BMW M3 DTM concept car

Why are car makers shunning F1 for other series?

Debates and pollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

BMW M3 DTM concept car
BMW M3 DTM concept car

During the height of the economic crisis in the late 2000s, several car manufacturers ended their F1 programmes to save money.

Honda scrapped its F1 effort at the end of 2008, following just three seasons as a full team having taken over BAR. It joined Jaguar, who exited the sport four years earlier.

In 2009 two more jumped ship: BMW and Toyota. The former, like Honda, had only been running a team of its own since 2006. Toyota’s departure came off the back of its second most successful season in eight years in the sport.

In recent months several major car manufacturers, including some of those above, have announced new racing projects. Here are a few of them and where they will be racing. The question is, why have they chosen these motor sports and not F1?

Le Mans

Porsche 911 GT1-98, Le Mans, 1998
Porsche 911 GT1-98, Le Mans, 1998

The Le Mans 24 Hours appears to be gaining the most new manufacturer interest at present.

In June Porsche announced it will return to the top level of competition with a new LMP1 prototype in 2014. Porsche is the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans with 16 outright wins in the race.

Volkswagen Group stablemate Audi became the second most successful manufacturer when it won the race for the tenth time this year. Interestingly, the signs are the parent company will allow the two brands to race each other in 2014.

President of the Executive Board at Porsche AG Matthias Muller said: “For us it was only a matter of time before we returned as a factory to the top league of racing.

“The success of Porsche at Le Mans is unrivalled. We want to follow up on this with the 17th outright victory.”

Last year there were rumours Porsche was considering an F1 return. It originally competed in F1 with its own team in the sixties, scoring a single win at Rouen in 1962.

It built the TAG-branded turbo engines which powered McLaren to a string of world championships in the eighties. But a return as an engine supplier in its own name in the nineties failed – the Footwork team abandoned its V12 unit halfway through 1991.

Other manufacturers have been tipped to return to Le Mans in the near future including Jaguar, which was active in F1 from 2000 to 2004.

Peugeot, Audi and Aston Martin already compete with cars in the LMP1 class. Toyota are engine suppliers and Nissan are as well in LMP2. Ferrari, BMW and Corvette have factory teams in the GT class.

FIA president Jean Todt, who enjoyed success at Le Mans with Peugeot in 1992 and 1993, is investing considerable effort into this long-neglected form of racing. Next year a new, FIA-endorsed World Endurance Championship will begin, two decades after its predecessor, the World Sportscar Championship, collapsed.


BMW M3 DTM concept car
BMW M3 DTM concept car

BMW will join Mercedes and Audi in the Deutche Tourenwagen Masters – DTM.

This is a significant boost for the touring car series which has featured only two manufacturers since Opel quit the championship at the end of 2005.

According to BMW Team Schnitzer boss Charly Lamm, a key part of the attraction of racing in the DTM is the opportunity to use cars based on roadgoing models:

“In no other production racing series is the level of performance of the race cars as high as in the DTM. The entire field is extremely close. For each team it is a challenge to face up to the competition.”

BMW also wanted to compete in a series in which their major rivals in the premium car market were also present.

BMW was an engine supplier in F1 from 1982 to 1987. It returned in the same capacity in 2000, before taking over Sauber and running its own team from 2006 to 2009.


Takuma Sato, KV Racing, Edmonton, 2011
Takuma Sato, KV Racing, Edmonton, 2011

IndyCar will have multiple engine manufacturers next year for the first time since 2005.

Existing engine supplier Honda will be joined by Chevrolet and (Group) Lotus.

The latter, of course, sponsor Renault in F1. They already back the KV Racing team, who Takuma Sato drives for.

World Rally Championship

Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Volkswagen Polo R WRC

Volkswagen Group’s head of motorsport recently suggested one of its brands could enter F1 in 2018.

That’s a long way off, and Volkswagen’s new World Rally Championship effort will be up and running long before then. The Polo R WRC is due to start competing in 2013.

Volkswagen management board member Dr Ulrich Hackenberg said: “The new technical regulations of the World Rally Championship are an ideal fit for Volkswagen?s philosophy with respect to the development of production vehicles.

WRC cars use 1.6-litre engines with direct injection and turbochargers. Hackenberg added: “Downsizing, high efficiency and reliability are top priorities for our customers.

“The timing of the WRC debut is optimal for Volkswagen. The big task of engineering a vehicle that is competitive and capable of winning at a large number of challenges holds great appeal for us.”

Why not F1?

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Interlagos, 2009

With many car manufacturers getting back into motor sport it begs the question, why not F1?

As the recent changes to the planned future engine rules have shown, F1 teams are keen to court interest from car manufacturers, who bring substantial budgets to the sport.

Speaking at the FOTA Fans Forum in June, Ross Brawn said: “The new engine creates a fresh opportunity for manufactures to come in.”

Have they got the technical formula right? The more open technical rules at Le Mans, which encourages competition between petrol, engine and hybrid cars, seems to be more appealing to many manufacturers.

There’s also the ever-present question of costs, and which series offers best value for money. The rate of development in F1 and the scale of the calendar are considerably greater than many other championships.

This is where striking the balance between freedom in the technical rules and the ever-present urge to contain costs are in conflict. The technical specifications of F1’s new engines for 2014 are very tightly restricted to keep development costs down.

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Suzuka, 2009

Aesthetics clearly plays a role as well. Some car manufacturers want to race cars which are visibly similar to their roadgoing models. F1 car design is so wholly given over to the pursuit of performance that this simply isn’t possible.

The car manufacturers which have become involved in F1 recently have preferred branding arrangements instead of building their own cars or engines: such as Infiniti’s tie-up with Red Bull and Group Lotus’s with Renault.

Why do you think car manufacturers are picking other forms of motor racing over F1? Are there lessons for F1 in what other series are doing?

Does F1 need more car manufacturers – or are they just ‘fair-weather friends’ who will come and go as it suits them?

Have your say in the comments.

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Images ?? BMW ag, Porsche ag, Volkswagen, IndyCar/Shaun Gritzmacher, Toyota F1 World

125 comments on “Why are car makers shunning F1 for other series?”

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  1. I’m sorry, I don’t buy the road relevance argument we hear time and time again from manufacturers. I just don’t. That Polo R WRC will be a specialist rally going machine and will have absolutely nothing in common with the road car. DTM cars are also so far removed from their “production car bases” that they may as well be powered by kryptonite. Le Mans prototypes are just that….prototypes with absolutely no road going equivalent.

    The primary drivers for a manufacturer entering any form of motorsport is money and prestige. They enter the sport where they can get the biggest bang for the least buck and that is why they are steering clear of F1. It’s too expensive, cars take time and money to develop and get up to speed (the new teams, BMW from 2006-2008) and the competition is fierce, so manufacturers go elsewhere. It’s that simple.

    1. Good point, but look at how BMW describes the DTM car as a “production” car. Obviously a ridiculous description. It’s still important to say, this car you see on the track, that’s like your car. BMW want’s to be able to park a racecar in mall as a promotion and say, now everyone run to the dealership and get you one of these awesome “production” cars. Nevermind that your 3-series is only like a DTM in that both have four wheels and taillights.

    2. I disagree with you on the WRC car not being road relavent part. The chassis is the same as the road going car, and the rally car itself has to be road legal to travel in between stages for pete’s sake – I seem to remeber Sebastian Loeb having to pull out of a rally once because the police would let him travel on the motorway whilst holding the door shut.

      1. In addition, the rally components are largely improved versions of what the top-end roadgoing versions have. They’re not completely alien to the car the way F1 components would be to most road cars below about £100,000.

      2. They have to be road legal in the sense that they have doors, headlights, mirrors, licence plates etc, but I remember seeing an article that said that the Ford Focus WRC shared one common componment with the road car, and that was the windscreen.

    3. Quite. F1 isn’t about relevance, it’s about escapism. It’s a form of entertainment that shouldn’t remind us of the mundane, it should elevate us above it. Grand Prix at its best is about speed, danger and glamour, not Vauxhall, Renault and Chevrolet.

    4. spot on, it is the cost and it is justifying that spend to your shareholders.
      F1 is just too difficult and expensive to be competitive.
      What is Citroens budget for WRC, what is Audis LMP budget? Talk about bang for buck over the last 10 years!!!!

  2. There are numerous issues which make entering F1difficult for any organisation.

    1. The daily rate of development is intense. This means that the best you can do if starting from scratch is to get the tech rule book and build your first car. Then see where you stack up in testing. You will be miles off the pace regardless of budget simply because there is technology and knowledge in use in F1 that simply aren’t found anywhere else, certainly not to the same extreme which means lots of catch up. The latest and best thinking is top secret amongst the top teams and the only way you can get your hands on that info is to poach a top line design team.

    As a new outfit, you’re not going to attract big name designers unless you achieve solid midfield status within 2 or 3 years. The only way to do that is to buy an existing respectable team but if you there aren’t any for sale you have to start from scratch and the boardroom doesn’t like to watch it’s BMWs, Toyotas etc running around at the back at a cost of $500m a year because they just can’t figure out why everyone else is so damn fast. The manufactures of course know this, although they would never admit it.

    Volkswagen is waiting until 2018, is that when Adrian Newey’s RBR contract expires by any chance?

    2. Manufacturers are listened to more by the governing authorities in other forms of Motorsport. Le Mans, DTM, BTCC etc are sympathetic to the manufacturers needs for their racing to have a tie in with the core business of road car manufacturing. F1 is not and never can be because nobody wants to go to Morrisons in an open top single seater with the kids sat on the engine cover in their ballet shoes whilst shouting “are we nearly their yet” through their in helmet intercoms.

    3. F1 is and should remain a “what if” venture. It’s about radical thinking and design on the very edge of what is possible technology wise. This carries too much uncertainty for a car manufacturer. Sure they let you look at a prototype at the Motor Show but they’d never dream of driving it, certainly not on the telly. What if it didn’t work? How embarrassing. What would the world think if VW or Audi ran round at the back of an F1 race and then broke down? The need to maintain corporate image, marketability and above all an air of success holds sway, F1 endangers that.

    4. The Longview of the car manufacturers does not work for F1. Look at Toyota for example. They would oftentimes come out of the blocks with a podium contending car at the start of the year but they didn’t react. Instead of developing the pants of the thing and making it into a winner they seemed to promptly march towards the back. Then the next season starts and it happens again. What was going on? Did the board in Japan say “just makes sure you get it right next year” or something?

    There’s no room for remote boardroom management of an F1 team. They have to have the freedom to spend $100k here on a bit of carbon or a million there on something else at a moments notice. They have to react constantly and waiting for the “ok” form the board in Tokyo or Stuttgart or wherever is suicide. By the time Mr. Toyota had signed the cheque for development stage one, Mclaren and Ferrari are on stage 3 or 4. The manufacturers know this too but they just can’t let go and leave the team to work autonomously. Mercedes benz are possibly the exception here.

  3. It just occured to me… what are those “Lotus” engines in the back of the IndyCars next year going to be? Lotus traditionally used Ford, Rover, and Vauxhall engines before switching to Toyota powerplants for recent models.

    So is the Lotus IndyCar engine going to just be a rebadged Toyota? Apparently not according to the 2012 IndyCar Wikipedia page. It’s going to be a joint venture between Lotus and Engine Developments Ltd… better know to the motorsports world as Judd.

    And we all know how good Judd engines are. I don’t think a Judd lump has ever powered anything to any sort of victory, ever.

    1. A Judd powered car won the 2006 ALMS LMP2 championship, and I think Judd powered cars won every race in the 2006 LMS LMP1 championship, bar Le Mans where they were second to Audi in a Pescarolo.

      1. Hmm, Wikipedia says the team running the Judd engine in the LMP2 class of the 2006 ALMS came 4th of 8, with the Judd-powered in the LMP1 class coming 6th of 6. A Penske Porsche won the LMP2 class that year.

        Either way, I know they never had a good career in F1

  4. I think that manufacturers have seen instability in the rules and regulations of F1 and how they are or are not administered as a detriment. Stability in this regard would go a long way. Manufacturers have also witnessed FOTA threatening to leave F1 in recent years. There’s the global recession of course, which makes it hard for manufacturers to justify the expense of F1, and I also think that some of them might not be that impressed with the venues/markets that BE has been entering.

    North America is a huge market and although one could argue they have their own series’ and tend to care less about F1, the fact is that there is still a big following of F1 in the US which will get bigger once there is a race back there again in Texas, and the point is that car sales are huge in the US. Manufacturers need exposure in that market. That is why pressure brought on by the teams caused BE to back down on his exhorbitant financial demands in Canada to the tune of half of what he was initially demanding, which was going to see the end of F1 in NA completely.

    So in a globally unstable economic environment car manufacturers are inevitably looking for best bang for the buck for their advertising dollars, and other series’ are far less complicated and expensive and far more stable than F1 has become.

  5. Its good to have car manufacturers in F1 but the sport shouldn’t be bending over backwards to attract them. F1 is about the pursuit of speed. The cars are one-off prototypes and always have been. Arguably that is one of the appeals of F1 that you CANNOT buy the cars and they are so different. Car manufacturers are firms and their main priority is the value per share, not F1. I would be cautious to introduce more “road relevance” to F1 just to attract manufacturers. We have other series for that and in terms of technology overlap they will always be more relevant than F1 no matter what f1 rule makers do.

    And remember the garagists and privateer teams of Britain beating the industrial might of Ferrari and Maserati? those were the golden years and it weren’t car manufacturers winning the trophies. Actually, these private teams that started out only racing in f1 eventually set up companies and started building road cars. To me that seems preferable to the opposite trend of a large corporation using F1 to boost their brand (and leave as soon as things get tough).

  6. UKfanatic (@)
    4th August 2011, 16:46

    F1 adverstising only makes sense for afordable car companys, if not, it is non-sense, its too much work and too expensive, who is going to buy an bugatti if they win in F1 ?. Renault was massively succesfull in Spain, mainly cause of Alonso but nontheless because most people can afford to buy Renaults.

  7. Chris Goldsmith
    4th August 2011, 16:52

    I think the points about road relevance and costs are very accurate. F1 is the most expensive way to go racing, and while the level of technological sophistication is greater than any other form of motorsport, it exists in a technological bubble with almost nothing which could be of use to a road car manufacturer. Ferrari and McLaren may be exceptions to that, but there are almost no other manufacturers creating those types of cars who would particularly benefit from the PR which F1 participation would generate. F1 can also be spectacularly bad for your reputation if you’re not seen to be able to compete with the big boys, which is why motor groups are currently splitting the difference by placing their names on a number of different cars, both in terms of engines, and in terms of chassis.

    Those are all very good points, but I think the other side of this is the atmosphere of Formula 1. It’s a sport which is always bogged down by politics, and has a general air of an exclusive clique, and competition doesn’t necessarily guarantee your entry into the in-crowd. And it’s clear that in F1, if you don’t play the politics game, you’ve got almost no chance of success. It’s also a sport which is massively governed by self-interest, and seems almost incapable of making a decision and sticking to it. Building an F1 car is one of the hardest technical challenges any team of engineers and designers could possibly face, yet it’s matched, if not surpassed, by the far less quantifiable challenge of ‘playing the game’ and gaining the requisite political influence in F1 to really gain a foothold.

    And when you could just go racing sportscars instead, for a lot less money, with a lot less politics, and potentially gain more positive exposure for your products, it seems like an absolute no-brainer. You wouldn’t touch F1 and its erratically moving goalposts with a ten foot propshaft.

  8. Simple, because F1 cars are nothing like road cars. It doesn’t help drive sales as much as saloon car racing does. People can relate to the cars they see on the track to the ones in the showroom.

    Aside from that, the obvious is money, i don’t know how much DTM costs but i’m sure it’s less than F1 and will probably get them as much exposure in Europe as F1 would.

  9. So we’re making a lot of sacrifices for nothing?

  10. After F1 the series I watched the most is the BTCC, which is gaining more and more new models each year. Chevrolet, Honda and Ford have works teams, and that’s no surprise since the BTCC is cheap and yet it is still an effective marketing and engineering exercise. The rules are a lot more relaxed so teams can improve their engines and setup of their car easier. Take the Volkswagen Golf for example, they came from pretty near the back of the grid to scoring points in only a couple of events. If that was F1, they’d be consigned to the back of the grid for the whole year because they wouldn’t be able to make the changes that get them further up the grid so quickly.

    How many new cars have entered the BTCC recently? Toyota, Proton and Audi have re-entered as privateers, and Ford and Vauxhall are introducing new cars to the series this year. Skoda and possibly MG will join in 2012, MG possibly as a works team. Even if these new cars come in to privateer teams, the manufacturers will be monitoring their efforts closely with the possibility of offering factory support in the future.

    It’s great how similar the cars are to road cars, one of my friends mentioned how similar the BMW was to their car, and if I see a blue Chevrolet Cruze on the motorway it looks so similar to the car driven by Jason Plato. Most of the parts on a touring car are interchangeable with a road car.

  11. Too much expensive to have a team in F1 than others sport, plus all the stupid rules that brake the development and the possible innovations of the cars, just because Bernie wants to give the teams like Force India and Toro Rosso an opportunity to be able to compete with the top teams and become like the Red-bull -.- Stupid Bernie created Red-Bull domination, because all innovations of the other teams were later banned, but the red-bul low car, aerodinamics and other were not… it’s unfair, who cares about stupid ”energy-drink” team, i just want to see Mclaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault fight for making a good car, shame for BMW an Toyota that withdraw from the sport and Honda a year before that :(

    1. i mean it’s too hard to develop a good car in F1 with so much limits, you have to gamble which development could bring you a step forward, and which not…

  12. You only have to look at what happened to BMW, Honda and Toyota, to understand why no other car manufacturers are interested in F1.

    Aero is king, and only a few teams currently hold the secrets to making their car go faster by aerodynamic means. They aren’t about to give those secrets or that experience away just so Toyota, BMW, et al, feel that it’s safe to go back into the water again. Teams like Team Lotus, Virgin and HRT aren’t slower because their engine isn’t powerful enough, they are slower because their car is more difficult to push through the air whilst, at the same time, supplying a reasonable amount of downforce.

    So if you want to blame anyone for the lack of interest in F1 at the moment, then you only have to look at the ones who have most to lose by taking the one thing away from them that they won’t allow to be taken away.

  13. So, in a sense, F1 is currently a total farce and a complete charade, because it’s dominated by the one thing that means so very little to most petrol heads.

  14. Saying that absolutely nothing on an F1 car can be found on your road going vehicle is, I think, a little disingenuos. Sure, the engine is absurdely efficient, and lasts a whole lot less time, the gearbox is alien, and the overall design philosophy of the car is completely alien to your 1.8 parked outside.

    But, the fuel is so similar to your normal unleaded that you could run is, and I daresay the same goes for the engine oil as well. For all you know the exhaust could have been influenced by F1 exhaust design etc. etc. Nobody cares about that.

    For most people, transferable technology is how the car looks, its drivetrain, the chassis, and the tyres. Which means that even though Shell unleaded fuel at the forecourt really could power a Ferrari with some altered engine mapping, you dont care since it costs half a pence more than the garage down the road.

    F1 is already pretty road relavent. To the oil companies at least.

    1. I think the problem is that in F1 the technology is so alien as you put it.
      It is so expensive, so efficient and so expensive that it just can’t be very relevant to road cars, but over time it is. The turbo era is some of the reason that so many of the modern road cars are able to run turbo engines without blowing up in a cloud of smoke. The high revving V10 engines developed better cam shafts, the carbon fiber monocoque is slowly being “common” in very high end supercars, flappy paddle gear boxes. Things like that, but it takes a lot of time for the technology to be cheap enough and for the rest of the car to be capable of withstanding it, before it gets into sort of normal road cars.
      For a company that makes family cars and some sports cars it is hard to argue that it is sensible to spend 10 years or more in F1 before they can claim that their road cars has become better because of their F1 program.
      For a company that makes supercars like McLaren or Ferrari it makes sense for them, because we can associate something of their F1 cars with their road cars, where we just can’t do that with lets say Toyota, that is much easier with touring car racing, because the cars look like the road cars.

  15. Lindsay Lohan is my girlfriend
    4th August 2011, 18:55

    When I started to watch f1, there was only one manufacturer around: ferrari. Since then, a few others came round – but as stated in the article: f1 and board decisions don’t really ‘click’. Even worse: jaguar shut stewart down, bmw nearly ruined sauber; and only thanks to ross brawn the honda-pullout didn’t go too wrong. With Genii in control, there is not much Renault left at Renault, who even receive sponsorship by a rival manufacturer.

    Thinking about this, I’m not too sad about having only three road car companies in the sport. I don’t even think they are necessary for formula 1’s success. Mclaren has a good reputation in the sports car/prototype segment, because of its tradition in f1. Williams has a good reputation for its kers/hybrid technologies because of its involvement in f1. With engine development frozen, maybe teams will even consider building them on their own.

    I know, in the 1950s and 2000s, manufacturers played quite a role in the sport. Tomorrow maybe not, but why should I care?

  16. I think a very interesting point though is that F1 is although expensive and difficult to break into, it does have a huge amount of publicity attached to it. As much as I enjoy watching the occasional WRC or BTCC they are on the low viewer channels of Dave and ITV4, and aren’t going to grabbing front page news like F1 can. Clearly there is a lot of ‘value’ to F1 but even this isn’t good value for money.

  17. It too expensive to go in f1

  18. ‘They already back the KV Racing team, who Takuma Sato drives for.’

    did someone say my name?

  19. Others have made the point but I wish to reinforce their position. The current restrictions on mechanical development of F1 are killing the sport, manufacturers take a huge downside risk if they enter F1 either as a team or as an engine supplier, if their cars are slow or their engines unreliable the publicity will be negative, but if they develop a big advantage in the engineering it will be banned or frozen until the others catch-up. Cost, I believe is not a problem for the manufacturers at least as an engine supplier, Cosworth,Judd, Ilmor were all very small companies when they first supplied engines to F1 , the major car manufacturers probably spent more on their corporate jets than these companies total budgets.

  20. why would they especially after the bbc sky deal was announced

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