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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?