with Duesmann at the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix when the company announced that it would be entering the series from 2026.

But a move to the current Sauber team has prompted fresh questions over what his role would be there, because the Swiss-based outfit already has CEO Andreas Seidl pushing on with the plans for the new Audi F1 era.

Adding an additional level of decision-making between Seidl and the Audi Board of Management would not appear to be an ideal situation – especially coming at a time when there are understood to be concerns about the scale of changes Sauber needs when Audi enters.

The squad faces challenges in attracting top-level personnel to Switzerland and there are questions over whether the investment required to get to the front of the grid is being made as quickly as is needed with Audi having not yet taken full ownership.

The Hoffmann situation also comes off the back of fresh speculation that Audi’s entry to F1 is still not completely set in stone and could yet change.

Dollner only publicly committed to Audi’s planned 2026 entry in an interview with the Handelsblatt publication in December 2023.

"There is a clear decision from the Board of Management and the Supervisory Boards of Audi and Volkswagen that Audi will enter Formula 1 in 2026," he said. "The plan is in place."

The new Audi Sport F1 concept car

The new Audi Sport F1 concept car

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

But while his comments indicated Audi was pushing on as planned for the F1 entry, it still appeared to fall short of being a clear and passionate commitment to F1.

This could be due to the fact that there is speculation that Dollner is allegedly still open to a sale of the Sauber shares, should an investor be found that would enable Audi to get out of the matter financially and image-wise without major damage.

The timing of finding a buyer could be favourable. F1 is booming, there are plenty of interested buyers, and it is not completely out of the question that a party would be prepared to pay even more than the rumoured €600m that Audi allegedly offered at the time in order to acquire a majority stake in Sauber.

Audi has not yet answered an enquiry from Autosport's sister publication Motorsport-Total.com about the alleged change in the board of directors.

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A spokesperson had previously told Bild Zeitung: "As a matter of principle, we do not comment on personnel matters."

This means that reports about Hoffmann's move from the board to Formula 1 remain unchallenged.

The latest turbulence at Audi appears to be counterproductive for the development of the team in Hinwil and Audi’s headquarters in Neuburg.

Convincing top engineers or potential drivers such as Carlos Sainz to join Sauber/Audi is difficult in view of the prospect that Audi might not even join F1 in the end.

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