Adam Baker grew up on the Mornington Peninsula. The peninsula with its coastal charm and its wine landscape is a local recreation area south of the Australian metropolis Melbourne.
Until a few years ago, Formula 1 traditionally started the new season in the capital of the state of Victoria. The corona pandemic has also shaken up the racing calendar. Will Formula 1 return to Melbourne at the start by 2026? In any case, for Baker, competing in the Grand Prix with Audi in front of family and friends would be something very special. The Formula 1 project manager, who has had a German passport since 2018, has long felt at home in Germany.
"For me, Bavaria became home 15 years ago," Baker told the German Press Agency at Audi's driving experience center, where the meeting rooms are named after racetracks. He took a seat in Sebring, a course in the US state of Florida. "Munich is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the city is so international. It's different in the country. When you experience village life for the first time and can really integrate yourself there, you experience how warm-hearted the people are."
Conquer the Formula 1 world from Neuburg
In Neuburg an der Donau, not far from the Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt, Baker orchestrates the Formula 1 project for the German car manufacturer. The Volkswagen subsidiary develops the engine in the Upper Bavarian Renaissance town, and the chassis is built by the experienced, traditional Swiss team Sauber headed by the new CEO Andreas Seidl. From 2026, Audi will then start as a works team in Formula 1.
It should go from 0 to 100 (or better 300) as quickly as possible. "We signed up for the period 2026 to 2030. We want to be able to fight for victories after three years," said Baker, who is at the same time preparing for a difficult start. "You have to be realistic. The first and second year can also be tough, but it's very difficult to predict," he admitted.
Baker studied mechanical engineering in Melbourne, later becoming an engine engineer at Formula 1 engine manufacturer Cosworth before heading up Formula 1 engine development for BMW. "At the time, we were proud with BMW-Sauber that we had improved our performance from year to year. We finished second in the constructors' championship in the second year and then won the first race in the third year," recalled Baker of the cooperation between BMW and Sauber from 2006 to 2009. "Personally, I have the feeling that there is still an unfinished business."
Audi wants to be competitive in three years
Because BMW abruptly pulled out at the time. Sales problems due to the global economic crisis and a disappointing sporting season in 2009 prompted the board to act. At that time, the current Audi boss Markus Duesmann was head of development. Victories or even the fight for the world title in the first year after joining are "not realistic", said Duesmann when announcing the entry in Spa in August. "Within three years we should be very competitive."
Audi wants to use the booming Formula 1 platform for itself. The fact that the motorsport premier class wants to become more sustainable fits with the self-image of the car manufacturers. The cost cap also makes the multi-billion dollar venture easier to plan. For this, Audi, which has prepared the entry for almost two years, has to open the books at the turn of the year.
"From January 1st we will be on our own with Audi Formula Racing GmbH due to the cost cap. We have therefore bundled all activities in a new GmbH. This means that the Fia can cover all costs associated with the Formula 1 project , recognizing and evaluating", explained Baker, who is the managing director of this GmbH.
There has been a budget cap in Formula 1 since 2021. This should prevent an arms race among the teams regardless of the financial resources. Equal opportunities and financial stability are the goals. From the coming season, Red Bull
New technical regulations will apply from 2026
For a newcomer like Audi, the financial framework was at least as important as the new technical regulations that will apply from 2026. "In terms of power unit and chassis, it will be the biggest change in the technical regulations in 20 or 30 years. This opens up greater opportunities for newcomers to be able to compete more quickly," said Baker.
The cost cap ensures fair competition. But the challenge will be "more enormous than ever before in Formula 1," said Baker, who was previously the safety director at the world automotive association Fia. "If you do a good job, there is a chance that you can fight right at the front in 2026."
The industry leaders Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes claim the top spots for themselves. Audi is even building for the XXL project. In a roughly 3,000 square meter new building at the motorsport center in Neuburg, new test benches for the development of the drive unit are to be accommodated in particular. This creates the "best possible conditions to be successful in the premier class of motorsport," said Audi CTO Oliver Hoffmann.
Baker reports to Hoffmann on the development steps. The power unit is currently being developed. At the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024, Audi will work with Sauber to develop the concept for the new Formula 1 vehicle. Test operations are due in 2025, before the worst comes to the worst in 2026 when the racing vehicles are set up.
"The pressure from outside is palpable, we expected it too. We are aware of the size of the challenge," admitted Baker. "We can already foresee what we have to do to be successful in 2026. That's why the pressure we put on ourselves internally at Audi is just as great."