Erich Zakowski enjoyed considerable success running Ford racing programs in the 1970s. His turbocharged Ford-based Zakspeed engines were successful and Zakowski was looking at the potential of a Formula 1 engine program in the early 1980s. In 1983 Zakspeed built its first purpose-built aluminum turbo engine - for a Ford IMSA program. This was designed by Norbert Kreyer and Gianni Marelli, who had previously worked at both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. When Ford decided to commission Cosworth to design an F1 turbo engine, Zakspeed decided to go it alone. Kreyer designed a straight four engine and Paul Brown designed a chassis to go with it. The Zakspeed 841 made its first appearance in the hands of Jonathan Palmer in Portugal in 1985 but it was not very reliable that year. In 1986 the team ran Palmer and Huub Rothengatter but there were no major results but in 1987 Martin Brundle and Christian Danner did better with Brundle scoring two points at Imola and Danner twice finishing seventh.
The restrictions on turbocharged engines in 1988 made the Zakspeed a lot less powerful and less reliable in 1988 and the cars, which were reworked 871 chassis, were not competitive. Piercarlo Ghinzani qualified for only eight of the 16 races and F1 novice Bernd Schneider started only six times.
The ban on turbo engines in F1 came in at the start of 1989 and Zakowski made the disastrous decision to use Yamahas. Schneider only competed in two of the sixteen races while Aguri Suzuki failed to qualify at all. Zakspeed pulled out of F1 although it went on to run touring cars with great success in the 1990s when Erich Zakowski's son Peter took over the team.