WORDS BY PAUL HANAPHY | IMAGES BY RED BULL
Lancia’s 037, Audi’s Quattro, Subaru’s Impreza, wherever you look in WRC’s long and storied history, you’ll find iconic cars built by world-renowned manufacturers.
Fast forward to today and series newcomers will no doubt recognise brands like Toyota, Hyundai, and Skoda. But, with major OEMs such as Audi, Ford, and potentially General Motors joining F1 from 2026, WRC has been left wondering how it can diversify its manufacturer base.
Theoretically, the blueprint should be easy to follow. After all, it wasn’t long ago that Honda’s (since retracted) withdrawal left F1 looking at a two-manufacturer championship.
When first announcing its departure, Honda cited costs associated with developing electric engine parts for F1’s hybrid-era cars, as one of the main reasons for its decision.
However, since then, the sport has introduced a $145 million cost cap that fell to $141.2 million for 2022 (following a slight upward adjustment for inflation). This dip in costs has coincided with a dramatic rise in popularity for the series, particularly in the US.
Honda is now talking to several F1 teams about supplying engines from 2026, and with a Formula E cost cap seeming to work similarly well, WRC is now weighing up its own.
Although rally vehicles are less pricey than F1 cars (which easily cost double-figure millions to build), this season’s Rally1 cars are said to cost close to a million euros.
With production costs drifting higher than first planned, the series’ commercial rights holder WRC Promoter is now looking at ways to make things cheaper. This, it’s hoped, will attract another multinational manufacturer to participate in WRC.
“This is an ongoing work at the moment,” WRC Senior Sporting Director Peter Thul emphasised to Motorsport.com earlier this year.
“Okay, it's [an] engineer-driven sport and the engineers want to have the fastest cars. But a cost cap is super important. We have to get the costs down. The Rally1 team bosses all have to go the board and they have to justify the investment, that's for sure.”
So, if WRC were to introduce a cost cap, what would it look like? According to FIA Rally Director Andrew Wheatley, costs don’t need to be debated as publicly as they are in F1.
“You can do a cost cap in a number of ways, it doesn’t have to be a published cost cap,” Wheatley also told Motorsport.com. “It can be a technical and sporting restriction on a regulation that can have the same effect as a cost cap.”
“That has worked really well in Rally2, as there is a technical cost cap and you can see the results,” he added.
F1’s cost cap has become something of a political football, something that Wheatley’s apparently keen to avoid in WRC. Red Bull has even been hit with R&D penalties for exceeding the cap that could yet impact the development of its 2024 challenger.
WRC bosses are also divided on the issue. Hyundai Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul sees merit in the idea of an F1-style cap but believes the cars also need a revamp. Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala, on the other hand, says WRC isn’t yet big enough to need cost-capping.
That said, teams may not be forming a united front on how costs should be reduced, but they do all seem to support the idea of making cars cheaper to build.
Maybe then, after years of debate on the issue, F1’s success will finally drive the WRC to ring changes that improve its mainstream appeal. In the meantime, while it works with the FIA to weigh up its options, teams continue to be free to spend what they like.