In popular culture, Aston Martin is the preferred car of the world’s foremost fictional spy. But even the commercial might of James Bond could not save the British maker of luxury vehicles from teetering towards a derailment. Until it found a white knight late last month in a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, who provided a lifeline to Aston Martin, and then declared his intention to co-opt it as his commercial and reputational vehicle to crack the moneyed, complex code that is the world of Formula 1 motor racing.

It’s a mighty challenge. Some of the world’s largest, and most respected, car manufacturers have tried and walked away. This list from the last three decades reads thus: Ford, Jaguar, BMW and Toyota. Renault and Honda also left, but only to return in full (Renault) or in part (Honda). That said, from the point of Stroll and Aston Martin, if there was ever a good time to make a tilt at the intractable question that is F1, it is now.

The year 2021 promises the most radical regulatory and technical overhaul F1 has ever seen. There are two dimensions to this in particular. The first is sporting: making the cars come closer and race each other more. The second is commercial: introducing a budget cap, the absence of which has created a financial and performance chasm between the haves (like Ferrari and Mercedes) and have-less (like Stroll’s Racing Point). F1 hopes these two steps will draw more spectators, as well as more teams, both car manufacturers and non-manufacturers.

When it comes to team profile, over its 70-year history, F1 has gone through several distinct phases. The first was the 1950s, when manufacturers led the way. The second was the 1960s to 1980s, when independent teams found a footing, and this period saw the birth of McLaren and Williams. The manufacturers returned in the 1980s, left in the 1990s.

This decade has seen manufacturers return to F1, and then leave again. And now, in general, they are coming back.

In 2021, of the 10 teams that are currently slotted to line up, five have a manufacturer presence: Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, Alfa Romeo and, now, Aston Martin. Plus, Honda is present as an engine supplier. Given how F1 has evolved, and is shaping up now, chances are, the sport will pivot around manufacturers.

Overall numbers suggest that manufacturers and non-manufacturers are on an even keel. For example, of the total races held in F1, 49% have been won by manufacturers and 51% by non-manufacturers. They are also closely matched in driver and constructor titles. The top 10 list of teams by races won shows a presence of both sets of teams alike.

But break these numbers down over the years, and it becomes clear why the needle has swung towards manufacturers decisively, and another reversal might not come easy. The last time the sport saw any semblance of parity in terms of race results was during the 2007-08 period. Since then, the dominance of manufacturers has been crushing.

This is a reversal of what one saw during the 1980s leading up to the turn of the century. That was a golden period of sorts for independent teams. This was especially true for Williams and McLaren, who put the pieces together well and established themselves at the front, a legacy that has kept them going till now.

What changed this century was the financial factor—money started playing a larger role in F1. Unlike American motor racing, F1 has never been a big draw for the popular car manufacturers. Even when they have come in, it has been in dribbles. Those who have become fixtures are the luxury carmakers, who find synergies with the sport.

Of the tip 15 carmarkers by production volumes in 2017, only four are present in F1, and Honda is only an engine supplier.


None of the top five car manufacturers are in F1. For the biggest of car manufacturers, they can write the large cheques needed to make a mark in F1. But, even with the biggest of budgets—as Toyota and Honda had—they have not been able to crack it.

Armed with Lawrence Stroll’s ambition and money, when Aston Martin does enter into F1 in a full way in 2021, it will have this in its rear-view mirror. But in its windshield, it will also have the promise of the new rulebook, whose premise is to level the playing field in the world’s premier motor-racing series. That in F1, though, is easier said than done.

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