‘Back to the future’ is F1’s best hope
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In F1’s 65-year existence, more than a dozen manufacturers have contested the championship. Today, three are represented: Mercedes, Renault and Honda. This excludes Ferrari, as they are hardly ‘mainstream’, while Honda’s commitment remains tentative – supplying only McLaren thus far.
This is in contrast to the mid-noughties, when seven brands – BMW, Fiat (via Ferrari), Ford (via Jaguar), Honda, Mercedes, Renault and Toyota – proudly strutted their F1 stuff across the world, either as full-blown team owners or dedicated engine partners. Some, like Renault, won handsomely; others, like BMW and Honda, won only the odd grand prix. Jaguar and Toyota, meanwhile, departed winless, tails between their legs.
That level of manufacturer involvement couldn’t last and by the end of the decade most were gone – although Renault switched from being a team owner to an engine supplier, while Mercedes went the other way – buying former engine customer Brawn GP outright, thus relegating McLaren to ‘customer’ status.
Renault, realising the myopia of concentrating solely on engine supply, return to the fold this year after re-acquiring the team they sold at great loss – although the nal decision to commit was still very much in the balance at the end of 2015.
But what’s most illuminating about the manufacturers’ stats is that of all the brands to have contested F1, just two, Renault and Mercedes, have won constructors’ titles as works entrants – to date, twice each.
So to return to VW, perhaps the group realised the odds of winning F1 titles are less than 15 per cent, and possibly the company simply prefers the challenge of endurance racing – where its brands (Audi, Porsche) are omnipresent and highly successful; or domination in rallying (VW) and touring cars (Seat). Whatever, the gist is: F1 is no cakewalk for manufacturers, regardless of budgets.
All this begs the questions: has F1, by going green at great cost, actually pitched itself at the wrong market? Should it not instead consider reinventing itself as a straightforward sporting spectacle, leaving the costly world of emissionfriendly, ultra-high-tech, to WEC?
F1 thrived in the early ’80s when affordable engine and transmission packages were readily available to all, with primary underwriter, Ford, garnering kudos, as Ford-Cosworthpowered cars won eight of the 16 races in 1982. Renault (4), Ferrari (3) and BMW (1) divvied up the remainder between them. What happened next? Renault’s turbo came on strong, Porsche arrived with a TAG-funded V6 for McLaren, BMW got their four-cylinder act together for Brabham, and Honda ironed out their lag issues ahead of partnering Williams. Manufacturer turbo power became essential for victory, and budgets – fuelled by tobacco brands – spiralled. The onceubiquitous Ford Cosworth DFV was relegated to the back, before being banned totally.
In the noughties, manufacturer involvement pushed costs through the roof. True, a budget cap concept was pursued by the Max Mosley administration, but it was too little, too late – plus the concept was tainted by politics. The haves simply kept outspending the have-nots
These days, F1 still overspends despite the lack of big-buck sponsors, yet there is no reason – save for red- and silver-coloured vested interests – why F1 could not re-adopt proprietary engines and return to its roots as a true constructors’ championship, rather than chasing manufacturer involvement.