Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Abu Dhabi, 2009

F1 quitters return to racing elsewhere in 2012

2012 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Abu Dhabi, 2009
BMW turned its back on F1 at the end of 2009

When the global financial crisis began to bite, F1 was rocked by a series of departures by major car manufacturers.

First Honda pulled the plug on its F1 team at the end of 2008. Within 12 months BMW and Toyota had followed suit.

This trio are embarking on major new racing projects in 2012 – but not in F1. Why have they chosen to make their comebacks in other series?


Honda took over the former BAR team in 2006, but struggled in the two seasons that followed with a pair of disastrously uncompetitive cars.

Even so, it was a considerable shock when, on December 4th, 2008, the team announced its withdrawal from the sport after just three years as a fully-fledged constructor.

Honda Civic WTCC
Honda Civic WTCC

Since then Honda has enjoyed some success in the British Touring Car Championship, with Matt Neal winning the series last year at the wheel of a Civic.

Honda will step up its campaign in 2012, entering its new Civic in the FIA’s World Touring Car Championship. This is a major boost for the series, which last year had just Chevrolet as a manufacturer entrant.

The 12-round calendar takes teams as far afield as Brazil, USA, Japan, China and Macau, with the remaining races in Europe.

One of the obvious appeals of touring car racing to manufacturers is the clear resemblance between the racing cars and showroom models. With Honda’s car range increasingly centred on family vehicles rather than performance models, racing in the WTCC makes sense.


BMW came close to tasting championship success on its return to F1 as an engine supplier with Williams in the early 2000s. After taking over Sauber, Robert Kubica was in the hunt for the 2008 crown until the latter stages of the season.

After an uncompetitive 2009 the team pulled the plug on its F1 campaign. But even as it was making its departure from F1, BMW stressed that it would “continue to be actively involved in other motor sports series”.

BMW scrapped its WTCC team at the end of 2010 but will return to touring car racing this year. It will compete against its principle market rivals Mercedes and Audi in the DTM (Germany’s touring car championship) with a version of its M3.

BMW’s reasons for leaving F1 were hotly debated at the time. The cost of competing in F1, the move towards more efficient engines, and various rows involving Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone were touted as likely contributing factors.

What does its move into the DTM tell us about its racing priorities? It seems practical business considerations such as reducing costs and competing against key market rivals have trumped other concerns, such as a desire to be seen producing more efficient and environmentally responsible cars.


Just three days after the 2009 F1 season ended, Toyota made the sudden announcement that it was ending its F1 programme.

This was hardly a great surprise. No wins from 139 starts in eight years was not the kind of return they expected given the vast sums spent on the team.

Their Cologne base is now being used for an entry in the new World Endurance Championship including a two-car effort at the Le Mans 24 Hours. The turnaround would likely have been even quicker had it not been for last year’s tsunami in Japan, which forced the postponement of their programme.

It is surely significant that Toyota, having described the F1 Kinetic Energy Recovery System as “really primitive”, raced without the device in 2009 year despite selling the successful Prius hybrid road car, and is now set to race a more advanced hybrid in the WEC.

Where will F1’s new teams come from?

It’s not just manufacturers previously involved in F1 who are choosing to compete elsewhere.

The forthcoming new rules for 2014 would seem an ideal time for a new manufacturer to take the plunge. But as yet there is no sign any of them will.

There have been the usual murmurings of interest from the Volkswagen Group, but a potential entrance was at one point suggested as being as far off as 2018.

It may be that the conspicuous lack of success of new teams which entered in 2010 have served to discourage others. The 13th slot on the grid remains vacant.

Nor should we underestimate the important of more prosaic considerations. I wonder how any car manufacturer – particularly luxury builders who sell their cars partly on their aesthetics – can be happy to put their badge on the modern generation of disfigured F1 machines.

History has shown F1 courts manufacturer interest at its peril for they tend to come and go as they please. Honda and BMW’s teams only survived as Brawn (now Mercedes) and Sauber thanks to the efforts of individuals like Ross Brawn, Nick Fry and Peter Sauber.

Toyota scrapped their F1 entry despite having already built a car for the new season. Such an abrupt pull-out is hardly unusual – Peugeot’s withdrawal from the WEC, a championship they had lobbied the FIA to set up, came as its team had already begun pre-season testing, and was so hurried its drivers learned the news from journalists.

But if car manufacturers can’t be enticed to enter F1, and teams in junior categories like GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 seldom if ever make the step up to F1, then where are the teams of the future going to come from?

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69 comments on “F1 quitters return to racing elsewhere in 2012”

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  1. Car manufacturers as teams come and go, but I guess the more worrying trend is lack of new engine suppliers. We’ll see in 2014 with the new rules if couple more suppliers enter the sport. If they do, there’s a good chance we’ll see another factory owned team in couple of years time. However, if no new suppliers appear then we can talk about possible “end of F1”.

  2. “where are the teams of the future going to come from?”

    I think the tech industry. It’s just a matter of time before we start seeing google cars and iCars, sure they start with a screen on the dash, but it’s just a matter of time before windscreens are replaced with 3d displays and steering wheels become simple input devices not unlike sim racing wheels.

    Give it 20 years and you will see Google and Apple (or whatever the new big tech companies are) up on the front row of the grid.

    Well 20 is possibly a bit short-sighted, but it will happen…

  3. I think a big part of manufacturers not being in F1 is how hard it is to compete. If you’re a new company coming in you don’t want to be beaten by your competition on the road just because you haven’t been in the sport as long and don’t have the “acquired” knowledge.

    A casual fan could look at Mercedes and be like McLaren and Ferrari must be better because they’re doing better on track… Also a reason I feel like those two are so peeved about Red Bull continuing to win.

    If I were a major company, I wouldn’t want to come in and spend three years mid field to hopefully get some results.

  4. I think most of us are missing the point, these companies want to be in motorsport to demonstrate their engineering prowess and as a by-product learn the stress limits possible for parts to be used in their retail products. F1 no longer allows teams to build a better engine and F1 aerodynamics are totally opposite to what is required in a road-car. For these reasons manufacturers are looking to other areas of motorsport, neither DTM or prototype racing are cheap but they allow development, touring cars are a good series for manufacturers wanting to find the limits of their small sedans whilst 1 design badge-racing (V8 s’cars, Nascar etc.) are pure billboard advertising at low cost. F1 must decide whether it wants to be a 1 design circus or the pinnacle of motorsport it can’t be both.

    1. As a further illustration I ask you; How long can Ferrari allow themselves to be beaten by a Renault powered car when they are not allowed to develop their engine in any way, and I remind you ( despite youthful nay-sayers) that for Ferrari it has always been the engine first and the rest built around it.

  5. It seems to me that FIA Touring cars and Endurance racing look far more enticing to manufacturers than F1.

    First, the majority of your research and development is spent in the off season, whereas in Formula One you’re pouring loads of funds into R&D for the whole season. Additionally, all the funds you spend on in-season R&D in F1 are somewhat a shot in the dark, because the only place you can test is during a race weekend. In Touring cars, generally, any in-season R&D is spent on either testing to find set-up or on mechanical reliability. In Endurance racing, your in-season testing largely consists of the actual races leading up to Le Mans with testing to confirm reliability lessons learned. The pre-season testing for both Touring cars and Endurance racing is far less restrictive than F1, which attractive to manufacturers because they can prove their products to a large extent before they even go racing.

    Second, I feel the most attractive aspect of both series, especially Endurance racing, over F1 is the, by far, the technical rules. Granted, all three series are very restrictive in terms of driver aids, aerodynamics and chassis to varying degree, but Touring cars and Endurance racing are far more open the F1 in terms of the engine regulations. In the upcoming endurance racing series there is going to be petrol engines, diesel engines, petrol hybrid and diesel hybrid engines, all with various numbers of cylinders, configurations (V, flat, straight, etc.), and aspiration (normal versus turbo). In touring cars you have normally aspirated diesel and petrol engines, and turbo-charged diesel and petrol engines, with the number of cylinders and configuration at you choosing as long as it’s 2000cc or less. What do we have in F1? A 2.4L 90 degree petrol fueled v8s come hell or high water. There is not a lot or room for innovation.

    Third, I believe the advertising power of Touring cars and Endurance racing is far more direct when you are trying to reach the general public. Clearly, a Chevrolet Cruze or Seat Leon touring car are very easy to associate with the actual road versions in a advertisement. I personally believe that the LMP1 coupes (closed cockpit), like the Peugeot 908, Audi R18, and the new Toyota TS030, are show stoppers because their appearance holds race car, futuristic prototype, and a sense that maybe, just maybe, you sneak one onto the motorway, in essence, capturing your imagination when you see on. I personally think the Group C cars, and the GT1s/LM GTPs for 1998/98 are some of the most amazing cars I’ve ever seen. Additionally, the wider range of engine options in Endurance racing gives a manufacturer the ability to show and advertise their engineering expertise in overall, and with a certain kind of drivetrain which they can then blanket over their entire road vehicle range. However, F1 cars are race car in purpose, functionality, and looks. The visual appearance of an F1 car works for an F1 fan, because in an F1 car we see the physical manifestation of the pinnacle of speed and driving talent, which makes them my proxy beautiful. However, when the someone else sees a F1 car, they see a strange looking race car which bares no resemblance to any car they see on the road or at the car exhibition other than the fact it has four wheels. So, if you are successful in F1, have the engineering expertise, but difficulty associating it with your road cars. Hence, F1 success is harder to advertise.

    So, it seems to me that if I was a manufacturer, I could race a touring car, that looks exactly like my road car, with an engine that is very similar to my road car, that’s proven and use it to directly advertise for that road car. Or, I could beat every other manufacturer at Le Mans with, for example, a LMP1 coupe that is test-proven, that captures the imagination with its fast, futuristic looks and is powered by, for example, an electric motor that charges off the brakes and a petrol engine generator and advertise my engineering precision and expertise. Or, I could join F1. I could build a car which has had limited pre-season testing, yet has cost me a huge amount of money . The car is ugly and probably is not very quick because it is my first year completing and I haven’t found that magic F1 voodoo for aerodynamics. I’ll still spend more huge sums of money during the season on parts that are only wind-tunnel tested and will probably only maintain the speed gap to my competitors rather than narrow it. Though, I will probably give up the barrage of parts around September, and say I’m focusing on next year’s car, unless, of-course, I’m stuck in a tight battle for 7th (which you can’t really advertise) in the constructors championship. I will fire a plenty of extremely-high paid engineers, and hire even higher paid engineers. I will sit on the FOTA board, and talk a lot about cutting costs, and how to cut costs, and if the new turbo engines should have 4 cylinders, or, even 6 cylinders, or maybe only 3 cylinders, because all the major teams on FOTA just want to kill time to keep their precious status-quo since a major change in regulations might topple them from the top of the ladder, putting in jeopardy all that sponsor money they’ve tied up and need desperately to try to stay competitive.

    At this point in time, with the politics, money, and regulations being what they are in F1, why would a manufacurer join?

    1. Well said @nutritional, who doesn’t remember the success of Audi all wheel drive in the touring car series leading to Audi becoming a desirable brand again or BMWs rear wheel drive winning the starts or Jaguars XK engined cars winning Le Mans beating such legends as Ferrari, Maseratti and Aston Martin. These are the reasons manufacturers want to be in motorsports.

  6. F1 is insanely expensive, much more than ever before, a BIG Brain and good fortune do not make a winner anymore…hundreds of millions in search of a tenth is too cash hungry………..but its not just F1:-
    Rallying – struggling for years now with just Citroen and Ford, it now has no commercial rights holder and BMW/Mini has shot its chances in the foot due to cash shortage. VW plan to arrive next year but into this current mess?? i am sure they must be reconsidering.
    WTC – Chevy only last year was a joke. Honda may be looking for the quick win but where is the coverage and the kudos??
    WEC/Le Mans – the BIG RACE will be unaffected as always. However this is a relatively cheap sport for a multinational (Audis favourite trick)and Peugeot were only interested in the big race really, which they struggled to win even with the fastest car. ALMS has struggled for a decent LMP1 entry in the past few years and TBH the GT cars keep the interest going (well supported by Chevy, BMW, Ferrari, Porsche).
    Moto GP – shortage of manufacturers has led to a depleted field and a half baked idea for this year to increase the numbers. This sport is cash hungry and it shows.
    CART/Indy – a shadow of its former self even after merging, most speedway races looked pretty empty of spectators. Again the BIG Race is the exception.

    So what is doing well? Supposedly! :-
    NASCAR – old tech, big fields, lots of races, great spectacle….but many crowds looked down and they will have to be careful but I am sure they will do well.
    Aussie V8s – old tech, big fields, great racing. Could we have a European version please?

    Maybe High Tech and super massive budgets are not the way to go.

    1. NASCAR isn’t as low budget as they like to make themselves out to be. Granted, you can field a car in the Sprint Cup Series for way less than trying to field a car in F1. In fact, you can buy a completed Cup car and go racing, but the teams winning all the races, like Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Rousch and Penske have huge budgets that can somewhat hidden in divided departments (I should point out that Tony Stewart won with a car, engine, and technical support for Hendrick motorspots before someone brings that up). Teams have been recruiting F1 level engineers. Hendrick, Rousch, Joe Gibbs, and Ganassi have been building their own engines and simply branding them whatever manufacturer’s badge they are running on the front of their car. And the engines they have been producing are CARBURETED, 5.7L PUSH-ROD V8s that revs to 9500 rpm! That is not a low-budget engine. Additionally, Indy stars like Montoya, Amendinger, Franchitti, and others have all tried their hand at NASCAR because it is more lucrative than Indy. Honestly, I’d say the low-budget NASCAR teams, being the limited-schedule, start and park, and Daytona only teams are used as a PR smoke and mirror show by NASCAR to make themselves out as the still being the 1960’s “good ol’ boys” where anyone can race, when in fact they are very commercial and very high budget sport dominated by a few teams, just like F1.

      Beyond budget, they’ve been having problems since 2008 with attendance at a lot of their events, and sponsorship, with the big teams having to cut back or merge teams a few times. But that is more of a recession issue than an interest issue.

      I’d argue that the small-budget, low-tech form on motorsport in North America is actually Indy. Outside of Ganassi and Penske, who win everything period, the teams seemingly have a truck and a hot-dog stand for pit-facilities, most of them couldn’t come up with a race strategy for the life of them, most of their drivers crash-out at the first corner because their reckless and undisciplined and hence couldn’t find a drive anywhere else, and the Indy cars are so artifcial. So what if they can go 200mph around an oval? So can a lot of other kinds of cars. The cars remind me of a Karmann-Ghia where it looks sportly, but it is actually just a new body on an old Volkswagen Beetle. There’s nothing innovative or boundary-pushing about their cars, no cutting edge engines or aerodynamics – they just look it: made to look the part. The Indy series looks like a joke and it shows commercially. The only network who was willing to pay for the TV rights other than the Indy 500 was Versus, whom couldn’t provide good commentary if their lives depended on it. All the series really has is the Indy 500, and then just some bad street courses, old, ugly aerodromes, road courses with no grand stands because they’re for club racing, and sparsely attended ovals, some of which NASCAR does not even bother to go ro. I would not be surprised if Australian V8 supercars starts beating Indy for TV ratings in the US in the next few years.

      I think NASCAR does well in the US because they have the money and look like they have money. That appearance on money, big sponsors, and drivers with huge paychecks gains NASCAR credit with the viewer because it means that their championship is something worth winning. Indy does bad because it looks like a low-budget, seat of you pants joke and hence gets treated like a joke.

      I don’t think that a strictly low-budget approach is the way to go nor do I think super-high budget is the way to go. One thing that the WEC, FIA World Touring Cars, Le Mans and NASCAR have in common over F1 is the ability for teams to buy cars to race, and to race limited schedules while also letting the manufacturers and big private teams run somewhat of a muck with huge budgets and multiple car entries. Perhaps that is the better formula. It gives you the competitive teams with the glamor, and the money, and the low-budget teams who fill you grid, race each other to death, and complete the picture of a healthy championship.

      1. I should add that the engines in NASCAR even had computers, let alone being carbureted push-rod V8s pushing 9500rpm. To get that many rpm out of an engine like that is no small feat. Also, I’m not saying that every driver in Indy is reckless and undisciplined, but unfortunately, many of them are.

        1. don’t even have computers***

      2. What you write about NASCAR is pretty good a picture @nuritional, but when you describe IndyCar, I think you get a bit carried away with hyperbole to highlight how much its come down.

        Sure, its come down far since the Champ car days in the ’90s. But it not that horrible as you picture it. And the new car is another step up to being a nice racing series all of its own.

  7. Im not sure if a reason for BMW pulling out of various motorsports disciplines was because of fuel efficiency. BMW are one of the most sustainable car companies and produce some of the worlds most efficient engines in their road cars, winning numerous awards. Indeed, they were the only team to back the introduction of KERS on the grounds that it could be transferred into road car technology to make them more efficient.

  8. I think there are three factors here:

    One is that there are plenty of other motorsports where success directly influences customer perception of the product. The examples are WTCC, BTCC, etc. For more extravagant brands the World Endurance Championship helps them build their image. Even the Dakar (where BMW made its presence felt through the MINI Countryman-based machines as did Toyota in 2012, and before that Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Porsche, etc.) provides the right platform for manufacturers to showcase their skills that are more relevant for real life use.

    Secondly, competing in all these championships is still cheaper than competing in F1. And these series give reasonable global exposure, though perhaps not of the level of F1.

    And that’s point 3. Inspite of the enormous global exposure of F1, manufacturers don’t find it vital to particicpate because of the costs and also, I believe, the over-reliance on aerodynamics. Manufacturers will be well aware of the beating a drinks manufacturer is giving established manufacturers in F1 these days. It’s all because of aerodynamics.

    Car makers know that their skills in making powerful as well as fuel efficient engines, or environmentally friendly machines won’t result in a successful F1 assault because some Adrian Newey in a drinks or perfume manufacturer’s team will beat them squarely. Just look at how much Mercedes-Benz is struggling.

    Unless this over-reliance on aero and these crazy gimmicks such as DRS are thrown out and F1 achieves a total makeover there is no reason why any automobile manufacturer that values its image would want to start an F1 team. Mercedes-Benz made the mistake. No one else will follow.

  9. It will compete against its principle market rivals Mercedes and Audi in the DTM (Germany’s touring car championship) with a version of its M3.

    There has also been speculation that they could join V8 Supercars in 2013, running under Car of the Future regulations, though they have said that in order to enter, they would have to be able to use parts from the M3 DTM car to cut costs. After Nissan picked up the four-car Kelly Racing garage, BMW has been linked to the only our four-car outfit on the grid, Dick Johnson Racing, which would be quite the coup given that DJR has run Fords exclusively since the 1980s.

  10. Nor should we underestimate the important of more prosaic considerations. I wonder how any car manufacturer – particularly luxury builders who sell their cars partly on their aesthetics – can be happy to put their badge on the modern generation of disfigured F1 machines.

    I’d suggest they are more concerned with putting their badge on a car which will not be able to break the dominance of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.

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