The last few weeks have been pretty turbulent for motorsport, following announced departures at the end of the 2016 season from several huge manufacturers.
But the racing world is no stranger to huge and shocking exits as resources get moved elsewhere and business strategies are modified. So, that got us thinking, what have been the most surprising departures in motorsport history?
Audi and WEC
Audi has had a long and illustrious stint in prototype racing and completely changed the game with its diesel and hybrid race cars. But after winning the 2012 and 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship titles and 13 Le Mans races in 18 years, the German manufacturer announced last month it will leave the WEC at the end of 2016 to focus on Formula E.
VW and WRC
Volkswagen has dominated the World Rally Championship since 2013, claiming the drivers’ and constructors’ titles for the last four seasons with the unstoppable Sebastien Ogier. The manufacturer had been busy developing a 2017-spec Polo R WRC beast to tackle the new regulations but announced it will leave the WRC to focus on other motorsport projects.
Honda and F1
Honda first raced in F1 in the 60s. Fast forward a few decades and Honda bought the BAR team, which it had supplied engines to for, at the end of 2005. It enjoyed success in 2006 but two dismal seasons followed (despite a huge budget), before Honda announced it would be pulling out of F1. A management buy-out saved the entry and Brawn GP went on to win the 2009 titles.
Mercedes and Le Mans
The 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans proved to be the final appearance of a Mercedes prototype entry at the famous endurance event. The CLR project followed on from the success of the CLK GTR and CLK LM, taking speed and performance to whole new levels. Three CLRs were entered in that year’s Le Mans.
But the car suffered serious aerodynamic flaws, causing Mark Webber (pre-F1) to suffer two scary flips in qualifying and final practice. The car was withdrawn but the remaining two started the 24-hour race. Four hours into it, Peter Dumbreck’s car took off and (famously) flew into the trees. Mercedes immediately withdrew from the race and has never returned.
Toyota and F1
It’s well documented that Toyota chucked a whole load of money at its F1 project. After extensive testing the team entered the series in 2002 but Toyota had to wait three more years before scoring podiums and challenging closer to the front of the field.
But over the years, the team returned to being a midfield runner and that wasn’t enough to keep the Japanese car manufacturer interested. Toyota withdrew from F1 at the end of 2009 after just eight seasons.
BMW and F1
2009 was a pretty big year for F1 departures. Following Toyota’s announcement, BMW then revealed it was leaving the series too. BMW enjoyed stints as an engine supplier in the 80s with Brabham, Benetton and Arrows before taking a break.
Having returned to F1 in 2000 with Williams, it was a successful but short-lived partnership and the car maker decided to take over Sauber for the 2006 season, spending three years as a team owner before deciding to leave.
Renault and F1
Renault joined F1 as a manufacturer team at the end of 1977 and won its first race two seasons later, before cementing itself as a front-runner with drivers like Rene Arnoux and Alain Prost. Despite the success, Renault decided to exit F1 at the end of 1985.
Of course, it returned as an engine supplier and is currently in its third stint as a factory F1 team, but that withdrawal in the 80s was huge news at the time and was quite a hefty hit for the series.
Mercedes and F1
No, you haven’t missed some big announcement from Mercedes about its current F1 team. I’m talking about the original Silver Arrows in the 1950s, which dominated during its two-year stint with one of the most beautiful cars in F1 history – the W196. Despite winning the 1954 and 1955 titles Mercedes pulled out of F1 after the 1955 Le Mans disaster, where its driver Pierre Levegh and 83 spectators died.
Vauxhall and the BTCC
Vauxhall enjoyed immense success in the British Touring Car Championship in the 2000s and became one of the most iconic manufacturers in the series’ history. But at the end of the 2009 season the car maker announced it would be leaving the BTCC after eight titles in nine years.
It was a tough hit for the BTCC after SEAT’s withdrawal the year before. Vauxhall had a heavy presence in the tin-top series, so its departure was huge news for British motorsport.
Mercedes and IndyCar
This may not be particularly well-known for some motorsport fans, but Mercedes was a highly successful IndyCar engine supplier with the famous Penske team in the late 90s. Mercedes power notched up many wins before the Champ Car/IRL split caused the German manufacturer to lose interest and eventually leave in 1999.