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BMW pulls out, but team should survive
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BMW pulls out, but team should survive
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Jul 2009   |  11:16 am GMT  |  54 comments

BMW today became the second major manufacturer to quit Formula 1 in eight months. I never much liked the way they went about their racing, being too focussed on corporate targets and not enough on racing. But I see no reason why the team, based in Hinwil should not be on the grid next year in a new guise.
BMW

The timing of the BMW board’s decision was motivated by the imminent need for a signature on the new Concorde Agreement. It has been agreed between all parties and was simply awaiting main board approval from two manufacturers, one of whom was BMW.

That approval was not forthcoming and so they have been forced to withdraw now rather than commit themselves to the sport until the end of 2012. It remains to be seen if another manufacturer will feel unable to make such a commitment. Toyota moved this evening to make it clear that they will not follow in BMW’s wake, “Through cost reduction we will continue our Formula 1 activities. Our situation remains unchanged, ” said a statement.

In some ways it is a shock in other ways not. BMW, along with Toyota and Renault, were frequently cited as manufacturers whose long term commitment to the sport was questionable. FIA president Max Mosley has been warning for some time that the sport could not be allowed to live at the whim of manufacturers who come and go as it suits them and needs new teams to ensure its stability.

The obvious answer as to how to achieve this was to cut the costs of competing dramatically. His chosen route of an enforced budget cap, almost brought about the destruction of the sport with a walkout from eight teams, but in the end a compromise has been reached with a legally binding agreement between teams to keep costs at around £80 million next year and £40 million the year after.

With commercial revenues from the sport and from sponsors far exceeding this figure, teams are set to become profit centres rather than cost centres and so one has to look at the decisions to withdraw today as not being primarily about economics. It’s about damage to the BMW brand from performing so poorly this year and possibly some disillusionment about the way the sport has been managed.

Results played a significant part in it; the team was on an impressive upward curve in 2006- 2008, but I always thought that they bottled it last year, choosing to work on the 2009 car once they had achieved their 2008 targets of a first win and third in the constructors’ championship, rather than throw the kitchen sink at trying to win the title with Kubica. They had the chance; Ferrari and McLaren were making lots of mistakes.

That was not the decision of a racer, rather of a corporate entity too focussed on ‘targets’ and now with the results frankly embarrassing, they have pulled the plug.

“It only took us three years to establish ourselves as a top team,” said Klaus Draeger, one of the BMW board members. “Unfortunately, we were unable to meet expectations in the current season.”

This outcome is a huge personal failure for Mario Theissen, the team principal, who steered BMW away from an engine supply deal with Williams and into running its own team. It shows the pressure he must have been under from the board to get results and why he played it so cautiously over the last few years, focussing on targets all the time,

“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,” he said. “But I can understand why this decision was made from a corporate perspective. We will now focus sharply on the remaining races and demonstrate our fighting spirit and put in a good result as we bid farewell to Formula 1 racing.”

Peter Sauber is the man who must be hurting the most. I interviewed him in the early 2000s and he said that his main objective was to secure the future for his employees. He chose BMW because he believed in their stability and long term commitment.

I always wondered why the team remained “BMW Sauber” and he retained his shareholding, and now I wonder whether he might ‘do a Ross Brawn’ and take over the team for one Euro with a budget for 2010 to get them going. The sport would retain an important team and Sauber would be able to operate on £40 million a year going forward. The circumstances for such a move are far less risky now than they were for Brawn over the winter, with far more certainty of what F1 will cost.

Sauber is not a young man and BMW is likely to be able to sell the team to a new investor, once the Concorde Agreement is signed, it looks like a good business opportunity. But if it doesn’t go that route, that in my view it owes it to the sport to set Sauber up in the same way as Honda set Brawn up and let the racing continue.

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54 Comments
  1. Stu says:

    Excellent article James, I think BMW have shown their real view on the sport by quitting so quickly when the chips are down. Given their large presence in motorsport and obvious funds, the car they designed for 2009 is my real turkey of the year, and a surprise given the strength of the 2008 car.

    I can only hope Peter Sauber can keep the Sauber name alive and bring the team back to the grid for 2010, before getting involves with BMW they were a strong midfield team who had some good results and I’d love to see them back in this position!

  2. Phil says:

    So the men in suits finally took Mario’s toys away. Good riddance, I say. Give me a team who are there to race and not there to hit targets.

    I sincerely hope Peter Sauber gets his team back but I suspect BMW is more likely to try & sell it to the highest bidder regardless of what people may feel they owe the sport.

  3. Frank says:

    What do you think is the possibility of someone taking over the team and keeping the same Petronas, etc., sponsorship? Does Sauber still own any part of the team? Do you think BMW is likely to sell the team to him?

    I think BMW is pulling out too early, they say ‘in only 3 years we achieved our goals’ and then during one bad year they decide to pull out entirely. It’s a shame but hopefully someone will take on the team to further success.

  4. brandon says:

    Who would want to buy Sauber? The current car is a dog, presumably they will have no engine deal? Unless it’s one of the teams that didn’t get picked for 2010.. but they have their own brands backing them?

  5. Alistair Blevins says:

    Whilst it’s a shame that a team decides to no longer participate in Grand Prix racing I am in agreement with you James that there was never a lot of passion on display from the likes of BMW, and indeed Toyota.

    F1 needs racers – guys with passion who think about Sunday afternoons out on the race track rather than Monday mornings in the board room.

    Perhaps that’s why BMW and Williams never gelled completely – opposite ends of the spectrum.

    I hope the employees of Hinwil will be back in the paddock in 2010 – under the auspices of Sauber… a team that I’m sure many of us remember entering in 1993 under the banner ‘Concept by Mercedes Benz’!

  6. Bludd says:

    So who is the second manufacturer waiting for board approval? Renault? Toyota?

  7. David Brown says:

    Dave Richards is waiting in the wings, still reeling from being left out of the new ’3′.

    Prodrive Sauber. Does it have enough of a ring?

    1. Snail says:

      :-) You beat me to it!

      I do wonder if this would suit Dave Richards. Would love to see him back in F1. Unfinished business and all that. Not sure if being based in Switzerland would be satisfactory though (just have a feeling he’d prefer to be based in the UK).

      DR wanted to use Mercedes engines… looks like Mercedes will be powering half the grid soon.

  8. Steve says:

    wow .. i wasn’t expecting that one, well not this soon anyway. this is going to throw the drivers market wide open now…. RK should be in with a shout of Kovalainen’s seat in McLaren? or even williams? What about nick? what does the future hold for him now?

  9. Steve says:

    I hope Peter Sauber does take control back of his old team, in the same way that Ross Brawn did with the old Honda team. It would be difficult for a non-Swiss resident person or firm to buy the Hinwil facility, due to Swiss laws, so the easyest way is for Herr Sauber to step in. Maybe Michael Schumacher would like to step up and control his own team? Living in Switzerland he could do so with little or no problems.

  10. Sideways Bob says:

    BMW will go back to Sports Car racign, with Sauber (who used to run the Merc back in the 80′s) Prodrive or Lola will get the grid spot.

  11. Dook says:

    BMW owes F1 an apology.

    They fly in the face of the other teams when pushing for the development of KERS and then can’t make it work. They then hide behind the skirts of FOTA whilst obviously having no appetite to commit to a championship in any guise.

    There was sentiment that Sir Frank WIlliams had missed the boat when Beemer started their own gig. Better than most, he must have seen their true colours.

  12. Jamie Bell says:

    I wonder if David Richards and Prodrive would be interested in taking over the team? I think he was obviously very annoyed by the FIA not choosing Prodrive as a new entrant. With the resources already in place, and Richards an already proven good leader and team manager (from his BAR days), and Prodrive’s success in motor sport, the time might be right. It might even prove a better opportunity than starting a team from scratch. :)

  13. chris says:

    I agree with all of the thoughts in this post. My view is that they
    set unrealistic targets with Theissen saying that they had three years to win the world championship. The BMW board were arrogant to think that they could get the job so quickly, especially if you consider that a top team like Mclaren had a baron spell that lasted nearly 10 years.

    They are obviously not very F1. They hit the brakes last year when they should have mashed accelerator.

    1. Snail says:

      The BMW board were arrogant to think that they could get the job so quickly,

      Exactly what I was thinking as I read the reports about this pull out.

      Also agree with the various comments about “corporate target setting”. Sure you set targets to achieve when you go racing, you have to to run a business, but not in the way BMW did it. Racing is about many things, one of which is opportunity. Seems that BMW thought you could ignore that (which they had in 2008) and simply engineer their way to the top.

      Its almost as if they approached racing the same way you might tackle entering a market segment with a new product. No surprise to find out it doesn’t work like that :-)

      1. Raj says:

        More than Prodrive, Epsilon Euskadi is showing interest to buy it. In some way, this definitely vindicates the fears expressed by Max. I just wonder if this would be the end of the roads for Nick. Just like BMW, Nick would be leaving F1 with unfulfilled promises if he struggles to find a race seat. Force India could be a destination for him though as Fisi doesn’t seem to have a contract.

  14. Ron says:

    I wait for the reaction of ‘united we stand’ FOTA with interest. And who’s next?

  15. Peter says:

    I still think BMW have done a great job in the recent years especially Mario Theissen. He has built a great team in shorter period of time than anyone else. Just because of one missdevelopment and failed season they still should have stayed. None of the teams have been just in the front all the time, all have had failures Honda, McLaren, Ferrari etc all. In my opinion F1 won`t be the same without manufacturers its gonna be a second GP2, its not the 70`s or 80`s anymore.

  16. paul moss says:

    Wow James, tell us what you Really think!
    Nice, hard, direct post. Just what was required.

  17. Jonathan says:

    This just shows they were never really committed to F1 at all.

    Quitting due to poor performance is petty, and misguided too, because the BMW Sauber brand was popular and likeable even without race wins.

    Good riddance… but let’s hope Toyota and Renault have more of a competitive spirit.

  18. Alex T says:

    I can’t help feeling that BMW would have had more success over these last four seasons if it had remained with Williams as engine supplier and sought to cultivate a similar relationship as Mercedes has done with McLaren. Granted Sir Frank is a different character to those at McLaren but given that many of Williams problems of 2006 to 8 stemmed from having to redesign the car constantly for different engines and hence spend less time on delivering performance, Williams performance would have been better than it was. And it would have cost less.

    Clearly Mario Theissen wanted his own team, he got it, and I hope whoever takes it over will get rid of him. So BMW walks away, like it has done before. No doubt in a ten years it will be back again. Like last time.

    Like the Honda engine I am not entirely sure how good the BMW engine is. With this amount of lead time does anyone fancy a ‘Megatron’ for next year – isn’t that how the BMW engines were badged in the Arrows after their last pull out?

  19. Neil says:

    At least there are plenty of new teams for Kubica (or whoever’s seat he takes) and Heidfeld to get a race with.

    Will Prodrive still want to come into F1? They’ve been rejected twice now, by the teams then by the FIA, so will have found something else to do surely…

    Anyway, BMW will just sell to the highest bidder, they’re a business, they obviously don’t give a damn about racing

  20. Tom says:

    BMW’s approach was that of a corporate business strategy which was never going to go to plan. It’s racing first and foremost, whatever anyone says about F1 being a business.

    They absolutely missed the boat last year, now this years car is a dog and with the concorde agreement imminent it makes a perfect excuse to bow out and save face.

    They’ve gone backwards as much as McLaren have gone forwards since the start of the year!

    Biggest question for me is where will Kubica go? He’s hot property now, but with his character i don’t think he’ll suit every team.

  21. Dave Walker says:

    I wonder if the remnants of the Sauber team do a Brawn and choose mercedes engines over the ferrari engines they used for several years prior to the merge with BMW, or they may possibly opt for cosworths?

    The case for Mercedes: Heidfeld’s previous relationship with McLaren might help, should he stay.

  22. Mark J says:

    Hi James, totally agree with your view on the BMW pull out. Its a shame that they have made this decision, but there will be someone else to keep the team going. It was rumoured that Heidfeld would be given an enforced retirement this year but where does it leave Kubica and also Rosberg? He was talked about going to the team this year. Could be a Williams man a little longer.
    By the way I have really enjoyed your articles this season. They have a good balanced opinion and posted with much detailed analysis so soon after the event. I think its fantastic!

  23. rmstrong says:

    Excellent write-up.
    The more this goes on the more I feel that the manufacturers dont belong in F1. Ferrari are an intricate part of the sport and Maclaren are becoming that way too with Merc. However, I admire teams like Williams that are there to race, that’s it not to sell cars and make ostensible goals then quit when they cant surpass or even attain them.

  24. Barry says:

    This has obviously came out of nowhere and noone was expecting it, take this blog’s entry about where Rosberg would be racing next season only a few days ago. Even JA thought he could go to BMW so this shows how unexpected this was.

    I liked the old days with all the independants, but do we really want to go back to the days when back markers where lapped 8 times in a race? It would be nice if BMW stayed on as an engine supplier, they are already developed and are sold at a profit so I can’t see the sense in not doing it.

  25. Shishir says:

    I do not actually believe that this year’s results had too much to do with this decision. It is a rubbish economy out there and Audi seem to be giving BMW a real fight in the premium car market so this decision makes economic sense. I would much rather have BMW push their money into continuing to develop fantastic road cars if they were running short. It is however sad to see another manufacturer drop out (and potentially one more). At the end of the day it is the manufacturers that make F1 what is is. They bring the technology, the know how and the connection with our daily lives. Imagine how bad F1 would be wih a grid of 11 cosworth engined cars. BMW might not have been the most passionate, but they cant all be like Ferrari and McLaren. I actually found their cold, calculating approach to racing an interesting counterpoint to the rest.

  26. BMW achieved 10 wins as an engine supplier, but only 1 win as a constructor and team owner…I see their withdrawal as a further confirmation of the difficulties of running both a team and supplying engines. Honda failed at both, Toyota are still failing at both.
    Perhaps Frank Williams and Patrick Head knew a few things about how to run a team that BMW never wanted to hear?

  27. Simon Biel says:

    James,

    Any insight as to where Nick and Robert might end up next year?

    Cheers

    1. James Allen says:

      Simon, Robert at Renault, Nick I’m not sure, maybe one of the new teams. He’s a very strong development driver and is still fast enough to beat Kubica. I if I were Peter Windsor or Adrian Campos I’d take him ahead of De la Rosa, Wurz etc

      1. Casino Square says:

        I agree- Heidfeld may not quite be world class, but he still deserves a place in F1. He’s been team mate to Kubica, Massa, Raikkonen and Webber, and has not been shown up by any of them (he even beat Raikkonen and Massa, though they were both in their rookie seasons). I predict Nick Heidfeld will be racing for Sauber next year

  28. Domhnall Morrissey says:

    I for one am disappointed to see them go. I think to take Sauber and bring the team to the heights achieved in 2008 was a great achievement. I also think they’re decesion to switch focus to 2009 after montreal was the right one. There was no way they would have beaten Mclaren and Ferrari to the title. They just had too much pace.

    I reckon the reason why Thiesson pushed hard to get KERS in for this year has been revealed now. He wanted to show the board that the f1 project was producing technology for road cars. Something that showed BMW weren’t spending £200 million a year just on very fine detail aerodynamics. Which restricitve technical regulations in f1 there really isn’t a lot for manufactures to take from f1 if they’re not winning. No north american race and empty grandstands in Turkey and Bahrain hardly help matters either. Throw all these factors together and you get a disillusioned board.

  29. Boy says:

    The feeling with these manufacturers is that money will buy you a World Championship. Unfortunately, you also need a hell of a lot of passion which BMW never had.

    If this doesn’t prove that manufacturers should NOT run the F1 show, I don’t know what is. I have always felt that if a breakaway series was ever created, it wouldn’t last more then a few years as these sorts of decisions are made far too easily by the big company boards with a total disregard for everything else.

    A major problem with BMW is they are not based in UK – this has shown to be a massive disadvantage to get the right people (remember Prost GP anyone!).

  30. Mike Dawson says:

    A common word I’ve heard is arrogant. This does kind of sum up the BMW brand. They were arrogant to think they could do so much better than when they were partners with Williams, yet they came no where near the success they had with Williams.

    While it’s not good to lose a team, perhaps we’ll get a real racing team out of it?

  31. Ted says:

    I knew I should have sold my “F1 BMW” personalised plate last year while the going was good. I did think at the time this might be my best chance to get a good price for it…

    I guess I’ll just have to hang it up on the wall beside my “F1 JAG” plate which has been gathering dust for some time now.

    It seems Max couldn’t get his press release out fast enough – no doubt he’s had it sitting in his top right drawer for some time now just biding his time (in the boudoir?) and waiting to see which name would fill in the gaps:- BMW, Renault or Toyota?

    He may be right, he may be intelligentsia personified, he may have done wonders for automotive safety, his double act with Bernie may have contributed significantly to the stunning spectacle that Formula One is today, BUT…

    He’s still gotta go!

    Please step up to the plate – Ari Vatanen.

  32. jeremy says:

    James,

    This puts Alex Wurz and Superfund in a great situation! The ability for them to purchase the facility full to the brim with state of the art equipment and employees with 2010 car development already in the works.

    Superfund Sauber?

  33. Luke Dalton says:

    Good riddance! Just need Toyota to s*d off now. I said a few months ago the manufacturers will bend f1 to suit them (killing the independants off in the process) then ‘do one’ when they can’t be bothered anymore.
    Alonso’s quip of F1 being nothing without manufacturers was rich considering it was a privateer who gave him his debut.

  34. Knuckles says:

    James, I’m kind of disappointed that you, too, perpetuate the myth that BMW gave up the championship hunt in 2008 to focus on 2009. And more so for you to take this as a basis to doubt the team’s racing heart.

    In fact, Dr. Theissen has repeatedly stated that they did not abandon 2008, but on the contrary continued development as long as there was a chance. According to him, the issue was that the developments simply did not translate to on-track performance, something they were planning to learn from (though maybe unsuccessfully).

    As evidence I submit the following interviews:
    Aug 2008: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/69933
    Oct 2008: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/71675
    Jan 2009: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/72900

    In addition to these, I read somewhere at the Autosport forums that in a recent interview (though I don’t have a link for that) Dr. Theissen also explained that back in 2008 they did not talk about this problem a lot partly in order not to openly contradict Kubica, who had been very vocal about a perceived lack of development at the time.

    Now, I accept that you may have other sources that contradict these statements, but then you should somehow explain why you think that Dr. Theissen did not tell the truth.

  35. Meeklo says:

    I bet Max is sitting back saying I told u so!

    The manufacturer teams in FOTA talk big but their leaders don’t necessarily have the backing of their parent company. This is exactly why FOTA manufacturers should not be running and dictating F1.

    F1 should be about the privateers.

  36. Howard Hughes says:

    I’m not a BMW fan (with the exception of a few classic models….) In fact I have a BMW sitting on my drive that I’ve not been bothered to even switch on since May. But I think Theissen was quite underrated, and I have a feeling he was more of a racer than his corporate paymasters allowed him to be.

    Rather than see Sauber reclaim the team, I’d prefer to see a true Brawn scenario, whereby the guy actually running it took it over in his own name (ok, not TheissenF1, but you know what I mean…) The guy did a sterling job until this year in dragging an uncompetitive car up to winning position, and who knows? Maybe he was pushing behind the scenes to go for the big prize last year and was slapped down by head office…

    I reckon he more than deserves his shot at having a truly free rein at running the team. Let him have it!

    1. Casino Square says:

      Sorry- it ain’t gonna happen. Thiessen is a BMW man through and through, he’s not like Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey who go from team to team.

  37. The corporate heads at BMW have shown just who they are as men: cowards. It’s a shame to see such a powerhouse depart F1, but if they’re going to depart just because they didn’t win the championship in their first four years as a team and are having a poor year this year, then those cowards don’t deserve to be in F1, anyways.

    Ferrari and Mercedes (with McLaren) started the year poorly, and they have kept pushing with their teams and gotten back to competitive form. Renault have kept pushing, as well, and they seem to be near competitiveness. These are the manufacturers who should be in F1, not the ball-less suits at BMW.

  38. Malcolm46 says:

    Excellent article James, I’d agree with you about the way BMW Sauber went about racing, they always seemed different to most other teams, and so as a result I don’t think they’ll be missed too much. You never saw many people in the grandstands waving BMW flags for instance.

    I thought it was strange that BMW said the other day that they were going to introduce an major upgrade at Singapore, which is quite late in the season when they should be focusing on 2010, maybe this isn’t as ‘sudden’ as they are portraying?

    I do hope the team can be saved and as many jobs saved as possible, would be great to have Sauber back!

  39. Marcus Redivo says:

    Quitters!

    It’s clear that the BMW board is not aware that “quitter” is a much worse epithet in North America than “backmarker”.

    If withdrawing from F1 was done to limit the sullying of the BMW name over the current car’s poor performance, they have merely sullied it in a worse way in North America.

    Good luck Robert, Nick, and everyone in Hinwil.

    1. PinballLes says:

      Yeah it doesn’t look good to quit without actually having achieved anything. Maybe if they had of won several world championships, driver and manufacturer, and then claimed they have achieved everything they wanted to, then it would be believable.

  40. Ginger says:

    When I saw an interview with Max a few months back on the BBC website he come across as a wise man who knew his stuff. I know he is hated save for the safety work that he has done but it cannot be denied that he saw this coming.

  41. David Palmer says:

    I just hope Mclaren will now snap up Kubica before Ferrari does. I am as fed up with Kovalainen not making the best of the car as I am sure Ferrari are fed up with Raikkonen. They can have Alonso (which has been rumoured since Monte Carlo).

    What a difference it will make to have two Mclaren drivers keen to win. I will be glad to see the back of Kovalainen, only hope Mclaren have the guts to do it NOW!

  42. David Palmer says:

    Sorry if this is the wrong place but since you moved your blog I no longer get email from you.

    Also, PLEASE come back, so fed up with JL (send him back to Radio5), he says nothing intelligent and stifles MB with his waffle. I think this contributes to the poor BBC coverage, I keep thinking how did that driver drop two places, what happened? The BBC never seem to be on alert and despite hints from MB, it takes them ages to show relevant events.

    While I have your attention, how about a campaign for better graphics on the BBC F1 programme. Current info is too small both in qualifying and in the race. They need to get rid of the ticker tapes and mostly show the top 8 drivers with time behind race leader so we can see who is gaining and improving.

    Keep up the good work on the Blog.

  43. Zbyszek says:

    I can see Virgin buying out this team. And it would be great if Theissen and Kubica should stay in new incarnation of BMW Sauber.

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