Why are BMW really quitting F1?

BMW's disastrous 2009 season will be their last for now

BMW's disastrous 2009 season will be their last for now

The announcement yesterday that BMW is to quit F1 was a shock – at least, until Michael Schumacher announced he was making a comeback.

BMW’s statement had much to say about their corporate strategy and implied reasons to do with environmentally-friendly technology were at the heart of their decision.

Is that really all there is to it? Or, as the FIA claims, is it all to do with costs?

BMW’s explanation

Norbert Reithofer’s explanation for BMW’s decision to leave F1 is predictably smothered in corporate jargon:

Everyone knows that the BMW brand embodies sportiness with sheer driving pleasure. Sportiness and fair competition are firmly encoded in our DNA. This is why we will remain loyal to motor sports. But we will do this in series that enable us to transfer technology more directly and to realise additional synergies, while strengthening our brand values. This is in our customers? best interest.
Norbert Reithofer

One clear message is that despite leaving F1 they are not leaving motor racing:

BMW will continue to be actively involved in other motor sports series.
BMW statement

Which other sports might these be?

BMW will appear on the starting grid in the touring car series and young driver promotion program in Formula BMW. This will be supplemented by BMW?s participation in ALMS, the American Le Mans Series, endurance races and close-to-production customer sports. Furthermore, BMW Motorrad Motorsport will continue its campaigns, with the super bike world championship leading the way.
BMW statement

Which sounds like pretty much everything besides Formula 1, including the World Touring Car Championship where it races its 3 Series, despite BMW’s many (legitimate) grievances with how badly the FIA has run the championship.

So why single out Formula 1?:

Premium [brands] 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. Our Formula One campaign is thus less a key promoter for us.
Norbert Reithofer

The statement adds:

Resources freed up as a result are to be dedicated to the development of new drive technologies and projects in the field of sustainability.
BMW statement

In other words, F1 isn’t green enough. We shouldn’t be too quick to cynically dismiss the suggestion: BMW produces among the most efficient road cars in their classes and at the beginning of 2009 was the only remaining defender of KERS. Had the FIA’s scale of ambition for the system this year been greater, and had the other teams not decided to drop it for 2010, might things have been different?

Motorsport director Mario Theissen hints that dissatisfaction with the team’s performance in 2009 may also have played a role in the decision:

Of course, we, the employees in Hinwil and Munich, would all have liked to continue this ambitious campaign and show that this season was just a hiccup following three successful years. But I can understand why this decision was made from a corporate perspective.
Mario Theissen

Nowhere in BMW’s statement do they mention the question of costs, which has dogged F1 years, particularly in the months since Honda’s departure. But would they admit to being driven out of the sport by the expense even if that was the case?


The FIA clearly believes the reason is costs. In a statement today (with a distinctively Mosleyian air of self-satisfaction) it said:

This is why the FIA prepared regulations to reduce costs drastically. These measures were needed to alleviate the pressure on manufacturers following Honda’s withdrawal but also to make it possible for new teams to enter.

Had these regulations not been so strongly opposed by a number of team principals, the withdrawal of BMW and further such announcements in the future might have been avoided.

The statement judiciously avoids pointing out that one of the teas allied to FOTA in oppossing the budget cap rules was BMW itself. Therein lies the rub: the Max Mosley’s attempt to impose a budget cap F1 was a political failure which alienated the very people it was supposed to save.

Nor can we rule out the possibility that, following the Mosley ‘Nazi sadomasochism’ scandal last year and Bernie Ecclestone’s words in praise of Hitler this year, BMW didn’t want to be tainted by association.

Mosley at least had one thing dead right: the decision to axe the F1 team is not taken by the motorsport men – the Mario Theissens. It comes from the board and, just as it was with Honda, the decision is is taken as quickly as the flicking of a light switch.

Why do you believe BMW is leaving F1?

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70 comments on Why are BMW really quitting F1?

  1. Fandysilalahi said on 30th July 2009, 17:02

    Lookin at how they would not join DTM although most of their biggest rivals are there (Merc and Audi); I think it’s safe to say that BMW ain’t got the balls nor the performance to go head to head with Merc no more. That’s why they’re pulling out (to safe their brand image, coz F1 was the only competition that exposed them to a head to head comparison with Mercedes).
    But that was just my opinion though. When it comes to Mercs vs Bimmers, I’m always a bit biased.

  2. Fandysilalahi said on 30th July 2009, 17:07

    By the way, Mercedes has managed to trickle the Kers technology to a roadgoing car, in the form of the fully electric variant of their upcoming SLS gullwing revival roadster.

  3. TMAX said on 30th July 2009, 17:13

    Though when the news is first heard it might look a little cowardly repeating the pattern of Honda where in once an under performance is seen. Move out ASAP.

    But Over all I feel BMW is one of the smart companies. They are all set to take over as the highest seller of Luxury brand in US this year. http://bit.ly/fuUOd

    Maybe all these are some reasons.
    1) BMW was unhappy when F1 moved out of US. Now there is no F1 in the entire North America which is their biggest segment. Though F1 is a world sport what is the use of competing only in countries which potentially can only sell these premium cars in 1000s and neglecting the ones in the 200000s like North Am.

    2) Though F1 has a unique glaze about it, They can focus on specific categories of racing in different parts of the globe and still carry the brand identity without being in F1.

    3) The F1 Management is not the most thrilling entity today with all sorts of news surrounding it for the wrong reasons.

    4) A Premium brand like BMW fighting with Torro Rosso and Force India would be more damaging to their image than quitting.

    5) And Most Importantly MONEY……. It definitely is a very expensive sport. In this tough global economy why spend on it with no sorts of ROI from it.

    I am sure they will comeback after 5 or 10 years when things stabilizes and when they feel the need to get to other markets and up the brand image.

  4. Brian said on 30th July 2009, 17:24

    I really wish that somone would put their foot down and put a stop to M.M. and B.E’s destruction of F1. Those two belong in a Mental institute.
    First of all: The teams should be able to go out and make an agreement with any engine company they think will give them an advantage. Ex: If USF1 wanted to use a dodge engine instead of Cosworth, they should be allowed to do it.
    Second: They need to go to tracks where they KNOW FOR A FACT that fans will show up!!! Montreal 300,000 people swaped for a track that atracted only what? 35,000! C’mon, Bernie, do some research before decided to be greedy! What an A$$. I had been saving up money for months to go to that race, then one day in October I find out it got removed from the calender!!! I can’t tell you how many garbage cans i kicked over that day.
    I won’t pretend to know exactly why BMW pulled out, but you can’t tell me it had nothing to do with the current advertising opportunities.

  5. Obster said on 30th July 2009, 18:18

    Before the season, BMW was a real champion of the KERS concept.

    I think they should be where McLaren is now-with a car revised to meet the clarified aero rules for 2009 plus a cracking KERS system to boost them up the final two places in the Manufacturers Standings from 08.

    I am betting on a return to LeMans for them.

  6. Bernard said on 30th July 2009, 19:47

    To be honest, I’m with Ferrari on this. I don’t particularly care why BMW have chosen to leave though of course I would have preferred them to stay. Any excuse they have is weak in my opinion, they have pulled out due to lack of performance and they don’t like competing for left overs at the back of the field.

    Formula One is about rapidly evolving, high tech competition where success comes from innovative human ideas rather than corporate muscle and long may that continue.

    BMW have proved that you can’t just buy a team, throw money at it and expect to win the championship. They were severely deluded to even think they could do so.

  7. Bartholomew said on 30th July 2009, 21:09

    BMW was very upset about the ambiguity in the rules, this past year, that lead to some teams developing KERS and others not to, some teams having a double diffuser while others did not, etc.
    This past winter it was like rolling the dice for the teams : what do we do ? and for some teams the dice rolled the wrong way and they ended up with an uncompetitive car. It happened to several of the best teams.
    For a serious company like BMW, that associates good work with good results, this crazy lottery of F1, with Bernie, Mosley, Flavor Flav and Lou in charge, must seem like an improper place to be.
    And now, if we end up with Todt “Newman”, even worse. BMW would pay a lot of money to not be associated with such an unsavory individual.

  8. YeaMon said on 30th July 2009, 21:35

    I could careless about why BMW did quit (not to sound arrogant). I like their production cars but in the world of motorsports when I think of BMW, I think of a lack of commitment. They have all the resources, all the personnel, and yet they never seem to have much success or continue to build off success.

  9. Ken said on 30th July 2009, 22:26

    Sad for a prestigious name like BMW leave F1.

    Probably pointless for them to keep investing money
    into something when the rules are aways changing.

    They were really close last year and got caught off by the
    new regs.

    The results are tarnishing the name

  10. Bernard said on 30th July 2009, 22:42

    The regulations are no excuse for poor performance, all of the teams are in the same boat. As Ross Brawn said a few months back, BMW were opposing any amendments to the new rules back in 2008 because they claimed they had already got a good grasp of the design for their 2009 challengers. As it happens they had designed some seriously underperforming wastes of money and now they are paying the price for their short-sightedness.

    I hope FOTA helps to get the team back up and running for the 2010 grid as they mentioned in their latest press release.

  11. Jay Menon said on 31st July 2009, 3:20

    There’s been a lot of discussion about manufacturers in the past couple days, I think I stand by the notion that manufacturers should just supply engines, or have a joint venture like Mclaren and Mercedes.

    The problem with the big time mnaufacturers is that, F1 is just a another facet of their businesses, not like Ferrari, where F1 racing is the embodiment of the company brand and its products. The big guns go into F1 with deep coffers and they tend to exercise their financial clout, because they can. But, as in all businesses, basic economics will come into play. If your returns don’t add up to your capital, it wouldn’t make sense anymore.

    This was the case with Honda, now BMW and soon to be Toyota, maybe Renault too. Honda spent billions, and they got 1 win, excluding Brawn’s success. Toyota are in the same boat, Renault did win two World Championships, but they’ve been going backwards since then.

    BMW have had reasonable success, but for the amount they spent, they would probably have been expecting to be consistent front runner by now, this season especially after last seasons success. If it wasn’t for the economic downturn, they probably would have considered writing off this season and seriously focus for next season.

    The same can be said about all the other manuacturers. If the economy was rosy..we wouldn’t be having this conversation now would we?

  12. This call came right from the top (BMW board),when you devalue a Brand name like Max the Nazi and Bernie Hitler right before the German GP you know heads are going to roll…it’s not about cost. An just a side note HP will be out of F1 soon

  13. I think BMW did the right thing, although “we as fans” will miss them very much! But one things for sure we will always stay loyal to the Brand! Max and Bernie on the other hand are just racist scabs, and I think the world has seen that for themselves the sooner those bum bags dissapear from the F1 the better!! Long live BMW and may you prosper and achieve in other sectors as you always do! BMW SAUBER you came and showed the world what magnificent cars and engines you have, you will truely be missed!

  14. Rich said on 2nd August 2009, 8:07

    Its just business, and money talks.

  15. So yeah , I finally readed some thing ionteresting today , post a lot more about this please .. bookamrked!

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