Audi is set to take on a development driver before the end of 2023 to help its Formula 1 entry.
The German manufacturer will join the grid in 2026 in partnership with Sauber.
The Sauber Group, which Audi is set to take a major stake in, will develop the chassis at Hinwil while Audi will construct the Power Unit from Neuberg.
The driver line-up for Audi is still far from being decided, as its entry is another three years away.
However, Audi Formula Racing CEO Adam Baker says that it targets to employ a driver by the end of the year to assist its upcoming arrival.
“It may seem that our debut is far away, but we want to have a development driver by the end of 2023,” he told SoyMotor.
Baker did not reveal any potential names, but outlined what it expects from its first official driver.
“That he is a fast driver is a priority. It is very important to have someone who has experience to develop our new engine in the simulators we have in Neuburg.”
For some time, Mick Schumacher has been linked with a future move to Audi, given his German nationality.
The 2020 Formula 2 Champion was dropped from the Haas F1 team at the end of the 2022 campaign, with the US-owned squad bringing in Nico Hulkenberg.
Schumacher has since taken on a role with Mercedes as a reserve driver for the 2023 season, a move that Baker understands.
“Although everyone associates him with us, he has chosen to go to Mercedes,” he said.
“It is something that we understand because his goal is to get back on the Formula 1 grid as quickly as possible.”
Who could Audi target as a development driver?
A key factor in its decision will be a driver that has experience with a Formula 1 team and understands the direction that needs to be taken.
There are several viable candidates on the market – one being Antonio Giovinazzi, who spent three seasons racing in F1 with Alfa Romeo.
The Italian driver has been carrying out development duties for Ferrari throughout 2022 and was in contention for a return to the grid with Haas in 2023.
Another option – perhaps a little more unlikely – is Sebastian Vettel, who retired from F1 at the conclusion of the 2022 season.
While Vettel has opted to take on a new chapter in life, he has not completely closed the door to F1, insisting that he would be open to a one-off race return.
Germany is also going through a lull at the moment, with no race being held in the country and just one driver represented on the 2023 grid in Hulkenberg, while Mercedes’ on-track form also dipped last year.
Could Vettel be tempted to aid the German organisation’s initial F1 set-up as Germany looks to get back in the F1 spotlight?