Manufacturers in 2026

Before shutting down for Christmas, and avoiding discussions about the positives and negatives (not to mention utter astonishment in one case) of the team principal transfer market, I think it’s a good moment to address the manufacturer market for 2026.

In the old days Bernie Ecclestone did not like to see car companies acting only as sponsors. He believed that it gave them an easy ride in the sport. Badging engines or chassis built by others was only about money and they all had plenty it if. His view was that if a manufacturer wanted to benefit from F1, they had to do the job properly – by making an engine or buying a team.

Things have changed now, with car manufacturers McLaren and Aston Martin both using Mercedes engines in F1, while Alfa Romeo has been allowed to dress up a Sauber-Ferrari and has been hoping that people will buy its road cars as a result. It is a cheapskate way of doing F1. Whether badging machinery in F1 really works is an interesting discussion. It isn’t against the rules and it’s a cheap way to get value out of the sport, although one must ask whether Alfa Romeo has really gained anything from doing it. In 2018 Alfa Romeo sold 83,438 cars. This has since dropped to 25,964 units in 2021. The bosses still talk of 200,000 in five years, but let’s see what 2022 and 2023 bring before getting excited. Car companies often have expectations that they fail to live up to.

When Alfa Romeo appeared in F1 in 2017 there was talk of “a long term plan” but that is now over. The programme with Sauber ends next season as Audi is in he process of buying the whole kit and caboodle in Hinwil, with plans to build its own engines in Germany. Good luck to them with that. Still, this strategy is a bit more meaningful than the company turning up in a formula without much real opposition and then trying to make a lot of noise about winning it over and over again.

Shooting fish in a barrel is never that impressive an achievement.

Alfa Romeo needs to look elsewhere, and says, with the usual car manufacturer PR baloney, that it will now “evaluate among the many opportunities on the table and decide which will be the best one to sustain the long term strategy and the positioning of the brand.”

Badging Ferrari engines is not something that has ever worked in F1, although it did work for Lancia in rallying with the Stratos back in the 1970s. Having said that they were not competing against Ferrari itself, which probably explains why that could happen.

What one can say is that Alfa Romeo road car quality is improving and in theory the firm’s image will get better and so sales ought to increase. But that’s all theory for the moment. Alfa Romeo is now making money and so that is at least a start.

In the car industry there are some interesting results when one looks at badge engineering (in other words, using the same piece of machinery, but giving it a different name). Some buyers don’t know the difference, some don’t mind, and so badge engineering is fairly widespread in the industry. It’s much cheaper to borrow a successful design than to create a new one.

If one believes that badge engineering will work in F1, there is a huge opportunity for a car company with the right approach to take F1 by storm in 2026.

Red Bull spent a vast amount to start its own powertrain business, but that has turned out to be a very far-sighted strategy. This way, the racers have control and we will not see the kind of mess that there was when they were working with Renault back in the day, or how things were when McLaren was with Honda. Or Williams with BMW come to that.

Red Bull Powertrains should be a slam dunk success for a manufacturer – as long as the team can build a competitive engine in 2026. A car company could come into F1 with limited risk and maximum exposure, at a fraction of the cost that such a programme would normally cost. So is it any wonder that we are hearing names such as Ford, Hyundai, Porsche and so on? It might even be Alfa Romeo.

The question for Red Bull is which car brand best fits the bill. Logically, it will be the firm that offers the most and creates the least hassle. Porsche likes to own what it does, but Red Bull Racing didn’t want to be told what to do, so that relationship fell apart. Honda has always done its own thing because it wants to train its engineers and get new technology as well. So that does not really fit. F1 is more than marketing and so it is hard to see the current relationship continuing. It is a marriage of convenience at the moment that is working well, but a new engine is unlikely to be a Honda, and so the Japanese need to decide whether to go down that route, do its own thing with a different team, or leave F1. A relationship with Honda might work well for a rival team, but there is still the dreadful spectre of the cataclysmic McLaren-Honda relationship lurking out there.

If I was a car company executive I think that I’d be on the phone to Christian Horner to see how the auction is going. Better still I’d take on someone who knows F1 and use them to have the discussion for me. Maybe this is why Hyundai is tipped to be hiring Cyril Abiteboul…

Ford is a good candidate as well with a CEO (Jim Farley) who is new to the role, has big ambitions and understands what the sport can do. Leaping into bed with Red Bull makes a heap of sense for Ford.

It makes sense too for Stellantis, where Carlos Tavares is a huge fan of the sport, although he’s cautious enough not to go too far. That could mean a more meaningful involvement than the Alfa Romeo-Sauber relationship.

Brands that badge F1 teams don’t get much of a say in what happens in the team. They are just there to lug in sacks of money and most sensible F1 folk know that it is best that way because the majority of car industry executives have not the faintest clue about F1 and underestimate how difficult it is. They come waltzing in, spouting a great deal, and often leave with empty pockets and slumped shoulders, if indeed they still have a job. I will not name names, but there is an impressive roll of honour of car firms in the last 40 years who thought they knew better.

Letting those who know what they are doing is something that requires faith and it does not always pay off, but it is worth remembering that Ford is still third in the all-time list of F1 victories as an engine supplier. Yes, Ferrari tops the list but has been doing it for a lot longer. Mercedes is next, mainly due to the recent run of success, but Ford is third, but left F1 in 2004, a generation ago. To put it into perspective Ford has had more wins in F1 than Renault… the key point in this is that Ford’s success came from its relationship with Cosworth, which began in the mid-1960s. Ford didn’t own Cosworth until 1998…

51 thoughts on “Manufacturers in 2026

  1. Selling more cars because of doing F 1 is a romance story from the sixties. Ask Mercedes, Alpine or Aston Martin about it. I would go so far, that Ferrari wouldn´t sell one car less, if they would drop out of F 1. Which of course is difficult to prove, only that some people say Ferrari is more a relegion than a brand. So good so far. RB Powertrains needs urgently an OEM as a partner. Otherwise they can keep on knocking at the doors of the automotive industry, without any compensation business to offer.

    1. G’day Michael,
      You’d reckon these car co’s would do some market research to confirm their marketing budget is getting value for money. You know all that boring stuff like sales, demographics, brand awareness, etc, etc.

    2. There’s an old saying: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”, but I think that’s untested. There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between activity in F1, sales and profits. Ferrari, as you note, kept on selling road cars throughout long lean spells in F1. Ford hasn’t been near Le Mans, Indy or F1 for years but is still a giant of the automotive world.

      We also don’t know what each manufacturer really wants. Developing technology and then making it small and reliable might be worth something to them. It depends on their own goals.

      Sauber’s fuel sponsor didn’t get many points (have they been on the podium?) and there sponsorship was really of Kubica, who didn’t drive in the races, but they said it was worth a lot to them because of the doors that it opened to other markets and other companies.

      What we do know is that once they decide F1 isn’t worth the spend they will leave. Though the level of expenditure is now capped, so they no longer have to justify limitless budgets.

  2. Joe,
    Thank you for being so informative during the year. I first got involved in Motorsport in the 70’s, so your comment about Ford/Cosworth struck home.
    If it wasn’t for your insight, I probably would no longer be interested in F1 – certainly the TV presentation (C4) is so gimmicky that I have stopped watching.
    Have a quiet family Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    “Natale con i tuoi, Capo d’Anno con chiunque vuoi”

  3. Thanks Joe for the bonus posts. I hope to see one soon about the team principle movements.

    Please help, I still cant understand the whole Audi situation. Are they planning on building their own engines? They are going to become a proper factory constructor?

    It’s all very confusing.

  4. Joe, I agree but really think the petroleum suppliers are worse because we know who really makes the engines but the fuel is less clear. Do Aramco really supply fuel or just pay for signage?

  5. Manfacturers, certainly have value. However, does the FIA/Liberty have any contingency plans if the sport loses some of them? I am thinking when Toyota, BMW, and Honda left in 2009/2010.

  6. Do manufacturers try for global awareness and sales or do they pursue a more geographically targeted strategy? Example: Alfa only sells high end vehicles in North America so that’s a pretty saturated market. And Ford can’t build enough pick-ups to meet NA demand. So is a massive F1 budget the proper ROI, or is money better spent planting a million or so trees? Dunno.

  7. > avoiding discussions about the positives and negatives (not to mention utter astonishment in one case) of the team principal transfer market

    “Utter astonishment”? Please don’t leave us hanging like that!

    1. I am utterly astonished by one of the appointments… is it that hard to guess which one? (Clue: it isn’t McLaren or Sauber) and Williams won’t announce anything until January.

      1. The only logic behind it would be Ferrari trying to keep hold of Charles Leclerc; perhaps that is why the rumors of Lewis Hamilton contract negotiations slowing are around, perhaps they are interested in Charles?

      2. Of course mine is just the opinion of a couch commentator BUT, I will be stunned if he turns out to be the great redeemer. He just doesn’t strike me as the type to have demanded the independence the TP needs at Ferrari.
        I thought your selection of Budkowski was a good one. Do you know if he was a consideration, or who else might have been in the running?

  8. Joe, am I understanding things correctly in regards to those Ford engines. Is it that Cosworth designed, engineered and built everything while Ford never really was involved in any of that but ‘footed’ the bill and got to put their name on the product? Was a bit too young at that time so wouldn’t have known any better about their history together.

    Could one make a case to call those engines “Cosworth” instead of Ford? Thanks.

      1. Whilst on this occasion he was correct, I’m not sure I’d cite ‘that’s what Murray called them’ as the most credible source!!
        Dear old Murray – missed by thousands – if not millions – I suspect!

    1. “Could one make a case to call those engines “Cosworth” instead of Ford?”

      The DFX IndyCar spinoff was actually badged thus, with the exception of the very earliest examples which had “Foyt” on the cam covers, ole AJ having footed the bill for them when Cosworth said “Not interested!”. I have read that he was not best pleased when Cosworth decided it was a good idea after all and jumped into the market with both feet.

    2. Have a look on youtube for Equinox – Turbo – The Cosworth V6 Turbo for the 1986… it’s some very interesting viewing. I don’t think it has the classic line from Alan Jones when asked if the engine failed because of an electrical problem (he wasn’t allowed to say anything bad about the engine) and replied, yes there was an electrical problem, when the piston escaped the block it took out the alternator. (that is how I remember it, it might’ve been a little different)

  9. It shouldn’t be difficult for manufacturers to see that the best approach is for them to be all in. Look at the Mclaren Mercedes story. For all their investment in the programme – Mercedes never really achieved the results or recognition that they deserved. It was only Brawn’s success in 2009 with the Mercedes power plant that exposed Mclaren and led to Mercedes making their own way. Their success and marketing post that change in strategic thinking proves that being all in gives a better return than being an associated partner with the team. For all of Red Bull’s successes from 2010 to 2013 despite the innovation and collaboration with Renault and concepts like the exhaust blown diffuser – Renault never truly achieved the credit they deserved. It was always a Red Bull / Vettel success story. The brand exposure Renault now enjoys and can market despite not having a competitive car is probably greater than if it were a partner with a team. You don’t need to win to enjoy the glamour of formula one. Participation and great marketing can give you the engineering kudos associated with the sport. There is no credibility in badging an engine. In this day and age people can see through this quickly. It is surprising that Porsche considered this with their history and engineering led pedigree. For all of Honda’s mistakes in the sport you can at least respect their spirit in designing and building their own engine against the odds from the European manufacturing base that formula one is currently built on.

  10. “The bosses still talk of 200,000 in five years” Haha, they are still doing that then; ask an OEM component supplier about that!
    Ok who built the engine for Shelby for the historic (First Ford badged) Le Mans 66 win.?

  11. Joe Hi has Abetiboul, and Horner repaired their relationship; a few years ago, sending Cyril to negotiate with Christian was as likely as sending Santa to an atheist on December 25th. It maybe an odd choice for Hyundai if they are still not simpatico. Have a wonderful Christmas, and thank you for all you do for us.

  12. I just wonder at what all the turned new leaves, will do to team gear and uniform design. Last year’s Ferrari foreshadowed the changes, with their black stripe of death. What this year? Hopefully the cars will not suffer some weird stylist’s ideas of beauty.

    1. It would be nice if they started putting the numbers on the sides and on the front again as the regs require, to be readable from a distance or even on tv on the circuit.

  13. Me too, I’ve been banging on about numbers on cars for years and the colour and background should also be in the regs . And whilst on the subject with the increase in incar shots why hasnt the halo got the driver name on it ,or an initial so we all know who we are watching , even the comentators are guessing wrong alot of the time. If it was mandated the sponsors would accept it and we all would be better informed , Paulos

  14. This whole thing made more sense when you could actually see the engine. There may as well be a hamster running on a wheel in todays cars.

  15. Would be nice to see Red Bull Ford Racing and I wonder if Honda who have registered separately to Red Bull as an engine manufacturer for 2026 would tie up with Andretti F1 who could be close to getting the 11th team spot on the grid.

    1. Sadly I fear that will never happen. Because it needs to happen now to be ready in time and there is no appetite for an 11th team

      1. It’s a pity because 24 cars (or 12 teams) would be good. Don’t ask me why, I just think it makes a fuller field and it would be nice to see a team grow, like what is now Aston Martin from smaller beginnings.

        1. Hmmm. I’m afraid the current teams have grown accustomed to all the extra space provided by having 10 teams. Cutting back from 3 garages to 2, is unacceptable in their view.

      2. I agree it would have to happen imminently, but no-one seems to have told Andretti. I see they are opening their global headquarters immenently in Indianapolis, and I understand they have solid financial clout with Gainsbridge.

        If he can come up with the deposit and show say a 5 year funding plan, can the teams stop him. With Liberty’s apparent desire to be in the USA more for races, it seems like a logical step to have a 🇺🇲 team with what is American motor racing royalty heading it. While those who know the sport would say Penske is a bigger brand, but Andretti is a bigger name (because of Mario) in my opinion.

  16. On the basis that Andreas Seidl was not on 14 days notice, was his recruitment to head up Audi a best kept secret which itself meant that Fred Vasseur would have been aware that he was on the spikey chair at some point. I know it could be 1+1=3, but also could have some merit.

    The real surprise was Williams. It seems from the outside that Jost Capito is carrying the can for the Technical Director. You see no credible person to step in who can do a better job, so the alternative seems to be a young “Christian Horner” type who someone has spotted might be able to do the job well, but might just as well fail if they are not given full support.

  17. The story of Ford and Cosworth is no doubt worth a post all of its own. Successfully leaving it to Cosworth as late as 1994, Ford decided to go all in, bought Cosworth and bought Stewart Racing, rebranded the lot as Jaguar…and were gone within five years.

    They managed to pretty much kill Formula Ford by doing something similar in the mid-90s.

    It’d certainly be ironic if everything went full circle and Ford re-appeared as a partner to Red Bull Racing.

  18. Must admit I’m with @Justin here. Based purely on my couch perspective I would not have hired Cyril if the objective was to negotiate with Red Bull, Christian. My be enough water has passed under that bridge but it was certainly very polluted water not that long ago

  19. I’d be interested in seeing Susie Wolff in charge at Williams, though I wonder if she’d get a fair crack of the whip after Claire Williams tenure.
    Someone I’d really like to see back in charge somewhere on the grid is Monisha Kaltenborn – by all reports she was a very good team principal, and deserving of another shot.

    1. The legal expert who thought that the situation regarding 3 drivers and 2 seats could be resolved without anyone saying “excuse me, but I have a contract – you can’t just ignore it or pretends it doesn’t exist!”?*
      I agree that she always came across well when being interviewed, but her arrogance or naivety (choose whichever you think most applicable) in the above situation didn’t do her any favours, did it?
      * I realise that this a very simplistic view – but it’s how I remember it it being portrayed in the media – I’m sure Joe could provide a more comprehensive and possibly accurate point of view!

  20. Best wishes of the season to you and yours, Joe, and to all your posters. But to the “inventor” of DRS, Bah Humbug and a lump of coal.

  21. Grandprix saboteurs arrived for Christmas and in the opening line it references one of my favourite authors
    Raymond Chandler! Thanks Joe! Brilliant read. Anyone who reads Joe’s blog, buy it! Available at well known e commerce site beginning with Ama!

  22. As an Alfa driver and lover of the brand, the current/recent F1 investment has left me fairly cold. But the modern F1 audience, I’m sure, has no idea which brands are rebadging someone else’s engineering. It would be an interesting straw poll in the grandstands of places like Miami or Vegas, or among those who enjoy watching Drive to Survive!

    The problem for the sport, though, is that all manufacturers want to see smaller and smaller numbers on the budget sheet. Look at Formula E, where the big money gets spent on getting Cara Delevingne and Kylie Minogue to stand decorously in the pit garages rather than any meaningful development.

    Pret-a-porter engineering prevails now in NASCAR, Indycar, the World Rally Championship and most touring car series. WEC has some diversity in Hypercars, but then the Balance of Performance is there to discourage any overly-brilliant ideas or big spending… and there’s only one race per season that any of them are interested in winning, anyway.

    Meanwhile, junior categories are all one-make, single-source affairs. By the sounds of it, F1 will be seeking agreement for even more common componentry with the next generation, too. So while you and your readership, me included, may not buy into rebadging and single-source engineering, I’m afraid we are no longer the target market.

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