Since the first ever Formula One World Championship in 1950 a total of 137 different constructors have taken part in Grand Prix racing. Only one of those constructors has maintained an unbroken run of participation through every year of the sport's history.
The very nature of F1 dictates that teams come and go on a regular basis and the major car manufacturers involved in Formula One are not immune to this. The involvement of car makers in the sport is cyclical and F1 is going through one of those cycles at the moment. Honda, BMW and Toyota have withdrawn, and Renault has been sold to a private investor. However, history has shown that manufacturers will return to the sport one day as their motivations change over time.
Some manufacturers use the sport to market their road cars. Others use it to develop their engineers or simply take part for the passion of racing. They leave F1 because it becomes too expensive, their brands are tarnished by horror accidents, or they achieve all of their set goals.
This is the history of the major production car manufacturers to have raced in Formula One.
Although Ferrari started out as a racing team that made high performance road cars to fund its sporting efforts, the company has now developed into one of the most profitable car makers in the world. Ferrari's brand has outgrown the Formula One team but will always be firmly entwined with its racing pedigree.
The Scuderia's record in Formula One is unrivalled. The team has won 15 drivers championships, 16 constructors championships, 210 Grands Prix and has amassed an impressive 4995 points. Although Ferrari has missed a number of races due to disputes over local rules and starting money (including the first ever World Championship Grand Prix), they are the only constructor to have taken part in every championship season.
There have been a number of occasions when Ferrari has threatened to quit Formula One but these are usually insincere claims to sway an argument with officialdom. The most serious threat to leave the sport came in 1986 when Ferrari built an Indycar in preparation for its supposed F1 withdrawal, but the team backed down and it seems likely the company will stay a part of the sport for as long as Formula One exists.
Mercedes Benz was very successful in the pre-war era of Grand Prix racing and set the early standard for team organisation. The German mechanics were extremely well practiced and their machinery was always immaculately prepared. When the World Championship began Mercedes did not have a car that suited the regulations but they returned to the highest level of racing when the rules were changed for the 1954 season. Mercedes was instantly dominant and claimed two consecutive World Championships with Juan Manuel Fangio. The company withdrew from all motorsport at the end of 1955 after one of their cars was involved in the Le Mans disaster that killed 82 spectators.
Mercedes returned to Formula One in 1994 as an engine supplier to Sauber with whom they had built numerous sportscars. The arrangement did not last long and Mercedes ditched Sauber in favour of McLaren after just one year. Up until the end of 2009 the German manufacturer had won 60 races and six World Championships.
Mercedes' alliance with McLaren throughout the nineties included joint participation in road car projects, but now both companies are developing new production models in competition with each other. As such, Mercedes has recently downgraded their partnership with McLaren and has purchased the Brawn team that was renamed Mercedes Grand Prix for 2010. The company is increasing its involvement in the sport whilst other manufactures are leaving, and it is suggested this will made Mercedes a dominant force in the years ahead.
Alfa Romeo dominated the first ever Formula One World Championship in 1950 and the team's three drivers decided the title between them in the final race. Alfa was also successful the following season with Juan Manuel Fangio, but had been using the same basic design for almost thirteen years and their rivals had caught up. Without enough money to design and build a totally new Grand Prix car the Italian constructor withdrew from Formula One.
Throughout the sixties and early seventies a number of small F1 teams used modified Alfa Romeo sportscar engines and the company returned with a factory backed effort in 1976. They supplied engines to Brabham, and whilst their V12 was one of the most powerful in the sport, it was also one of the heaviest, one of the largest, and required four fuel tanks to supply it. Along with that it was particularly unreliable so was not considered a success.
The association with Brabham ended in 1979 so Alfa Romeo decided to return with their own chassis. Sadly, the company could not recapture its glory from the early days of F1 and in 1980 their two cars registered 22 retirements from the 14 races. Alfa scored a pair of second places in 1983 but never managed to secure another elusive victory. At the end of 1985 the company withdrew as a constructor due to the poor results, but continued providing engines to Ligeir and Osella.
Alfa Romeo stopped supplying Ligier after Rene Arnoux made numerous negative comments about the engine to the press, and they ended up asking Osella to call their engine something else because the car was so embarrassingly slow. FIAT took control of Alfa Romeo in the mid 1980's and have no intention of reviving the brand in F1.
Maserati was moderately successful in the early days of the World Championship but developed into a force when they introduced the legendary 250F. The 250F was able to win races against the might of Ferrari and Mercedes for a period of four years. Maserati withdrew from F1 at the end of 1957, the year they won the World Championship, due to a high profile accident in the famous Millie Miglia. Although the accident did not involve a Maserati, it resulted in a ban on road racing in Italy and that was enough for the company to withdraw. The 250F was nearing the end of its life anyway and it would have been very difficult and expensive to come up with a similarly successful design.
Lancia is one of the unluckier manufacturers in F1 history having lasted for just over a year before running out of cash. It's a crying shame the company's management couldn't get the funding together to complete one more season because their team was taken over by Ferrari who comfortably won the 1956 World Championship with the car that Lancia built. However, Lancia might have withdrawn from Grand Prix racing anyway at the end of 1955 as Italian hero Alberto Ascari was killed whilst under contract to the racing team. Ascari's death devastated the Lancia family who felt that pouring money into F1 was no longer the best thing to do.
Aston Martin entered a total of five Grands Prix between 1959 and 1960 and can be considered lucky to have scored two sixth places. Their front engined car was one of the most beautiful ever built, but was very uncompetitive as it came into the sport when F1 was moving into rear engined technology. Aston quickly realised that it was out of its league and focussed on sportscar racing instead.
Ford has had an interesting involvement in Formula One. The company has won 176 Grands Prix and is the second most successful engine builder of all time, but has never been directly involved in the sport itself. Ford provided financial backing to a company called Cosworth for over forty years who built F1 engines on their behalf. The engines were badged as Fords and were introduced in 1963.
The early units performed well but the company found enormous success with the phenomenal DFV engine that was introduced in 1967. The engine won on debut and was so successful that its basic design was used in Formula One up until 1992! At least one team used a Cosworth of some kind until 1993 when a new engine was introduced and branded solely as a Ford. The blue oval won the World Championship with Benetton in 1994 but failed to capitalise on the possible marketing opportunities.
Jackie Stewart worked as a Ford consultant for many years so it was no surprise that he used Ford engines when he launched his own team in 1997. When the team became competitive Ford bought it outright and branded it as Jaguar. However, under Ford's management the team did not remain competitive and it was sold to Red Bull in 2004.
Ford bought Cosworth as part of their Stewart takeover but sold it as well in 2004 to private investors. Whilst Cosworth has remained in the sport since the sale it no longer has any links to the Ford Motor Company.
Shortly after building their first car, Honda entered Grand Prix racing with their own team. The company entered the sport to help train its engineers and got a whiff of early success with a race win in their first full season in 1965
Honda tasted more success with another victory two years later but withdrew from F1 in 1968. The company left the sport after Jo Schlesser was killed in an accident that was attributed to the car's dangerous construction.
Honda started building engines again in the late seventies and returned to Formula One in 1983. Their powerplants quickly became the most powerful and reliable in the sport and won numerous championships with both Williams and McLaren. After achieving almost everything they could, Honda withdrew in 1992 due to the rising costs of engine development.
The company planned to return in 2000 as a constructor but the project was aborted when the man in charge, Harvey Postelwhaite, died of a sudden heart attack. Honda returned as an engine supplier instead and worked closely with BAR before buying the team outright. The company then withdrew again in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit. Honda's withdrawal was motivated by management not being able to justify the cost of F1 whilst making staff redundant, even though they bankrolled the 2009 season for the team’s new owners.
Although Porsche did not enter F1 until 1961 some of their cars appeared in earlier races when Formula 2 machines were allowed to compete in the German Grand Prix. The team moved into F1 in 1961 with an updated version of their F2 car but it was largely uncompetitive. Porsche's new design in 1962 was much stronger and even won a grand prix, along with a non championship race in Germany, but the company withdrew due to the high costs. This was not all that surprising given that Porsche's focus has always been sports cars and not single seater racing.
Porsche returned in 1983 as an engine supplier to McLaren but only did so when the TAG company agreed to fund the entire project. The turbocharged units were very strong and won constructors championships in 1984 and 1985. Porsche's last year with McLaren was 1987 by which stage the engine was losing its competitive edge.
Porsche briefly returned in 1991 with Footwork, and although the engine had a number of unique features, it was very heavy and weighed almost 200 kilograms. Six races into the year the team had qualified for just one event so ditched the engines in favour of Cosworth. Porsche have not come back to F1 since.
Audi's recent takeover of Porsche has sparked rumours the brand could be back in F1 soon in an effort to increase the marque's prestige whilst simultaneously increasing road car production.
Renault made their first appearance in a Grand Prix during the 1979 season with their own team. Their cars were the first to race with turbo charged engines and were originally nicknamed yellow teapots because it was only a matter of time before they would pullover with smoke pouring out. However, once Renault got the technology sorted they were regular race winners. They won their first Grand Prix in 1979 and consistently took victories until 1984. Renault pulled out of the sport in 1986 when they started to become uncompetitive, but recommenced supplying engines to Williams several years later when turbos were banned.
Renault won six constructors titles before withdrawing again in 1997. The reasoning behind their exit was that the company had achieved the maximum possible, and would generate more publicity if it left and returned a few years later, which it then did. Renault supplied engines to Benetton in 2001 before buying the team altogether a year later. The company won the title with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 and has been rumoured to pull out of the sport ever since. Renault sold its F1 outfit to the Genii Capital Group and will continue as an engine supplier for Red Bull in 2010.
BMW planned to make their F1 debut in 1981 with Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham team but were forced to delay their campaign by a year because their first turbo engine was horridly unreliable. In fact, it hadn't improved much by 1982 but was used in select races because Nelson Piquet insisted on racing with the BMW unit. Piquet figured that it was better for his team to struggle until the turbo's reliability was sorted, than it was to stick with the slower Cosworth engines. Ecclestone disagreed with Piquet, and if Bernie had his way the Brabham deal with BMW might never have got off the ground.
Piquet managed to win a race with BMW power in 1982 and won three more the following year to claim the World Championship. The German manufacturer stayed with Brabham until 1987 but gradually grew less competitive.
BMW also supplied engines to Arrows, ATS and Benetton, and although they took a win with the latter in 198,6 they left F1 the following year.
BMW returned in 2000 with Williams but the relationship went sour after six years and the Bavarian's bought the Sauber F1 Team. The company failed to achieve its goal of winning the Word Championship in 2009 and left the sport at the end of the year.
Lamborghini was bought by Chrylser in the late eighties who decided the brand should enter Formula One. They supplied engines to Larousse in 1989 and then later supplied units to Lotus with some limited success. In 1992 Lamborghini was sold to a group of new owners who had no interest in Formula One, and this resulted in the company's withdrawal.
Before they left F1, Chrysler decided to start an alliance with McLaren and they tested a Lamborghini engine in late 1992. However, Ron Dennis signed with Peugeot instead and Chrysler gave up on the project. McLaren's decision to abandon the deal was partly responsible for Senna's decision to leave the team as he was very impressed with the Lamborghini's performance in testing.
Although Subaru are well known for their successful exploits in the World Rally Championship, they also made an attempt in 1990 to break into in F1. They started by building an engine in the late eighties but none of the teams were interested. Minardi trialled the unit but opted not to race it, and when Minardi turn you down you know you're in trouble.
Subaru got their break by taking over the Coloni F1 team in 1990 who were in debt, but their engine was still too heavy. They wanted to build a flat engine like those found in their road cars but it was simply not powerful enough. The car was so bad that Subaru and Coloni agreed to build a new car and a new engine package by mid-season, but when the progress on this became too slow, Subaru sold the team back to Coloni before the year was finished and never looked at F1 again.
Yamaha are best known for making motorcycles but have also had road car partnerships with Toyota and Ford in the past. In 1989 they entered Formula One with Zakspeed but their engine required so much development they actually skipped 1990 to work on it. In 1991 they returned with Brabham and scored a few points, but the team had serious financial problems leaving Yamaha to join forces with Jordan in 1992.
Yamaha later forged an alliance with Judd and began supplying engines to Tyrrell who scored a number of points and even a podium over the course of four seasons.
Management at Yamaha claimed they did not enter F1 to win, but simply wanted to increase their technical knowledge. This was evident in 1996 when the company built the smallest and lightest F1 engine ever built. This was a great achievement, but the unit was neither reliable nor powerful which meant it was not the best engine on offer. Yamaha supplied power to Arrows in 1997 but this turned out to be their final season as no team was interested in their services the following year.
Peugeot started an assault on motorsport in the late eighties and developed successful rally and sportscar programmes. The last step of the company's plan was a move into Formula One in 1994. They teamed up with McLaren but the engine was a shocker and McLaren ditched them after just one year. Peugeot then raced with Jordan, narrowly missing out on a few wins in 1997, before switching to Prost in 1998. Prost was unsuccessful and the cars struggled to score points. Despite the lure of an all-French team, Peugeot grew frustrated with the lack of results and left at the end of 2000.
Over a period of eight years Toyota enjoyed the largest budget of any team in Formula One history, a record that is likely to stand for many years as the sport financially reforms itself. Despite a multibillion dollar investment in Grand Prix racing, Toyota could not manage a single race victory and their time in the sport was considered a huge embarrassment.
Awash with cash, Toyota entered Formula One in 2002 after a full year of testing at a variety of Grand Prix venues. The team's initial designs were very conservative, and although they improved dramatically under Mike Gascoyne's technical leadership, he was sacked for not fitting into Toyota's corporate committee driven culture.
Toyota always made it clear they were in F1 for publicity rather than results and their F1 budget came from their marketing department. This philosophy was evident when they paid a ridiculous amount for Ralf Schumacher's services, and move done primarily so Toyota could use Ralf's surname in their advertisements.
During Toyota's time in F1 they became the biggest car manufacturer in the world, but the global financial crisis hurt them badly and they have left the sport for that reason. The company can no longer justify throwing money into a project that delivers nothing in return.
Toyota, Honda and BMW may have left the sport in 2009, and Renault have sold their team to a private company, but the big manufacturers will return at some point in the future. Others will return as well, because the story of car makers in Formula One is always evolving.