F1 is going back down a route it took in the 2000’s, which could be a massive problem if history lines up to repeat itself, which seems more likely by the day. My simple point is this, I think there’s a strong chance that even Audi doesn’t make it to the grid in 2026, let alone any other manufacturer. Sadly to make my point, I’m going to need to first briefly detail what happened in the 2000’s in F1 and perhaps touch on something we all absolutely detest, the economy.
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F1 in the 2000’s
In the 2000’s the entire F1 grid was was fully of manufacturer based work teams, throughout the decade we saw Ferrari, Renault, Honda, Toyota, Jaguar and BMW, with Mercedes deeply embedded with McLaren before buying Brawn at the end of 2009. It could be looked back at as a golden age of Formula 1, especially for fans of Schumacher who dominated the first half of the season.
It was a decade that saw massive investment in Formula 1 from the globes major manufacturers and it helped to grow the sport even further than it had been growing in the 90’s. Alonso got his two titles, Hamilton got his first, and Raikkonen as well as Button took a title each.
Simply put the 2000’s were as good for Ecclestone’s bank balance as they were for sub prime mortgage lenders.
Which is a very dark way for me to Segway into the point this video is trying to make.
As many of you will remember, at the end of 2007 and start of 2008 Mortgage Payments increased in arrears by almost 90%.
Shortly after this the 2008 mortgage crisis in the US would turn into a major global financial crisis which would cause the collapse of some of the biggest financial institutions in the world, including famously the Lehman brothers.
It also had a very real effect on Formula 1 as well.
Toyota who’d been pumping massive amounts of funding, without much success, left the sport in 2009.
BMW followed them at the end of the 2009 season, with Peter Sauber thankfully re-buying his team back from the German manufacturer.
Honda decided to leave Formula 1, at the end of 2008, and luckily for the staff and drivers of that team it was bought by Ross Brawn. It became Brawn GP for 2009 and won both titles before going on to be sold to what is now the Mercedes F1 team.
Renault left the sport at the end of 2010, handing the team over to Lotus.
Red Bull thankfully had bought out Jaguar F1 from ford back in 2004, which otherwise would have also likely been off the grid in 2009 if not long before.
Which brings me on to my concern over F1’s current obsession with Manufacturers running the sport on a course for repeating itself once again.
At the time of creating this piece of content, Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault (although running under its sports brand Alpine) are currently on the grid. Audi have purchased a controlling stake in Sauber, which was interestingly BMW in the 2000’s, and plan to fully run the team as Audi Works from 2026. Honda are trying to get back on the grid, either in a partnership or fully buying a team. Porsche at least made an attempt and there’s news of Hyundai wanting to push later in the decade.
On top of this Ford is reportedly wanting to pay to put its badge on the Red Bull Powertrain in 2026.
The biggest news is obviously Andretti partnering with Cadillac to push for a new entry. Whether it’s a simple branding deal or a full engine entry is yet to be seen, but either way 10’s if not 100’s of millions of dollars will be pumped from the GM brand into F1 if the bid is successful.
The problem I see though, is while all of this is happening, we are teetering on the brink of recession, with the Covid-19 pandemic throwing off economists on when a major recession will hit.
The firm belief from all though, is that it will hit.
Running for the Exits
There in lies the problem, when a major recession hits, the demand for expensive goods and luxury or performance cars will obviously dip. This means the cross over of F1 and manufacturer products will also dip as it pushed back on creating more efficient vehicles.
When that happens, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to put a car round a track becomes an easy line item on a boring accountants list to cull.
Once again we could see a rush for the exits from all of these shiny manufacturer’s F1 is working so hard to seduce.
The VW group would quickly pull Audi because it’s a massive investment that can’t be directly balanced, as the sales are from indirect branding. Thus if the recession is in 2024, we may not even see them hit the grid as they cut spending before it happens.
Honda will leave, or at least give up trying to enter, as they have at every single downturn in the past.
Ford will hide their badge in the back of their pickup trucks and drive off into the mountains.
GM will cut their sponsorship from Andretti, who may or may not be on the grid.
While Renault asks what a sports car is over breakfast, before re-assigning that budget to a Croissant holder in the new Electric Renault Clio.
What will be left behind is Ferrari, whose business is quite literally built around racing.
Mercedes, whose interest in the team is now only a 3rd and therefore a viable Marketing cost.
As well as, hopefully, Andretti. Who are at their core a racing team, and not a manufacturer and therefore will race in good times and bad.
I love the idea of having big manufacturer’s in F1 in the good times as the sport booms. However not if it comes at the cost of allowing in the pure racing teams, who’ll stay with us as the mortgage payments fall behind.