Updated: Jan 27
When big car manufacturers of Ford, Honda, Toyota, and BMW all left Formula 1 between 2004-2009, the sport took a massive hit. Most of them left citing the substantial cost for running a Formula 1 team, let alone running a championship-contending Formula 1 team.
Written by Sage Hou, edited by Janvi Unni
Car manufacturers take part in Formula 1 for three main reasons: 1. It helps their Research and Development for their road cars, 2. They like Formula 1, 3. It helps them generate a brand and is good advertising. The big reason why car manufacturers don’t take part in Formula 1 is because of the large price tag associated with the most prestigious racing series on the planet. For Honda, Toyota and BMW, the price tag was not worth any of the three reasons why they participated in Formula 1 in the first place. The spectacle has never been the same since.
In 2017, when BMW was asked if it would ever rejoin Formula 1, BMW racing boss Jens Marquardt said: “The V6 turbo hybrid has nothing to do with what we do in (road) car production.“From an engineering perspective, I say hats off to what they do in Formula 1. But technology has no relevance to the road.” The manufacturer went on to join the other Formula car world championship, Formula E. At the time, then-chairman Rupert Stadler explained the switch to Formula E, saying, “As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to even more so.” And the road-relevance of Formula E competition was also brought up by Former BMW Team Principal Allan McNish last week. “That [technology] filters through, and it’s on the car that Lucas [di Grassi, one of Audi’s two Formula E drivers] and I drive every day on the road and also everybody else at home as well,” McNish said. Formula E looked more attractive than Formula 1, especially with its low price tag compared to the hundreds of millions it would take to start a Formula 1 team.
It looked like no major car manufacturers would ever join Formula 1 again. In all of these companies’ eyes, the lack of similarity of the modern-day F1 car and their road car as well as the lack of commercial value was not worth the extreme funding Formula 1 teams need.
However, with major German manufacturers Porsche and Audi looking set to join Formula 1 in 2026, the automotive industry’s view on the racing series seems to have changed. This is mainly down to the reasons why these teams wouldn’t join Formula 1 in the first place: F1 cars in 2026 have more of a similarity with road cars, F1 has become a better marketing space, and will become more affordable.
Audi and Porsche seem to have been promised by the FIA and Formula 1 that the 2026 engine regulations will be more similar to their road car development in a way the two manufacturers are happy to join the sport. With its extreme speed, Formula 1 tests each car component to the maximum, with engines being the most relevant to the research and development of road cars. Audi and Porsche have been in talks with the FIA regarding the 2026 regulations, and they seem to be happy with the direction the FIA will take, making an F1 move more likely.
Audi and Porsche seem to also be happier with how Formula 1 can be an advertisement towards their car brand. F1 has seen an increase of 39% of their viewership in 2021 from 2019, as well as a 99% increase in social media engagement. The sport has developed a larger audience partially thanks to the Netflix show Drive to Survive, but more importantly the fresh marketing campaigns from the new owners of Formula 1, Liberty Media. With more viewership, Audi and Porsche can advertise themselves to a larger audience, building them a brand worth spending a lot of money on.
Lastly, Audi and Porsche seem to be happy with the methods the FIA are using to make the championship more even. Previously, competing against the big teams and building a world championship-winning car required a lot of money and multiple years. However, the cost cap introduced in 2021 of $145 million will put a limit on the endless amount of money that seems to be poured into the sport, closing the gap between the teams on the upper and lower ends of the grid, especially for those new teams such as Audi and Porsche.
It’s great to see more and more car manufacturers back on the grid. Large car constructors battling it out on the racetrack gives Formula 1 more meaning and more sentiment, greeting a better spectacle for the fans and the sport itself. The names Mercedes, Porsche, McLaren, hold meaning behind them. They hold years of history, blood, sweat, and tears to create the companies they are today that have fundamentally changed the way people live their day-to-day lives. The names of Audi, Ferrari, and Aston Martin hold more meaning than a “Caterham” or a “Force India”. No offense to the teams that aren’t car manufacturers, but the battle just fails to feel as titanic.
But more importantly, it shows that Liberty Media’s management of the sport we know and love has been exceptional since they took over. They have made the sport more attractive to fans and manufacturers alike. The future in Formula 1 is in safe hands, and we can all look forward to what the future holds.