The sto­ries F1’s big­wigs would rather you didn’t know…


tech­nol­ogy that trans­mits hi-def­i­ni­tion vi­su­als to a vast global au­di­ence.

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 fi­nal de­ci­sion to com­mit was still very much in the bal­ance at the end of 2015.

Of the top six car man­u­fac­tur­ers, Re­nault are the only ones who have a pres­ence in For­mula 1

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.

‘Back to the fu­ture’ is F1’s best hope

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