Why are car makers shunning F1 for other series?

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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

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

  1. R3V3 (@) said on 4th August 2011, 17:53

    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 :(

    • R3V3 (@) said on 4th August 2011, 17:59

      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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Dipak T said on 4th August 2011, 18:49

    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.

    • Mads (@mads) said on 4th August 2011, 20:24

      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.

  5. Lindsay Lohan is my girlfriend said on 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?

  6. peto4000 said on 4th August 2011, 19:02

    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.

  7. F1 98 said on 4th August 2011, 19:35

    It too expensive to go in f1

  8. sato113 (@sato113) said on 4th August 2011, 19:38

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

    did someone say my name?

  9. HoHum (@hohum) said on 4th August 2011, 20:13

    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.

  10. Ben Dover said on 4th August 2011, 20:38

    why would they especially after the bbc sky deal was announced

  11. Nikos said on 4th August 2011, 20:42

    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(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10282541) 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.”

    • Mads (@mads) said on 4th August 2011, 22:06

      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!

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 5th August 2011, 17:13

      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.

      • DaveW said on 6th August 2011, 17:36

        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?

  12. Cristian (@cristian) said on 4th August 2011, 20:53

    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.

  13. JimN (@jimn) said on 4th August 2011, 20:56

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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