When people see the exotic looking, high technology cars of Formula 1, their first question is often “How much does a Formula 1 car cost?”. In this multi part post, I try to put a price on all that performance.

How much does a Formula 1 car really cost ?

How much does a Formula 1 car really cost ?

Photo Credit: julien.reboulet via Compfight cc

How much do you want to spend?
Putting a fixed price on a Formula 1 car is difficult but one thing is for sure, a modern racing car costs an awful lot of money. First thing is first, you can’t just go out and buy an F1 car and there isn’t a price list! Each team has a different budget and yet they still each produce a Formula 1 car. Its fair to say that a Red Bull will cost more than a Marussia but even a poor F1 car is still several times more expensive than the most exotic road cars. The main reason for this is because they produce only a handful of cars each year and the design and development costs behind them are enormous.

There are only 11 teams in F1 2013 and each team will field just 2 cars. If you take an estimated average budget of $60million per team then you could say that each car costs $30million. That’s a lot of money. If Red Bull were to spend around $110million each year then that would put an even bigger price tag of $55million on each car… In the end your car will simply cost as much as you want to spend or your budget allows and you only ever enter the same number of races as everybody else.

How can a car cost so much?!
Clearly a team’s budget is spent on a great number of things not just 2 cars. Each ‘car’ is actually just a huge collection of lifed or limited mileage components, some of which get replaced each day, others after every few races. The car is typically built from entirely different components from one race to the next and there maybe as many as 10 car sets of the major components of the car available. As one set is raced, another is being serviced, crack checked and rebuilt. With races all over the world now, the logistics of getting parts turned around between races is extremely complex. If you ask how much the car costs do you include all of these parts which are necessary to run it race after race or do you just include 1 set of each component ? It would drastically affect the money involved and is one of the reasons why this question is so difficult to answer.

Most road cars are produced in vast numbers and so the original design and development cost is recovered over many thousands of vehicle sales. In Formula 1, the number of cars and parts produced is very small and with a new car being designed each year the development cost is much, much larger.

The cost of development
The biggest single expenditure for the teams these days is on design & development. Each Formula 1 car is an ever evolving prototype with aerodynamic and mechanical updates at each race. A new set of carbon fibre wings and bodywork for example may cost £20,000 in material to produce. You might think that is a lot of money. It is, but the real cost of that bodywork is actually likely to be 10 or more times higher than that due to the research, testing, and engineering that was required to produce it. The shape of those parts and the intellectual property which produced it is much more valuable than the actual physical parts themselves.

For each new aerodynamic update, the sequence of events is something like this :

  • Analysis of track aerodynamic data from previous race(s)
  • Meetings to decide targets and specification for next update
  • CFD modelling and simulation of potential new bodywork packages
  • CAD generation of 60% scale components for wind tunnel model car
  • Manufacture and assembly of new model parts
  • Wind tunnel testing and data analysis of results
  • CAD modelling of selected full size parts and production of laminate drawings, component moulds, bonding jig and fixture designs
  • Layup, cure, trimming, bonding and inspection of final parts
  • Proof test and geometry check that parts pass all FIA legality requirements
  • Fit pressure tappings and sensors to verify part performance against predictions from the wind tunnel
    Scale model car in a windtunnel

    Scale model car in a windtunne;

That process will take 4-6 weeks depending on the size of the update and probably involves 50 people from track engineers, aerodynamicists, model makers, tunnel technicians, composite designers, laminators and mechanics. The team pays the (usually quite high) salary of each of these people in the process plus windtunnel time (typically a minimum of £2000/day) machinery and software costs and so the development cost far outweighs the material costs of the actual parts. When someone asks how much the bodywork costs, what they are actually asking is how much money was spent in order to produce it. The answer then is considerably higher.

That process is constantly on-going whether the windtunnel testing is producing better parts or not. It is not uncommon for several weeks or even a month to pass where tens or hundreds of new parts are tried and tested in the tunnel but no significant improvements are found. In this case, do you include the cost of the lost windtunnel time and the tooling and rejected model parts in the cost of the Formula 1 car ? These unseen costs are the difference between producing a competitive car in Formula 1 and just manufacturing the parts to make a single car which is already designed.

In the next post I hope to identify some parts bought from external suppliers such as engines and brakes. For these parts it is much easier to put a fixed cost on them as they are produced and supplied by other companies and sold to the F1 teams. The engine costs are also a hot topic at present and can be one of the biggest single costs for any racing team. They are about to become considerably more expensive !

Keep in touch
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