F1: Big manufacturers don’t likey, why?

Map of official manufacturer involvement as of 2012:

Why does this happen?

One obvious reason is cost. Formula 1 may provide a decent return on investment for sponsors, but the maths are more challenging for a fully fledged F1 manufacturer operation. This model has proven to be too expensive – Renault has reverted to being an engine supplier and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mercedes decided to do the same in the future. They could gain the same benefits by supplying say McLaren as they get by having their own team.

The meritocratic, technically driven, winner-takes-it-all nature of Formula 1 also makes it difficult for new manufacturers as they have a lot of catch up work on the technical side vs. the incumbents. The number of different teams winning a race in a given season ranges from 2 to 5 which shows how difficult for a new team to achieve success. Toyota for example spent hundreds of millions of dollars over 8 years to achieve a few podiums (podia?). It is striking that if we have six manufacturers in F1 then someone’s best results will be around tenth place or so and if they are less experienced they could remain there for a while. After a couple of seasons the big cheeses in the boardroom will start to ask tough questions and might pull the plug.

Other series have attempted to lower the cost of manufacturer involvement and level the playing field by introducing “spec” elements, such as the chassis – eg NASCAR with the Car of Tomorrow. If Formula 1 wants to be more manufacturer-friendly then it needs to consider this path.

Likeness to standard automobiles is another advantage that the likes of NASCAR, DTM, WRC and WTCC can offer and F1 obviously can’t. So not much to do there.

Finally, manufacturers are looking for publicity through innovation – eg Audi diesel engines or Toyota hybrids in Le Mans. Formula 1 rules are way too rigid for manufacturers to be able to achieve true differentiation in their involvement. Cars and engines look the same because the rule book does not allow teams to think outside the box.

Of course, the most fundamental question for Formula 1 is whether it NEEDS mass manufacturers to be successful… The answer is not straightforward.


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