Will Gray

Gray Matter: Quality matters

Will Gray

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The current list of Formula One constructors pretty much involves one participant from each important sector of the motor industry — Ferrari are there for the elite sportscar group, BMW cover the quality saloons bracket, Renault represent the European mid-range family cars and Toyota are out there from the Japanese mid-range market.

Add to that Mercedes as an engine supplier, and despite the loss of Honda there are currently still some healthy major manufacturer names in the sport.

Look back into the history books, though, and you will find a very different story.
Sure, Formula One's early years in the 1950s had some of the big car manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Talbot, Ferrari, Mercedes and Maserati, but by the end of that decade teams like Cooper, Vanwall and BRM had appeared at the sharp end of the grid and by the end of the 1960s and early 1970s privateer teams like McLaren, Tyrrell, March and Brabham had joined the fray to race against Ferrari and Honda, with Ford supplying most of the engines.

This is the trend that has followed through most of Formula One's history, and if anything the manufacturers have been more involved as engine suppliers than car manufacturers, with the 1980s and 1990s seeing Renault make a big splash by marketing their great successes with Williams and Benetton and Honda doing likewise with Williams and McLaren.

So why, now, do the car manufacturers so desperately want to make their own cars? In doing so, they risk much more than if they were purely engine suppliers - just look at Mercedes. If McLaren was their own team and named as such, they would be having to talk their way out of a terrible mess this year. Instead, they could easily make less of their ties with the struggling Woking squad — and then sidle up to the boys at Brawn and begin marketing their success as the championship leading team's engine supplier this season.

There is the argument that the presence of big manufacturer names gives kudos to the series — A1GP have even tried that by being 'powered by Ferrari' this season — and it is true that throughout the years there has always been some sort of manufacturer presence.

But Formula One thrives on the independents, from BRM and Brabham to Red Bull and Brawn, and there is every chance that anyone pitching for a place in 2010 could step up as the next great privateer.

Four of the teams mentioned so far have some strong F1 experience, including Lola, who have been Grand Prix racing many times before, Wirth Research, who ran Simtek in the past, Prodrive, who ran BAR-Honda for some time, and USF1, whose management team includes experienced former Formula One chief Peter Windsor.

Others that are rumoured to be interested in the opportunity include teams with good experience in other categories of motorsport, such as RML, Campos Racing, iSport and Epsilon Euskadi.

So with only three places currently available on the grid, or eight if the manufacturers take the unlikely decision to exit en-masse, whatever happens in the meeting on Flavio Briatore's boat, Formula One is not about to collapse into a fag packet series with cars designed on the back of a beermat.



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