How big manufacturers managed to fail in Formula 1
Being a big name in the automotive industry doesn't guarantee success.
With recent rumours of new manufacturers, coming into Formula 1, buying existing teams or even starting from scratch, everybody is excited for the potential of a success and competitiveness. However, in order to succeed in the sport, you need more than a big name and money. There are historical examples of manufacturers that failed and left the sport with their tails between their legs. Let's check them out.
Starting with the French, which had a success at Le Mans in the 90s and were inspired to even become a full works team. But alas, they've only managed to become a partner with McLaren, supplying their 3.5L V10 straight from the 905 Le Mans winner, albeit with few modifications. It was an easy engine to fit within the F1 standards at the time and initially McLaren were pleased.
However, the reliability was horrible and while the team managed to get on the podium 8 times in the 1994 season, it also recorded 17 DNFs! That was Peugeot biggest chance for a success, because Mika Hakkinen and Martin Brundle were almost always on the podium . . when they've managed to finish without the engine going off. Peugeot missed that big time! For an engine that was supposed to be pushed for 24 hours, it couldn't cope with the high G-force Formula 1.
Peugeot continued with Jordan, scoring another 5 podiums for the next three seasons, but their poor reliability record continued with little to no change. Looking at the results of a budget-limited team like Jordan goes to show that Peugeot had a fairly good engine . . while it was working. Their stint in F1 continued with the Prost F1 team, making them sort of a full works team, since Peugeot increased their factory support.
With seven winless seasons and worsening results, Peugeot officially left the sport, but their engine continued living. Their F1 engine division was bought by Asiatech and used for two more years in the Arrows and Minardi cars. While the engines were modified enough to be powerful and reliable, their drivability was still nowhere, making both teams to switch to Cosworth.
On paper, Lancia had everything to succeed - a star designer, a star driver and a star brand name. So Scuderia Lancia almost worked, as Alberto Ascari took a pole position and retired with a clutch problem while leading the race. The issue was that Lancia didn't have the money and so the race in question was the last race for the 1954 season. Yes, Lancia managed to prepare a running racing car only for the very end of the F1 season.
The next year things were looking up and Alberto Ascari was leading in Monaco, before crashing into the harbour. Fate is a cruel mistress, because Ascari survived that crash, then lost his life four days later, while testing a Ferrari. Eventually Lancia completely ran out of money and sold what it had to FIAT, which then gave everything over to Ferrari. In the hands of Fangio, the renamed Lancia-Ferrari D50 became a Gran Prix winner and Fagio himself became an F1 world champion.
While Yamaha is best known for motorcycle racing, they did try to make an impact on Formula 1 as an engine supplier for seven non-consecutive seasons. Strange politics played a crucial role in this failure, as Yamaha switched teams like high-school girlfriends! Zakspeed, Brabham, Jordan, Tyrrell, Arrows . . they've never seriously committed their engine to a chassis. Taking only 2 podiums in 116 races was all they could manage.
The important context is that Yamaha started with a Cosworth V8 that they've evolved, but in the below-par Zakspeed car, they've only qualified twice for a race. Yamaha took a year off, then returned with a V12 for Brabham to score first points. Then Jordan took the engine, which was labeled as a ballast weight by the engineers. A collaboration with Judd resulted in a half-decent V10 for the Tyrrell team, which managed to squeeze a podium. Then came the Arrows deal, which saw another podium, but that was all there ever was.
Lamborghini's stint in F1 is probably the most curious one of all. They've started as an engine supplier, taking out a single podium, but this is where things got messed up. A Mexican businessman called Fernando Gonzalez Luna stated that he want to invest $20 million in an F1 team and approached Lamborghini to built not only the engine, but the entire car. With promises of financing and Italians running the team, Lamborghini were hooked, quite literally.
But just as the Lambo chassis was ready, Luna disappeared with all the money. Lamborghini were determined to keep the project going and made some serious financial investments. They've relocated the F1 division to Modena and called the team Modena, out of reluctance for potentially losing their big-name pride with bad results.
This was a good move, because their car rarely managed to qualify for races and finished only on four occasions, no higher than 7th place. Lamborghini executives weren't happy and they've stopped the financing completely. At the end of the season talks were in session to sell the team and get some of the investments back, but that fell through and the unofficial Lamborghini works team disappeared just after one season.
Ford had a relatively successful stint as an engine supplier, owning to the Cosworth's ownership, but they've wanted more. The marketing team proposed to buy the Steward F1 team and enter the Formula 1 using the Jaguar brand, as a popular name in Europe. This is exactly what happened, but it was a fail to remember. Behind the scenes, important people were coming and then leaving quickly, which meant a complete lack of stability at the higher levels.
Then came the lack of success with only two podiums and a lack of performance to show for the money that have been invested. Eventually Ford pulled the plug, just as things were slowly starting to improve. In a desperate bid to keep the financing, it was proposed for the team to be renamed as a Ford's works team, but that idea was quickly refuted. Eventually Jaguar was sold to Red Bull and we all know how that worked.
While winning the first two F1 world championships, Alfa Romeo managed to fail in the 70s and 80s as a full works team. Starting with Autodelta, Alfa's motorsport division, the first season was a pointless disaster . . and then money and sponsors started to play an ever increasing role over the motorsport itself. A stint with Marlboro, then Benetton, multiple changes in the paddock and a seemingly endless streak of reliability issues spelled the slow demise of the legendary brand.
For six years Alfa Romeo's works team did clinch five podiums, but that was all there ever was. The glory days of Farina and Fangio never returned. Worse still, Alfa were caught cheating in 1983 with their fire extinguishers being empty to reduce the weight, which was incredibly inconsiderate for their own driver's safety. Nowadays Alfa Romeo is just a name of a Swiss-owned team, working with Ferrari's junior program.
For a car company that's always been focused on sports cars, it's a bit of surprise that it never had a proper F1 stint. The DBR4, although in development for two years before it debuted was never more than a side project for Aston. As the result would confirm that with zero points over two seasons and a best place finish of 6th.
While a long development should've yielded better results, Aston Martin had an obsolete car on the grid, since most F1 teams had moved to a rear-mounted engines, which improved on weight, balance and traction. The DBR5 was eventually developed and debuted on a non-championship race, where it finished 11th and that was enough for Aston Martin to pull the plug.
Porsche once fought for a championship in 1961 with Dan Gurney at the wheel of their works team and then powered McLaren to world championships with their "Tag" branded engines. So when the Japanese businessman Wataru Ohashi bought the Arrows team and renamed it Footwork, he had the cash to pay Porsche for a four-season engine deal. Sounds great, right?!
Little did Ohashi knew, Porsche's new V12 was actually an old design, sort of welding two V6s together. As a result, the engine was overweight and underpowered. So much so, that it failed to deliver the performance, which Porsche had written as a contractual obligation. It was such a shambolic display, that it lasted only 6 races, before Footwork switched to Cosworth. Michele Alboreto managed to qualify for four of those races, but finished in neither one. Says enough.
Following Honda and Yamaha's entrance to the sport, Subaru wanted a piece of the F1 popularity pie and decided to put the money down for it. The company commissioned the engine development to the Italian engine manufacturer Motori Moderni, as they've had the technical knowhow, but not any on-track success. As per tradition, the result was a flat-12 boxer engine. Nothing wrong, Ferrari made this configuration work in F1.
It was the wrong time, as teams were exploring the ground effect and a flat engine was more or less not fitting the current car's aero requirements. But Subaru brought half of the Coloni team and stuck with it. The engine was trailing severely on power, as much as 100 hp behind Honda's V10 and with all the necessary mountings, it was a good 112 kg heavier than the rest on the grid. I say grid, but it never made it to the actual grid, failing miserably pre-qualifying, being plum-last.
Coloni pulled the plug after 8 races and switched to Cosworth, but the flat-12 lived in another sports cars series. There Subaru managed to embarrass themselves even more. Somehow with the F1-spec engine fitted in a sports car, they were eight seconds off the pace than the next car in qualifying and 30 seconds slower than the fastest lap. On Suzuka! That's the biggest shame ever!
This one deserves a special place in hell for not delivering, because of the vast resources spent by the biggest car manufacturer at the time, only to be ruined by idiotic politics, taking over the motorsport aspect of the team. Sure, Toyota had won pole positions and achieved 13 podium finishes, but the company never embraced the racing culture properly and as a result, it never achieved a victory.
The corporative culture of the company took the leading role and while that same culture had an enormous success with the road-going vehicles, it was the leading cause of the flop that was Toyota F1 team. Toyota underestimated the sport, the rapidly evolving aerodynamics and the role of the technical department in development. As a result the drivers were predominantly blamed for the lack of results, while switching tyre providers against the team's will was OK for the corporate executives, even though that move completely erased any progress.