Toto Wolff, the director of the Mercedes team, claims he regrets Honda’s future departure from F1 [at the end of 2021], but the Austrian believes that until there is a better return on investment for the manufacturers, F1 will always struggle to keep its manufacturers and attract new ones.
Mercedes – before becoming a factory team – was present in Formula 1 championship as engine supplier, before taking the decision to buy the Brawn GP team at the end of 2009 and create its own factory team that dominates the Formula 1 championship since the introduction of hybrid engines in 2014.
Mercedes has been on both sides [supplier and factory team] and therefore has the necessary hindsight to understand that staying in F1 as a simply being a supplier [as is the case with Honda] is not viable.
“We’ve been on both sides. We’ve been very successful as an engine supplier for McLaren, but we made the decision at the end of 2009 to buy a team because we saw more marketing value, a better return on investment by owning a team. ” says Toto Wolff.
“So we saw both sides. How the business case for the engine supply manufacturers went away, but that’s certainly not how it should be in the future.
“When I joined Formula One with Williams in 2009, I remember the power units they used, they cost $20 million and more. ”
“Today, we have an obligation to supply at a much lower price than that.
“With the introduction of the hybrid, as Mattia [Binotto, director of Scuderia Ferrari engine] said, it was an engineering exercise to see what kind of engine we could really develop.
“And we didn’t know that today we would have a fantastic engine with a thermal efficiency of more than 50%, something that doesn’t exist in any other sport.
“We started to send a message around this in 2014 with boss Bernie [Ecclestone], who said that all this was not really good for F1 and that there was a lack of noise. But you can’t sell your product by talking negatively about it.
“So we still lack the message that these engines are fantastic hybrid technology, but they are far too expensive.
“We must therefore introduce a cap on expenditure for groups. We’ve made the powertrain clear, as we have done on the chassis side to make it more enduring and to attract other manufacturers in the future. ”
“I think it’s a shame that Honda decided to leave Formula One. But at the end of the day, everyone has to get a return on their investment.
“So whatever capital you put into the Formula One investment, it must guarantee or must return a reasonable marketing value, and if it doesn’t, I can understand someone saying ‘we tried it and it didn’t work’.
“Unfortunately, this sport is, in my opinion, not only about investment, but also the fact that not all investments are for you.
“We saw it with Mercedes: we had a few really painful years and managed to turn the tide.
“In the past, manufacturers came and went, including Honda, BMW, Toyota and many others, and yes, it’s unfortunate.
“Formula One needs a stable commitment from all of us and it needs the buy-in of the board, saying, ‘OK, we’re getting into it, it might be difficult, we’re setting our expectations low but at some point we’ll turn it around’.
“It’s certainly not great for us to lose a manufacturer of engines. This is a problem for Red Bull, so yes, I will miss these guys. They are part of the paddock. ”