APRIL 30, 2004

Manufacturers in Formula 1

The automobile manufacturers have been a part of Formula 1 since the early 1980s when the first big companies came into the sport to join Ferrari and the Cosworth-engined teams. Since then there has been a constant presence, ebbing and flowing depending on results and circumstance. Manufacturers have never been committed to the sport if it does not serve their purposes at that particular moment. The one exception has always been Ferrari but then that was an independent operation until Enzo Ferrari died in 1988. Since then it has been the goal to win and it has taken a lot of time to build up to the success we are now seeing. The problem is that in the interim the support from parent company Fiat has waned as has the Italian firm's economic fortunes and as a result Ferrari has become increasingly dependent on sponsorship, particularly from Marlboro. With Ferrari unable to fund itself and Marlboro being forced to leave the sport in 2006, and the additional problem that Ferrari now has shareholders to answer to, there are fears that one day Ferrari may decide that F1 no longer makes financial sense. The company has done enough to live off its reputation for 20 or 30 years and it is a very real possibility that Ferrari's best option faced with these circumstances would be to leave the sport. However Formula 1 and Ferrari are in many ways linked intrinsically and thus it is in everyone's best interest that the costs in the sport are brought down so that Ferrari can afford to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Toyota which appear to have almost limitless budgets. The fact is that no-one can really afford F1 as it now is and there must be a reality check if the sport is to prosper. The new F1 rules for 2008 are designed to be exactly that. They aim to create a mix of technology and entertainment which is sustainable without costs getting out of control. There are some manufacturers who may use the opportunity to get out of F1, saying it is no longer what they want but the fact remains that with the new rules there is still some leeway for technical excellence without it being entirely dependent on who has the deepest pockets.