Counting the cost: How expensive is an F1 car?


Formula One is an expensive business.

Teams employ hundreds of staff and spend millions of pounds not just in travelling round and round the world to compete in the 19 races but also in developing their cars day and night to stay on the pace.

A resource restriction agreement limits the number of staff sent to races and puts constraints on the use of tools like wind tunnels and CFD computers back at base, but there is still a massive cost involved just to stay on the grid and compete every season.

It’s hard to judge exactly what a car costs because although it’s well over £1m in raw materials alone, the actual funds required for development go way beyond that, with annual budgets running between £60m for the smallest teams to well over £200m for the biggest.

The largest part of that spend is on research and development and the constant search for lap time, with lots of engineers in the design office all earning above average salaries (but working above average hours!) in return for their expertise and innovation.

All of their ideas must be constructed and tested before they are passed to go onto the real car, and the cost of running a wind tunnel and even powering up and cooling the super computers that run the CFD programmes can run into millions.

Manufacturing the cars to the precision required in F1 means teams must invest in advanced machinery, from high-tech high-pressure autoclaves used to ‘cook’ full-size carbon fibre components to cutting-edge 3D printing machines that create plastic test parts.

The raw materials used are also far from cheap, with the need for a combination of high strength and low weight leading to the use of high grade metals and metres and metres of carbon fibre sheeting.

It all adds up to some big numbers and the bill for any on track incident can run into hundreds of thousands - even simply knocking off a front wing can cost as much as buying a premium sports car.

Here’s a rundown from Caterham of the approximate costs for some of the key car parts:

- Monocoque/Chassis: £1m

- Floor: £300K minimum

- Nose cone: £250k

- Front wing: £150K

- Steering wheel: £50K

- Suspension member: £10K upwards, depending on the part

- Tyres: £1,300 per set (supplied by Pirelli, information supplied external to Caterham)

The cost of other component parts like brake disks and wheels are closely guarded, as these are all competitive supplier parts. Likewise for the engine, KERS and gearbox, which Caterham has to buy from Renault and Red Bull Technology. But suffice to say the latter, which are clearly key components, add up to more than £10m per year.

Even the clothing bill is pretty high, with each mechanic’s fireproof suit costing around £500 – and at least 16 of them having to be kitted out for the pit stop.

A driver's helmet, meanwhile, costs from £5k for a simple design but it can be thousands more if it has an intricate paint scheme. And that only lasts for a maximum of three races.

Then there’s the trucks and motorhomes – and Caterham has NINE trucks in total that they use during the year. Their two bespoke race trucks alone cost a total of £1.3m (and Ferrari’s new pair are believed to have cost them a cool £3m).

Then there’s the cost of freighting and transporting the team all around the world...

It all adds up.

But at least these other high costs mean they can’t complain about the price of petrol – because they pay the same for theirs as you would on your local garage forecourt.