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. To undestand the reason f1 has a problem atracting manufacturers during the recession we need to look at the f1’s top budget compared to other series.

    Citroen’s 2010 WRC budget: 35 millions euros(including money contributed by sponsors) (2011 budget should be a bit bigger since they developed a car for the new rules)

    Audi’s annual Le Mans budget: approx.100 millions euros (Peugeot’s budget is on the same range)

    Ferrari’s 2011 F1 budget:approx. 300 million euros(various sources give different numbers but its all above 200mil)

    I also found an article on the site of the bbc( that had a quote from audi’s head of motorsport tha said:

    To put things into perspective, in recent years the cost of running a mid-grid team in Formula 1 has been more than $200m.

    “For a budget like that,” says Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, “I could do touring cars, Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series for several years.”

    1. Yeah it is a huge risk to join F1 because if you are not successful you are going to spend a hell of a lot of money to get very little value.
      But that is why it is such a great sport! If a company could bring a lot of money and then just expect to do well it would be way too easy. F1 is only F1 because it is so damn hard and so competitive.
      What i like about F1 is that is cannot be used purely as a PR weapon to secure market shares. You need the drive, the passion, the will to compete and succeed on the highest possible level of motorsport, otherwise you will be left behind. No matter how large a budget you have!

    2. These may be the budgets for these teams but they do not represent the COST because they do not take into account the income from advertising, sponsorship and their share of the pie (50% divided unequally between 12 teams) from FOM.

      1. Yes it’s a bit dishonest for Ulrich to put it that way. It does not make a case for not running in F1. After all, McLaren is not a charity operation. Quite the opposite: being successful in F1 can make a mint—and it can even allow you to become a road car manufacturer.

        Maybe he is only saying, the economics of running in F1 is the same as running in 3 other top motorsports at the same time and you potentially get greater exposure from those 3 series. I’m not sure he is correct on the assumption. The expansion of Audi’s market is in the U.S. and in Asia, not Europe. Motorsport is not yet a major marketing tool in China. For the U.S. the fact that Audi are in a European “sillouette” series that is aired on SpeedTV in tape-delay at 2 in the morning will not stir the U.S. consumer. At LeMans, racing against a mark not even in the U.S. market, Peugeot, makes no impact on the U.S. consumer either. ALMS does not race at LeMans. Or even Daytona. So it is irrelevant from a prestige and tradition point of view. An F1 car with the four rings winning races will make a statement to the upper-class, tech-saavy buyers they court. Vorsprung durch Technik, oder?

  2. Ferrari is a constructor that will remain in Formula 1 because they have become synonymous over the years.
    My opinion is that one other constructor who would benefit greatly from being in F1 (and not in any other competition) would be Lotus. They became famous because of their results in this competition, they have history. Today the Lotus brand has lost some ground, and if it wants to recover ( and I see that they are very active on the promotional side of business ) this is, in my opinion, the best solution for them.

  3. With the exception of Ferrari, car makers have always been ‘fair-weather friends’, in it when it suited, out when not. Most come in when they want to project a sporty image, which is probably why Mercedes is in at the moment, despite a series of exceptional sports cars they are still seen by and large as a maker of executive saloons and taxi’s. But it’s an expensive and risky strategy because it only stands any chance of working when they win. Honda and Toyota are two recent examples where they spent oodles of money with no real change in their image. It can even work in reverse, Alfa Romeo basically had to pull out because bad results and reliability in F1 was hurting car sales. Given the risks and the costs, to me, it’s amazing that main stream car makers are at all interested in F1. Spending their money elsewhere might have a far smaller impact, but it’s a lot less risky and significantly less expensive.

  4. Well, it is probably down to cost, politics and the fact that if a car manufacturer provides an existing F1 team with an engine, the kudos goes to the F1 team.

    A car manufacturer can only design an engine to the current regulations, and as such, it can only be a clone of the other engines, i.e very similar in performance to its competitors. This means that they cannot innovate to be the best design, they are only as good as the chassis/drivers.

    The only way a manufacturer can be in control of their destiny is to own the team – which has been tried by many with only Renault and Honda, aka Braun, gaining success in the recent past.

    F1 is too much of a closed shop for newcomers to breakthrough. If exposure is deemed necessary, manufacturers may as well chose other forms of motor sport and use their brand in a more recognizable (and cost effective) way for the general public.

  5. Plus, the main manufacturers are now looking towards an image of efficiency and durability instead of just outright speed. This is the antithesis of F1, regardless of any of the proposed future design rules.

  6. A couple of thoughts here:

    On sponsorship
    Advertising strategies and budgets are fragmented, aiming at tailoring messages to individual and geographically diverse market. F1 is a huge market but does not offer real opportunities to tailor messages. It is a one-fits-all strategy. There are very few companies targeting the average F1 fan that are global and can afford $100m budget all spent on a single event (Red Bull is one). This restricts F1’s appeal from a sponsorship perspective. For $100m, you can hire the top 10 names of the top 10 markets to advertise your product in different ways and using completely diverse channels. F1 is F1 everywhere, more or less.

    On manufacturers
    As many have suggested, rules are critical, and I agree that it is quite hard to relate F1’s technical environment to the road. Do we drive cars with red at 18,000rpms? Tires? Suspension? It is evident that F1 combines the best technology and provides an opportunity to push limits. But, apart from a few names (Ferrari is one, I wonder why Lambo has not made a move yet), I do not see that many manufacturers that really need the type of technological advancement that F1 promotes. Lately, road car tech has been about pedestrian safety (no test in F1), side collision (no test in F1), miles/gallon (no to little test in F1), hybrid engine tech (no to little test in F1), more miles covered (no test in F1) and many more areas that have no representation in the sport.

    Some of these limitations apply to competing series as well but they are more exaggerated in F1 due to its competitiveness and cost requirements. I do not see any radical progress unless the rules radically change, which means the entire executive team, including Bernie, needs to go. Bernie has repeatedly voiced that he will die leading F1…well…till then…enjoy the race!

    1. I agree with you in general but feel I must point out a common misconception regarding KERS, KERS is hybrid technology it works exactly the same as in a prius, only the balance between electric and internal combustion power is different,in principle.

  7. The overly-restrictive regulations are part of the reason F1 is so expensive. Both facts are deeply unattractive to manufacturers, as is the poor governance and financial decision-making from the powers-that-be. F1 is also much less serious about doing meaningful things to encourage things like green development and much more about gimmicky stuff like push-to-defend KERS (something banned in Le Mans-style racing, for example, in favour of KERS-to-augment-all-acceleration). F1 is the series that talks the most about relevance and does the least about it.

    F1 doesn’t necessarily need more manufacturers. It needs better management and a better dictionary.

    1. “The overly-restrictive regulations are part of the reason F1 is so expensive. ”

      but costs were far greater in f1 when regulations were less restictive.

      coats have come down quite a lot the past few years because of the more restrictive regs.

      also when you had more of a free for all in f1 in the past the gaps between those who had the cash & those who didn’t was enormous.

      the williams in 92/93 for instance with there highly technical car was often 1-2+ seconds faster than anything else & the cars at the back were often as much as 10 seconds slower as the leaders.

      one of the good things about the more restrictive nature of the regs recently is that the field has got really close which has improved the racing.

      1. Costs skyrocketed during the mid-1990s through to the late 2000s, even though that was the time when restrictions were being imposed at the tightest rates. They went down only in 2010 when the RRA was put in and sponsors started quitting, which have nothing to do with restriction of the technical side of the sport (as previous restrictions tended to do). The cheap paths to good performance were progressively blocked, leading to more and more money needing to be chucked at a car to make it go quickly. Naturally this increased the amount it took to compete in F1. There have been quite enough teams killed off and bought out by this effect to demonstrate it.

        As for gaps being enormous – 2011 has presented larger gaps than 2009 and 2010, along with more predictability (in terms of drivers finishing where they started after DNFs are considered), despite tighter regulations. The gaps in the first half of the last two decades have always increased approaching the mid-point of the decade, at which point some sort of corrective action would gradually reverse the process.

        The reason why you don’t see cars 10 seconds off the pace anymore is the franchise system, which means people have to do a certain amount of preparation work to get into F1, and also that hopeless cases don’t get onto the grid (because the FIA bars them from getting a franchise, the team discovers F1 costs too much for them or the team decides F1 isn’t worth the bother and expense). The entry bar is now so high that you have to be pretty good just to survive.

  8. I’ve always felt that while its good to have manufacturer team involvement in F1, Its not really crucial & F1 doesn’t really need them.

    There was very few manufacturer teams in F1 through the 70s & 95% of teams were running the Cosworth DFV & nobody really cared back then & nobody looks back & thinks F1 was bad back then because of that.

    The past decade was really the 1st time since the 50s/60s we had so many manufacturer teams, In all the years inbetween it was mostly privateer based teams with manufacturer’s only supplying engine’s.

  9. The truth is, manufacturers always favored other racing series to F1; it is not a recent thing. In the 80s, it was rallying that was pulling the manufacturers, then came the sports car racing. I think it has more to do with money and the fact that racing cars in other series look like actual cars.
    Only after 2000 manufacturers showed comparable interest in F1 to other series, with so many of them becoming full fledged teams. It was the trend back, it would have ended anyway, albeit more slowly rather than all at once after the crisis.

    BMW choosing DTM is no surprise, it is in their home turf against their biggest domestic rivals. It was long overdue.

    Again Porshce choosing Le Mans is hardly a surprise, they have always favored sport car racing. When they quit, they were in a dire financial situation. They had an LMP1 car ready in 2000 for Le Mans. Rumor is that they withdrew and left Audi alone in exchange for a VW/Audi platform for the Cayenne! I don’t think Audi will remain in Le Mans when they join.

    The biggest reason for manufacturers staying out of F1 is that they are shying away from racing all together. From touring cars to rallying to endurance racing, the manufacturers are not racing anymore, especially in the top categories. Look at the state of Le Mans after 2000. Reasons are twofold I think. One, they dont believe in win on Sunday, sell on Monday mantra anymore. And secondly, racing series have become a lot more boring overtime. There are far too many restrictions, trying to keep the performance of car equal etc. It is not in just F1, Le Mans also have same engine performance equalising clauses, even more blunt such as air-restrictors. Now they only compete on GT racing(SLS, 911 category) which requires minimal expenditure and they do it very stealthy with no publicity. OK, the racing is close and very good, but where is the challenge when the race cars produce 120-150 bhp less than the road going version of the same car.

  10. Once Eccelstone is dead, F1 will florish.

  11. Keith Jaguar runs a team at least here in the U.S. in the GT Class along with BMW. I also think that Le Mans is more of the premier class of what a car company can do. I’d rather buy from a company that actually builds cars to go racing than I would a company that doesn’t. I’m more willing to buy a chevy because I see them win in nascar, Le Mans, and Rolex as well on the international stage with Holden and we will see what the BTCC shows. With all this and other comapanies as well it seems more reasonable to join a series where an actual car you’ll sell will be used. F1 is a great series and shows that extreme of what car builders can do, but when the sport is more dominated by Aero packages and not engines then I’m not going to go out and buy a Merc because of a podium in F1; I’m going to go buy a Merc because of a DTM race. That’s just the way I see it but I think 2014 will really show what engine producers can do.

  12. Great article Keith. For me F1 is about more than manufacturers. I’m all about the privateer teams that run independantly. This is what gave F1 the edge. When watching documentaries about the 60s and 70s about teams such as McLaren, Surtees, Graham Hill’s team etc. Then in more recent years teams like Stewart and Prost. Then obviously the best loved, Williams. This is what defines F1 for me. But this is becoming less and less likely as the costs go up and up for F1 teams.

    Manufacturers do bring an awful lot to F1 though, first of all money, then second of all a big name that will hopefully bring fans too. I’d welcome some manufacturers back to the sport.

  13. Simple. F1 is expencive?

  14. bernification
    5th August 2011, 10:47

    It is really simple.

    F1 is too full of crooks and the ‘old boy’ network. If I were on a major manufacturers board and asked to vote, there is no way I would want to be involved with such a highly politically risky sport. Too many Ecclestones, Moselys and now Todt. The latter has done a good job so far but was a disasterous choice in terms of impartiallity.
    Ecclestone is syphoning off money to cover a debt he made the sport incurr, so he could take ownership, and everything he does is disasterous.
    He offends people at every turn. And by implication, being partners with an ex team principal- who has a lifetime ban for diabolical dealings. Who he now blames for being bag man in a bribe. I mean, it sounds like an episode of Columbo! And we already know who did it!

    Now F1 is not free to air in the uk, no major manufacturers will get involved, leaving Ferrari able to complain about having the Garagistas curtailed to let them win again. Because no one will be watching.

  15. I think manufacturers need to be there as engine manufacturers in the current environment, because they have the budget to develop engines.

    However, as teams the drive the budgets up impossibly high for smaller teams. It’s no coincidence that Arrows, Minardi, Jordan and Super Aguri stopped existing during the manufacturer boom. If budgets go up much more, expect teams like Williams, Sauber, Virgin and Hispania to collapse. Could manufacturers fill those places? Probably not.

  16. One word….. Bernie

  17. Great article Keith.

    It’s great to see BMW getting involved in DTM and Mini with WRC. Meeke and Sordo seemed to do relatively well in their initial outing and I hope it goes from strength to strength for them.

    What about a question of space in F1? At the beginning of 2010 there were concerns about a 24 car grid (usually not a problem now, it seems) and seen as none of the teams look like they’re going anywhere soon it begs the question, where would you fit more cars?

    F1 also has a real privateer aspect about it.

    Sure, there are privateers in other forms of motorsport but not to the degree that you get in F1. In fact, Ferrari are now an established road car manufacturer as a result of F1. If you look at McLaren, Williams, Sauber they all stem from one guy who may not have had huge factory backing in the beginning. They all use established engines, perhaps Williams to a lesser extent, but that really is their only tie to the world of consumer cars.

    It would then be a case of manufacturers vs. customer teams. Customer team has a less romantic ring to it than privateer in my opinion.

  18. Talking about costs to manufacturers consider this scenario; Red Bull make some hidden aero updates and both Webber and Vettel leave the rest in their dust again. Red Bull approaches Mercedes regarding using Mercedes engines next year. The question is which company would pay the other, Red Bull for the engines or Mercedes for the chance to have their engines win the championship again ?
    This is the basis of why manufacturers do or do not enter F1

  19. Bernie. Ecclestone.

  20. I don’t think it will be to long before more manufacturers are attracted to touring car and DTM, as millions of disaffected F1 viewers, abandoned by the BBC, look for an alternative motor sport to replace what they are no longer allowed to watch.

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