F1 can lure manufacturers back - Whitmarsh
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh believes the world's automotive manufacturers will return to Formula One in the next five years if the sport's stakeholders continue to improve its appeal.
Between the end of the 2008 season and the start of 2010, Honda, Toyota and BMW all withdrew their teams from the sport while Renault is now only an engine manufacturer. Ferrari and Mercedes remain - with McLaren moving the other way and producing road cars - but Whitmarsh believes more manufacturers will join F1 if it can prove itself as a worthy marketing tool following the recession.
"The sport has to be sustainable, as Ferrari and ourselves can't just race each other - we need all these other teams so sustainability is an important issue," he told Formula One's official website. "We had the tobacco era, then the automotive era, who were natural investors, and now we don't have enough of them.
"We have Renault half in, we've got Mercedes and Ferrari, but actually we need to create an environment of governance, of regulations, of stability and entertainment which convinces the Hondas, Toyotas and BMWs that it was wrong to pull out and I believe that in time we will get them back and probably can add the Volkswagen/Audis, the Hyundais, whatever. We need to create an environment that pulls them in.
"We need to make sure that we maintain the show. In previous years the complaint was always that the show was no good, but I believe that in the last two years we've responded responsibly, and actually we have had some incredible races. I think now we have a great show - and that's good so we can tick the box there. We have to make sure that we are relevant and maybe the new V6 engines do that."
He added: "I am sure that in the next five years we'll have one or two more come back in."
But Whitmarsh is cautious about the manufacturers owning teams as they did in the 2000s and would like to see them working as technical partners with the existing teams instead.
"If these automotive companies go for complete team ownership, then inherently that's unstable because when they go that leaves a mess," he warned. "We had that with Honda, Toyota and BMW, who came in for ownership and it has been difficult for the sport to manage that. If they come in as technical partners and then decide to quit that's an easier situation to manage. So I think the ideal model is that we create a situation where we are attractive, we're relevant and we are powerful and appropriate for automotive manufacturers to be involved in, because the natural affinity is automotive."
Whitmarsh also said that F1's future is closely tied to how it approaches new technology and it needs to do a better job at embracing the Internet and social media to remain attractive to investors.
"We have to work together as there is a real threat to our business model, which is this whole new world of how people use entertainment and we have to be responsive to that and not to wait until our 'mark' is dying," he said. "We have to go out there and make it ours. I don't know personally how you are going to do that, but that's the challenge."