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Fast Money: The Costs of a Formula One Car

Racing
Fast Money: The Costs of a Formula One Car

So, you like to go fast. Not just fast, but ridiculously fast. Perhaps you watch Formula One racing and think that’s something you would like to try. Assuming you have the reflexes of a cat, stamina of a cage-fighter and driving experience equivalent to someone whose last name is Schumacher, then maybe this sport is for you. There is just one other important thing: you’ll need money and lots of it. If thousand dollar maintenance bills make you cringe at the dealership and soaring gas prices make you reluctant to fill up at the pump, this is not an undertaking for you. Deep pockets, a big check-book and, maybe, a rich friend who owes you some favors are prerequisites for taking ownership of one of the finest and most expensive racing vehicles ever built.

Formula One is the premier single-seater racing competition. The yearly F1 Championship sees 11 teams compete in 19 races on road and purpose-built tracks around the world. Driver points are handed out to drivers based on finishing position with the championship going to the driver who has amassed the most by the end of the season. Winners of previous seasons include the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and, of course, the seven-time champion Michael Schumacher. To recognize the designers and builders, constructor points are handed out to the teams. Similar to driver points, the team with the most points takes home the Constructor’s Championship. Previous winners include the likes of Red Bull Racing, Ferrari, Renault and Williams. It is a sport with a rich history and an increasingly expensive bill.

A modern F1 car is the pinnacle of years of research, design and trial and error. Each year a race team spends tens of millions of dollars to develop lighter materials and more aerodynamic exteriors. The result is a very expensive racing machine. Not including the driver, pit crew, fuel and transportation expenses, a single F1 car can cost upwards of $16-17 million for a season of racing. Running two of these cars requires a lot of money and teams like Ferrari are reported to have a yearly budget of over $300 million. Current champions Red Bull Racing drove their way to victory with a budget of over $270 million. Why so much? Well, the amount of research and development which go into the various car parts means they are inherently expensive. You can’t find parts for a F1 car in your local parts store. From the steering wheel to the spoilers, parts often need to be manufactured specifically for each team with the highest level of precision using advanced equipment and software.

Taking research and development costs out of the equation, the bare bones parts that go into a F1 car still make it a multimillion dollar project. Some of the more notable expenses include:

Engines:

engine

A 2.4 litre V8 engine provided power to all F1 cars from 2006 until 2013. The engine produced around 900 hp and revved as high as 18,000 rpm. Previous engines were known to rev higher and output more power. In a search for greater safety and higher efficiency, however, Formula One management moved to limit engine output to the amount we see today. Teams could utilize several of these motors per car over a season. At a cost of over $170,000 each, a single F1 seasonal car engine budget can reach $1.75 million.

Gearbox:

gearbox

The gearbox \ transmission is responsible for shifting gears and aiding in getting the power from the engine to the tires. Effective and efficient shifting is crucial on the race track and a sloppy gearbox can cause a car to lose valuable time over the course of a lap. F1 teams generally keep the specifics of their gearbox under wraps. It is estimated, however, that the five gearboxes allocated per car cost a combined $530,000.

Monocoque:

monocoque

This is the body of the car. It is made of carbon-fibre. The monocoque serves two main purposes. First, it provides the car with most of its aerodynamic form. Second, it provides the driver with a number of safety features. Excluding the millions spent on R&D, a seasonal cost for monocoques is estimated at around $200,000.

Spoilers:

spoiler

These are the aerodynamic pieces at the front and back of the car which help push the car down as it speeds up. This ensures engine power is efficiently used to propel the car forward. Unlike the massive wing you see on the Honda Civic belonging to your neighbor’s teenage son, the Formula 1 spoilers are 100% functional and necessary. Together, these parts can cost as much as $200,000.

Suspension:

suspension

A good suspension helps bring together the engine power, aerodynamic down-force and tire grip. It is a key component in realizing the potential of a Formula One car. Hitting a bump or going into a corner at 200 kilometers-per-hour requires an advanced suspension. Entering and successfully handling a 5 g turn would be impossible without it. Made up of dozens of parts, including shocks, springs, torsion bars and push rods, a modern F1 suspension can cost approximately $120,000.

Steering Wheel:

steeringwheel

Normally not an item listed when going over the details of a performance car. Given it costs more than most cars on the road today, it deserves mention. A modern F1 steering wheel is made of carbon-fibre, has dozens of buttons and switches and often sports a LCD screen. Whereas most steering wheels have controls for the radio, cruise control and the windows, an F1 wheel has controls for the radio, differential, driver feeding pump, clutch, fuel, torque, oil pump and many more. It’s no surprise that this unit can cost upwards of $80,000.

These are only some of the parts costs of a Formula One car. If one adds in the extras, such as brakes, exhaust, dashboard, tires, rims, fuel tank and telemetry sensors and software, an estimated parts value of a modern F1 car reaches around $3.6 million. This price is set to increase further given Formula One’s upcoming switch from the 2.4 litre V8 to a 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 developed by Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. The new motor is reported to put out around 800 hp and redline at 15,000 rpm. The drop in horsepower from the V8 will be somewhat compensated by the addition of a turbocharger as Formula One moves to make lighter and more fuel efficient motors the norm. In terms of car expense, the new drive train alone is expected to cost teams approximately $13 million per season.

Don’t have your own Research and Development department, army of friends with engineering degrees and precision laser cutting equipment? That’s not a problem. Ownership of a current F1 car may be out of reach but there are alternatives. Numerous companies are in the business of snapping up former race cars and offering them for sale to the general public – for a price, of course. Cars range from fully running and ready to engine-less chassis which require the buyer to purchase a new engine. While it may mean settling for an older F1 vehicle dating from the 1970s to the 1990s, the price is a fraction of what a more modern racer would cost.

At the upper end of the spectrum are organizations such as Planet F1 (PF1). This British company purchased a number of chassis from F1 teams, including Jordan, Super-Aguri and Jaguar. Into these older F1 bodies they have fitted Cosworth V10 engines which provide 875 hp. These may not be the high-end Ferraris and Mercedes which are so iconic in the sport, but at $500,000, potential buyers may not care too much.  

If your needs are for something more authentic and steeped in F1 history, go no further than Race-Cars.com. Their site lists a number of race-driven F1 cars from the 1980s and 1990s, most of them complete with engine and spare parts. Prices are usually in the $200,000 range. However, the crème de la crème of F1 cars currently available must surely be Michael Schumacher’s 1991 Benetton car. Definitely overshadowed by the Ferraris he eventually drove, the 1991 car was the vehicle Schumacher was driving when he won his first F1 points. For around $987,000 someone can own, not only a real race driven F1 car, but one driven by the seven time F1 champion.

schumi

The likelihood that you will become a Formula One driver is slim. The probability that you will own a Formula One car is only slightly better. New cars are full of technology and designs which manufacturers want to keep secret. Older cars are rare and often bought up by collectors. Yet, for a few hundred thousand you can get your own older F1 car. Of course this will create new challenges including getting insurance, maintenance and parking. If you have the money those problems are all easily remedied. The real challenge then becomes convincing your significant other that changing your last name to ‘Schumacher’ is a good idea.  

   

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