July 29, 2009

Unable to Win, BMW quits F1

Is that's what it boils down to? The dominant faction within BMW felt that, having spent what the company has spent in past years, it should be entitled to more success so they are turning out the lights on their Formula 1 operation.

The announcement leaves more questions than answers. The company had, up until very recently, asserted its commitment to Formula 1 and the series, still the single most watched motorsport series on the planet, is on track to become a profit center for all teams by 2011 when the agreed to budget cap of $40 million will be below team's minimums revenue share from rights and venues.

So what's going on? An immediate need for cost cutting? A revolt against Mario Theissen, the head of BMW Motorsport who has been instrumental in BMW expanding from a Formula 1 engine supplier to a full fledged constructor team?

Was it a reaction to FOTA's decision to abandon K.E.R.S. which BMW had been the strongest proponent of before the start of the season and which fit the company's "Efficient Dynamics" marketing focus? Was BMW upset because it did not get rule changes that would advantage them?

The danger for BMW is that it could be seen as wanting to be the big fish in the small pond of ALMS and WTCC now that it failed to reach its goals in the world's top series. Costs in minor series are a fraction of those in F1 and it will be argued that sedan racing is more relevant to BMW's core business. BMW has had a tough go in ALMS and WTCC as well this past year and I'm sure the prospect of some of the ex- F1 money will be welcome news to those teams.

This all played perfectly into Max Mosley's hands, the FIA has already issued an "I told you so" memo while FOTA, which BMW seemed to be a reluctant member of, responded with vague promises of help and non sequitur utterances about fan participation in decision making. Just when we thought we were out...

We feel especially bad for the people in Hinwil, Sauber deserves better than to be dropped in the scrap heap from one day to the next. We hope they find a way back to the track soon. Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld's career's are now also up in the air.

Finally I'm not sure how hardcore BMW fans will react to the announcement that BMW is viewing its future in terms of "premium" rather than pure performance.

"...a resolute step in view of our company's strategic realignment. Premium will increasingly be defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility. This is an area in which we want to remain in the lead. In line with our Strategy Number One, we are continually reviewing all projects and initiatives to check them for future viability and sustainability."

That was Norbert Reithofer Chairman of the Board of BMW. While performance can be "premium" and could certainly be measured in "green-ness", I'm sure many worry Strategy Number One will turn into Number Two for the "M" for motorsport brand.

Leave your comments.

And here is the rest of it.


  1. I've grown up with BMW Motorsport. My father was an engine builder for decades culminating in an obsession with BMW powertrains. I spent many weekends growing up at the race track, and though I always had more love for sedan racing (IMSA, ALMS, DTM, etc.) I was thrilled to see BMW come back to the circus of engineering marvel that is F1.

    Ever since they're supplier relationship soured with Williams, I wondered about their future as an independent team. It takes far more than dollar bills to win a title, and Sauber, though experienced, were hardly experienced at winning tites. However, you make a good point.. why now?

    Alas, BMW has long since veered from the path of righteousness, and my love for their products has faded in lock-step. Curious to see what happens to the Hinwil operations and the Sauber staff.

  2. Since engines have been homologated until 2012 (i think), why not supply engines and still have a presence? F1 is (should be) the pinnacle of motorsport. they should especially want to compete against mercedes, their closest rival in the showrooms. makes no sense to me to completely shut down. i wonder if they will even sell the team to another outfit.

  3. Well, 2009 has been a crap year for core BMW enthusiasts. First we see that the M Division is producing the X6 and X5 M cars then this. Seriously, what is going on within BMW? The going gets tough so the tough get going?

    That's a terrible attitude - what if Ferarri did this during their down years? I think that instead of crying about it, BMW should do what Brawn did, pour resources into the 2010 car and try to be as aggresive out of the gate as Brawn GP was.

    I'm glad BMW is still in ALMS and the WTCC but it concerns me overall as to the direction the brand is heading. These days, I find myself more and more drawn to buying an E46 M3 versus picking up a newer BMW.

  4. I'll catch a lot of flack for this but I think the "green crisis" may be a fantastic opportunity for tracktard enthusiasts if manufacturers deliver on their promises of lighter cars. Ferrari kinda let us down though their engine is more powerful and cleaner than its predecessor.

    The bigger problem is that hard core enthusiasts represent 0.0000001% of the buying market so we can rant all we want, butt massaging air conditioned seats will win every time!

  5. Alex, I was lucky to drive a couple of your dad's engines and loved them. I'm sorry you haven't had proper exposure to the newer BMW products.

    Murph, the two new M vehicles are faster than an M5 and serve as perfect showcases for the newest drivetrain technology. Smaller and lighter is said to be coming, but it can't happen overnight given the costs and consumer demands involved. E46 M3, you say? Do you have any idea how unbalanced and clumsy that car is compared to its successor? Go drive them both again.

    AC, I agree on the upsides of the global green panic for enthusiasts. Ferrari didn't let you down, they just had to face reality (something many enthusiasts find impossible).


  6. Freep, that's great! He built some real sweethearts, not the least of which was my 3.2L S50 under the hood of my E30 M3.

    As for newer products, I've been exposed (not on a track), but my real complaint is just new cars in general. I'm completely dependent on fast computers at work, I just would rather not find it under my hood. Working on cars used to be fun!

  7. Hard to argue with that (about computers).



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