Will Gray

Manufacturer exodus all part of the cycle

Will Gray

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Ferrari may have made a theatrical statement about their views on Formula One's manufacturer exodus - but motorsport history shows this re-privatisation of the sport was always on the cards.

Toyota's decision to quit the sport immediately, followed by Renault's admission that they cannot rule out doing the same, has sent more shockwaves through Formula One. In a period of less than a year the sport has lost Honda, BMW and Toyota, leaving Renault and Ferrari as the only manufacturer teams remaining.

The constant bickering seen this season between the manufacturers and the governing body over the future regulations and different budget-cutting solutions have certainly unsettled the sport, but Ferrari's almost childish suggestions that the manufacturers have been 'bullied' out of the sport are surely farcical.

In reality, the manufacturer-filled grids of two years ago were never healthy for the sport - which is why the FIA battled so hard to make life easier for the independents and ensure not only that those in the sport were able to survive but also that the doors could easily be opened to others who wanted to come in and fill the space when the manufacturers walked away.

Many different series have experienced some sort of manufacturer yo-yo effect, but the British Touring Car Championship in the 1990s followed a fascinatingly similar path to current day Formula One.

The series always had a steady set of manufacturers but a strong media package and a new simple set of rules drew manufacturers in, leading to greater race attendances, larger television audiences around the world and increasing hype. In just two seasons the field grew from two works teams to eight and a few years later, at its height, ten different car manufacturers were on the grid.

But as competitiveness amongst the frontrunners increased, a lack of budget-trimming regulations saw the costs spiral and those who were not at the front had to face serious questions from their board members as to why. Certain teams dominated for a while, so rule changes such as one-shot qualifying were brought in to spice things up - but messing with the formula failed to achieve success.

Soon enough, the first few manufacturers began to pull out and others used the opportunity to do the same. As the amount of manufacturers reduced, the value offered from the series in terms of promotion for the other manufacturers (for there were fewer rivals to beat) also reduced and by 2000 there were just three left, each running three cars to make up the numbers and increase the quality of a field now filled with privateers.

Sound familiar?

If Renault do decide to follow the rest out the door, Ferrari will be the only manufacturer team (unless newcomers Lotus count, which I suppose by definition they should) - and whether or not they will need to run more cars to make up the numbers will only be clear as we head through the winter...

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