Today’s announcement that Ford is returning to endurance sports car racing with its GT model, allied with Wednesday’s news that BMW is considering a Le Mans assault, should cause a few furrowed brows in Formula 1 circles.
Why? Simply, because there is a very small pool of car manufacturers with the resources to enter expensive top-line motor racing. The fact is, the more that commit to sports cars and other championships, the fewer there are to consider Formula 1, which costs enough to effectively preclude a manufacturer from establishing any other major competition projects.
You can't blame Ford and BMW. Together the FIA and ACO, who set the endurance racing rules, have come up with a very appealing set of regulations that achieve the almost impossible feat of moderating performance and controlling costs, but leaving enough room for engineering innovation.
Motorsport ebbs and flows as manufacturers’ priorities change and they seek to promote different aspects of their businesses, but it seems to me that Formula 1 is in danger of meandering semi-consciously into a state of stagnant funk.
It isn’t even Merc’s fault for dominating - the sport is lacking the multi-faceted interest that's essential to maintain widespread interest.
The engineering story isn’t as interesting as it could be because teams hide it all away in secret. F1 should look at Nissan’s LMP1 outfit and the Bloodhound speed record project as shining examples of how to engage with current and future engineers.
The one-dimensional drivers are micro-managed by PR handlers, and scared to speak their minds. They could heed the heart-on-sleeve personalities in the World Rallycross Championship or the quiet, matter-of-fact heroics of Isle of Man TT racers for how this should be done properly.
In terms of on-track action and strategy, there doesn’t seem to be scope for a moment of inspiration of the kind we saw when Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn were hauling Ferrari up the grid in the mid-1990s.
Everyone appears to be playing the safe percentages. No one is interested in hearing the race leader being instructed to "lift and coast" by his engineers. They want to know the driver they have invested their support (and possibly money) in is ‘full throttle and maximum attack’ from start to finish.
And the DRS overtaking gimmick just adds a level of artifice that cloaks the fact that a collection of the sharpest engineering minds on the plant can’t - or won’t - devise rules that enable cars to draft each other effectively.
I wonder where it will all lead. Renault seems disillusioned with its current lack of competitiveness in F1. Is it merely coincidence that it is showing off the new Alpine concept car at Le Mans this weekend? Could it build that concept as a road car, and then take it motor racing, while devising an exit strategy from F1? You also wonder if Honda is wishing it had decided to go sports car racing with its imminent NSX - which has plenty of cool tech to show off - rather than spend a significantly bigger sum enduring a difficult return to F1.
Also, if BMW commits to Le Mans, it makes you wonder whether Audi would stop flirting with F1 and remain fully involved in sports cars to fend off its bitter rival. And if those two were involved, it isn’t too much of a leap to imagine Mercedes wanting to pile in as well…