Audi has unveiled its plans to join the Formula 1 circus with an agreement to buy a majority share of the Sauber team and line up on the F1 grid for the first time in 2026. It will be the first time the German giant has turned its attention to the pinnacle of motorsport, and this got us thinking. What is Audi hoping to achieve by heading to F1? In more than 70 years, some of the world’s biggest and more famous car manufacturers have tried their luck, and it has to be said, the list of those that have achieved success is pretty short. Put it this way, the dominance of Mercedes over the past decade is something of an anomaly. Let’s take a look at some other car manufacturers that didn’t quite leave the mark on the sport they were hoping for.
The 7 worst car manufacturers in F1
Caterham cars has long been associated with lightweight sportscars blessed with fabulous engineering and performance pedigree. The brand itself was made famous by the Lotus Seven designed by Colin Chapman in 1973, and today the bloodline of that car remains cemented in the DNA of the Caterham brand.
When Tony Fernandes bought Caterham in 2011, his immediate focus was to bring the famous British marque into F1. He had previously entered the sport under the Team Lotus name, but a series of legal issues led Fernandes to seek alternative investments, and Caterham was the chosen target. The Caterham F1 team lined up on the grid for the 2012 season.
The trouble was it was starting from a pretty poor foundation. Its prior guise as Team Lotus had struggled to keep pace with the rest of the grid as one of three new entries from 2010 that never really had the financial means to compete.
Over three seasons, Caterham failed to score a single point, and to be honest, it never once threatened to do so. Such was the lack of performance in the car, it could have been argued that the brand’s participation in F1 was more of a hindrance to road car sales than a help. It was little surprise therefore to see the name fade out of the sport at the end of the 2014 season, as the team went into administration amidst severe financial turmoil.
When you think of really cool road car manufacturers, the name Spyker might spring to mind. The Dutch brand produced some spectacular machines during the 2000s, including the C8 and C12. But it was an incredibly niche brand that peaked at 94 sales in 2006, so to see Spyker appear as an F1 team in 2007 was perhaps the very last thing we expected to see.
It was an odd decision, to say the least because Spyker Cars was an incredibly small company with a relatively tiny budget compared to the likes of Ferrari and McLaren. But if nothing else it was a tremendously successful, if incredibly expensive, marketing exercise.
Following the purchase of the Midland team towards the end of the 2006 season, Spyker raced for a single full season in 2007. The car was slow and unreliable and scored just a single point. However, the team’s most famous moment came at that year’s European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring as Markus Winklehock pre-empted a rain shower to find himself in the lead of the race as the rest of the field pitted for wet weather tyres. It was short-lived, but the orange Spyker was at the front and centre of world motorsport for a few glorious moments. That said, the car was awful.
Another British marque with a huge amount of prestige as a producer of sportscars, Jaguar was introduced to F1 by Ford following its purchase of the Stewart team at the turn of the century. An optimist would look at this as Ford wanting to boost one of its premium sporting brands on the global stage, cynics might look at it as throwing Jaguar under the bus in order to protect the Ford brand should anything go wrong.
As it was, it would definitely appear Jaguar was thrown under the bus over the next five seasons as the team was for all intents and purposes a Ford works team, with Ford engines and Ford engineering. Ferrari outcast Eddie Irvine led the team in its debut year but bemoaned poor performance from the very beginning as Jaguar struggled to squeeze any pace out of its car.
Despite an initial burst of funds from the American giant, just two points finishes in 2000 left the team ninth in the championship. In all, Irvine managed two podium finishes over the next two seasons, as the team showed very little sign of progress.
Jaguar never finished higher than seventh in the constructors’ championship, and with Ford losing patience, funds were pulled during the 2004 season before the team was put up for sale at the end of the year.
4. Aston Martin
Aston Martin has taken two bites at the F1 cherry with minimal success (so far). The story started all the way back in 1959, when the David Brown Corporation entered the Aston Martin DBR4 to race in four rounds of the world championship with the pride of Britain on its shoulders. Despite the relatively unknown quantity of the racing team, the British brand had two huge names to put behind the wheel – Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby.
The trouble was, Aston Martin had taken so long to develop its F1 challenger that by the time it was finally ready to compete, its design was already horribly outdated. It was slow and unreliable and didn’t yield a single point. There was a second place in the non-championship BRDC International Trophy held a Silverstone, but that was the only highlight of an otherwise utterly underwhelming F1 venture.
Things only got worse for the team in 1960 when Cooper turned up with its rear-engined T51. Aston Martin had worked on updating the DBR4 for its second season, turning up to that year’s British Grand Prix with the ‘improved’ DBR5. It was lighter and faster, but still nowhere near competing at the front. This was the final straw for Aston Martin in F1, the plug was pulled and the brand’s focus switched to sportscars instead.
The Aston Martin name was lost to the world of F1 for 60 years before returning in 2021 under the ownership of Billionaire Lawrence Stroll. Clearly, regardless of its pedigree within the sport, it’s a name that clearly carries some gravitas. It’s so far drawn the attention of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and double-champ Fernando Alonso. The results still haven’t been earth-shattering, but it’s a hell of an improvement over the DBR4.
3. Alfa Romeo
We’ve got used to having the Alfa Romeo name back in F1 since it purchased naming rights to the Sauber team in 2019. But the famous Italian brand last raced as an out-and-out constructor back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
Alfa Romeo were the original dominant force in F1 in 1950 and ’51 with Fangio, Farina and Fagioli proving to be the class of the field. But when the Italian brand returned for a second attempt things were quite different. Emblazoned in a Marlboro livery and powered by a 3.0-litre V12, the Alfa 179 driven by Bruno Giacomelli, Patrick Depailler, Vittorio Brambilla and Andrea de Cesaris was hideously unreliable. A massive 22 retirements from 26 starts ensured the team scored just four points and finished up 11th (and last of those classified) in the championship.
There was some improvement, at least in terms of reliability in 1981, but the team still struggled for performance, with three points finishes including a podium for Giacomelli the only saving grace. This chapter of the Alfa Romeo F1 story ‘peaked’ in 1983 as de Cesaris managed a brace of second places to elevate the team to sixth in the championship.
Just as it may have looked like some progress was being made, however, the Italians fell all the way back down again. A final season in 1985 saw 24 retirements from 32 starts, with zero points scored and a non-classified finish in the championship.
At that, Alfa Romeo disappeared from F1 without a backwards glance. The team had struggled for long enough, and a brand of this prestige could simply no longer tolerate the ignominy of such poor performance. Ricardo Patrese would later describe the 1985 185T car as “the worst car I ever drove”.
Another global behemoth of the automotive world that tried to leverage its heft in Formula 1, but would Honda learn lessons from the struggles of its competitor Toyota? Well, no. Not really. Unlike Toyota, Honda has had two attempts to crack F1, and both ended in a similar fashion.
The first time around, Honda was a fresh new brand that sold its first road car just four years prior to appearing on an F1 grid for the first time. Honda had built its car and engine from scratch, so it was a hugely ambitious project, but amazingly, it took only until the team’s second season to reach the top step. The RA272 in the hands of Richie Ginther took victory at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix. John Surtees took another win for Honda in 1967 in the RA300’s first race, an impressive result notwithstanding the huge slice of luck that accompanied it as Jim Clark ran out of fuel on the final tour.
Performance was rarely consistent, however, and never such that Honda would challenge at the sharp end of the field, so the company decided to turn its attention away from motorsport to focus on its road car business. The subsequent success of Honda makes this decision difficult to argue with. The brand continued to appear in F1 from time to time, not least in the guise of engine supplier to a dominant McLaren team in the late ‘80s.
Some 40 years later, Honda sought to have another go at conquering the world of F1 as a manufacturer. It purchased the relatively impressive BAR team and embarked on a quest to reach the pinnacle of motorsport. Things started brightly, as Jenson Button took his first win at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, and carried the team along with team-mate Rubens Barrichello to fourth in the championship.
Things took a severe downturn thereafter. Honda’s 2007 car – painted in a quite horrific ‘Earth Car’ livery – was horribly uncompetitive, scoring points on just three occasions and finishing up 8th in the championship. Both drivers had little issue voicing public criticism about the car, and it was clear that this Honda team would not last long unless there was vast improvement.
There was no such upturn, and the 2008 season followed a very similar pattern to the year before, and Honda very quickly turned its attention to the 2009 car. That car would never race under the Honda name, however, because the brand pulled the plug suddenly at the end of the 2008 season, leaving the team in the doldrums and at risk of folding without a buyer. A certain Ross Brawn stepped in to make the save, however, and Honda was left with egg on its face as the Honda-designed, funded and built BGP 001 (RA109) won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Oh, what might have been?
When Toyota first announced in 1999 that it was planning to start a Formula 1 team it sent something of a seismic shock through the paddock. Here was one of the world’s largest car companies with a near-unlimited budget threatening to bowl its way through the sport. Efforts in sportscars and rallying were both wound down so that full focus could be placed on F1. This was serious business for the Japanese giant.
After an extensive three-year testing programme, Toyota arrived on the grid in Melbourne for the start of the 2002 season – a year later than planned in order to ensure the car was ready. The team brought in Finnish veteran Mika Salo and Toyota sportscar driver Alan McNish to drive the TF102, and all eyes were fixed on this huge new team.
As it turned out, for all the preparation and money afforded to this bold programme, Toyota were some way off the front. Salo managed to score a point on the team’s debut – finishing sixth behind the Minardi of Mark Webber – a result repeated two races later in Brazil, but they were the only points of the campaign. Toyota finished tenth in the manufacturers’ championship. Disastrous.
Over the next seven years, Toyota threw more and more money at its F1 team. Cristiano Da Matta, Ricardo Zonta and Olivier Panis all came and went, with the established driver pairing of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli bringing the team its most successful season in 2005. Five podium finishes during the year carried the team to fourth in the constructors’ championship. More mediocrity followed, however, and Toyota had one final chance to try and make something of this increasingly frustrating and expensive venture.
The 2009 regulations shake-up was the opportunity the company needed, a chance to level the playing field and take a step ahead of the opposition. The double diffuser was Toyota’s final roll of the dice. But it wasn’t the only car to feature this rule-bending device. Brawn GP implemented it better and while Toyota challenged for podiums in the early rounds, even that early advantage eventually evaporated. The team finished fifth and duly left the sport.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images
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