David Ting says YES
Allow me to submit as evidence the dramatic pull-outs of BMW, Toyota and Honda from the pinnacle of motorsports. After blowing millions of man-hours and hundreds of millions of dollars on F1, these automakers have nothing much to show for all their trouble. Enthusiastic spectators, ardent armchair supporters and generous sponsors probably got their money’s worth, but not the poor car companies which squandered precious resources entertaining these F1 fanatics.
About the only car company with a viable business case for Formula One is Ferrari. In the sport since day one, the red-hot Italian marque is a one-brand marching band for F1. Ferrari’s road car agenda is closely intertwined with its race car programme, and the two power each other like the proverbial dream team. As for other car makes, the F1 connection is tenuous at best, with little or no correlation between the multi-cylinder, single-seater marvels on the circuit and the practical passenger cars on city streets.
BMW’s M models, for example, are sporty and all, but they offer little in the way of F1 tech fresh from the track. Even the V10 engine format of the M5 and M6 is no longer relevant, with the racing series having switched to V8s since the 2006 season. Suffering the same Formula One disconnect are Renault Sport hot hatches, Honda Type Rs and Mercedes AMGs.
Toyota is the best example of a major automaker wasting its time, money and human resource in pursuit of F1 glory. The grand exercise being pointless is one thing, making it even worse is that it was ultimately fruitless in terms of silverware. In seven years of competition and after spending some US$2 billion in total, the Toyota F1 team only achieved 13 podium finishes and three pole positions.
And nobody knows how many more cars and trucks Toyota sold because of its big-budget involvement in F1, although it must have at least raised the Japanese firm’s profile in motorsports-mad Europe. Everywhere else in the world, the team’s dismal race results did more harm than good to Toyota’s hard-earned reputation as Japan’s top automaker.
Toyota’s whopping US$2 billion outlay on Formula One (enough to launch Lexus all over again, twice) would have been better spent developing a cleverer Corolla, putting more luxury into the Camry, expanding the MPV range, and convincing more young drivers to say “yes” to Yaris. Best of all, there should still be more than enough dough left over to create and market the LF-A V10 supercar! In other words, it would have been a win-win situation for Toyota if it didn’t fritter away a fortune on Formula One.
Tony Tan says NO
Sure, everyone will point to the recent pull-outs of BMW and Toyota – and Honda before that – as proof that automakers finally realise their F1 folly.
In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.
The main reason why these car manufacturers left Formula One is because of the severe global recession and its far-reaching effects. No company or individual has been spared from the financial carnage, but some have taken the hit harder than others. BMW and Toyota are prime examples.
Toyota, in particular, has always been one of the sport’s biggest spenders, with an estimated annual budget of US$300 million. The massive dip in global car sales has caused the once No. 1 carmaker to bleed red ink, making its high expenditure in F1 look even more expensive. The race results since the Toyota factory team started competing in 2002 have also been terrible considering the expense and effort.
Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, said: “It is with much regret that we have to pull out of F1 completely, as it has been an irreplaceable experience that provided an opportunity to develop both our human resources and R&D operations.”
Indeed, F1 has always been an important tool for car manufacturers to stretch their corporate boundaries and push the envelope when it comes to technology. Dry carbon fibre wings and diffusers, carbon brakes and clutches, launch and traction control systems, paddle shifters, sequential transmissions and regenerative braking systems – F1 has been the ultimate test-bed for the creation or improvement of these advanced components, which have found their way into everyday vehicles for you and me.
The benefits of F1 go beyond just automotive technology; it has been beneficial in human terms too. A public relations manager working for the Renault F1 team at the recent Singapore Grand Prix said: “Being with the team for the whole year has taught me so much. My work stamina and efficiency have improved by leaps and bounds. I am a much better member for my team and, hence, my company as a result of this.”
Then there is the “small” matter of merchandising. The tifosi (Ferrari fanatics) laps up Ferrari caps, flags, clothes, accessories, model cars – either at race venues, in specialty shops or online, all to live the dream.
Formula One is not cheap and it was never meant to be. After all, it sits on the highest rung of the motorsports hierarchy. The exodus mentioned at the beginning of my argument was brought about by the international economic climate and, to a certain extent, poor financial planning by these car companies.
Do you think Honda, Toyota and BMW would have left F1 otherwise? I bet my bottom dollar that the answer is an emphatic “No”.
I leave the last word to Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive officer of Daimler AG, who had this to say when asked to comment on Mercedes-Benz’s keen participation in F1: “You do motor racing in order to promote your brand in the world market. There’s no other platform in sports with such a strong presence around the globe and in emerging markets.”