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?
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 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.
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 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?
With many car manufacturers getting back into motor sport it begs the question, why not F1?
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.
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