Leaving Formula One

Nine years after BMW’s return to Formula 1 with Williams, and four years after the formation of the BMW Sauber F1 Team, the Bavarian carmaker is pulling out of Formula One at the end of the 2009 season.

In all those years, BMW has not managed to win the world championship—a major disappointment for the Bavarians. Instead of pushing the brand’s sporty image (Munich engineers cultivate an attitude of unquestioned superiority), Formula 1 saw BMW as the eternal runner-up, and at times worse. While the company’s executives enjoy hanging out at F1 events, the disappointing performance of the team amounted to a loss of face.

Perhaps even more important, quitting Formula 1 will save BMW an estimated $350–400 million every year. That’s a very welcome relief given the company’s weak financial performance of late.
Unsurprisingly, BMW attempts to play the well-worn “green” card: “More and more, premium is defined by sustainability and environmental consciousness. We want to serve as a model in this area” submits BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer, adding: “The commitment to Formula 1 does not reflect our goals any more.”
This explanation strikes us as somewhat disingenuous, given that Formula 1, under the guidance of the controversial FIA head Max Mosley, has successfully pushed for the hybridization of the race cars. But BMW was unhappy with Mosley for several reasons, not least his goal to limit the racing teams’ budgets in order to keep cost under control. This would have favored smaller teams.

Mario Theissen, one of BMW’s most promising top executives, and responsible for Formula 1 since 1999, is deeply disappointed: “We would have liked to carry on,” he admits, adding: “But from a corporate perspective, I understand the decision.”

So do we. That said, it’s a major loss for Formula 1—and we are happy to report that BMW’s commitment to motorsports remains unchanged in other racing series, such as Formula BMW, ALMS, and the Superbike championship.

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