How Cadillac can learn from Peugeot’s disappointing spell in F1

With Cadillac announcing its intentions to enter Formula 1, it might be wise to avoid repeating the same mistakes Peugeot made when it entered Formula 1 in 1994

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A new manufacturer entering Formula 1 is always a source of great excitement, expectation and hope that they can defeat the sport’s established stars.

Cadillac is a marque associated with large saloon cars, and IMSA looks set to become the newest manufacturer to join F1, the first American company to enter the sport for under two decades.

Andretti Global will be the first team to use Cadillac’s new engines, creating an all-American dream team that could take F1’s popularity in the USA to the next level.

But not all manufacturers have shined in F1, particularly those who succeeded in other forms of motorsport but failed to translate their previous triumphs to Grand Prix racing.

One of those who failed was Peugeot, who came into Grand Prix racing in a blaze of glory, only for the on-track product to turn into a blaze of shattered spark plugs and red-faced company executives.

So here are the lessons Cadillac can take from Peugeot on how to avoid tackling F1.

Keep expectations realistic

When McLaren suddenly lost the services of Honda in the summer of 1992, Ron Dennis was forced to shop around for engine manufacturers flirting with Renault and Lamborghini before settling for Ford in 1993.

A year later, McLaren signed a deal with Peugeot, and with the company fresh off a pair of Le Mans 24 Hours triumphs in 1992-93, hopes were high that McLaren-Peugeot could rival Williams-Renault.

Franco-English relations quickly turned rotten, however, when the Peugeot engines turned out to be slower than their counterparts from Renault and Ford, costing McLaren third in the constructors to Ferrari.

Worse still, the engine hand a tendency to blow up like a hand grenade, with Dennis tearing his remaining hair out, watching Mika Hakkinen and Martin Brundle spend most of 1994 parking up into retirement.

McLaren elected to end their partnership and moved to Mercedes for 1995 as a result, and Peugeot never partnered with a top-three team again, ending any chance of competing with Renault.

With a new team and a new engine programme Cadillac probably won’t be fighting alongside Red Bull and Ferrari in their first year, as a more realistic goal will be to fight in the midfield.

Silence inner-company and national politics 

Following the end of Peugeot’s relationship with Jordan, the company teamed up with Alain Prost’s recently acquired Ligier team for 1998, but already the four-time world champion was getting cold feet over the project. 

Prost’s feet became icebergs when after commenting that Prost wasn’t a French national team, the head of Peugeot, Jacques Calvet, said the opposite, with Jacques Chirac begging Prost to keep the team alive for France.

Whilst it’s unlikely Joe Biden or Donald Trump will be tweeting at Michael Andretti to start winning races in Formula 1, it’s always wise to keep politicians out of business they know little about.

Internal politics also derailed Prost’s 2000 season as Prost and star driver Jean Alesi took part in a public slanging match with Peugeot because of their lack of support and power from the engine.

This came just days after the company’s motorsport boss Corrado Provera said Peugeot had one of the most powerful engines in F1, with Alesi and Prost’s comments effectively ending Peugeot’s involvement.

Peugeot was also guilty of interfering with team lineups with the company’s ludicrous attempts to get Philippe Alliot in the second McLaren, which included the moving of some chicanes being largely ridiculed.

What’s worse, Alliot was nearly 40, and past his prime, whilst Peugeot’s young guns Le Mans winners Eric Helary and Christophe Bouchut were passed over for the test driver role.

Fortunately for Andretti, Colton Herta is expected to move to F1 with the team and with Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams being set up by Andretti, it means in-house talent will be given a chance.

Don’t put your eggs into one basket.

One of the few bright spots for Peugeot was that their engines had plenty of grunt on tracks focused on straightline speed, such as Monza and the old Hockenheimring.

This meant that Peugeot-powered cars would find themselves well inside the top 10 finishing regularly inside the points, providing that the engines could last the full distance.

However, on circuits that weren’t so dependent on straightline Peugeot-powered cars would be back in their usual positions on the grid, scuppering any chance of victory barring a sudden downpour.

The key to a good power unit in modern-day F1 is the balance of excellent top speed, reliability and lightness, which Mercedes and Honda have managed to achieve.

Other engine manufacturers, such as Alpine, have prioritised straightline speed and power to limited success, giving Cadillac plenty of pointers on what is needed to produce a good power unit.

Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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