BMW announced its motor sport plans for for first year after its withdrawal from Formula 1 this weekend. It is based around its ongoing challenge in World Touring Cars and its GT programme in the 24 hours classics, Le Mans and Spa. There is also a strong commitment to the young driver programme. The motorsport department will be led by former BMW Sauber F1 team principal Dr Mario Theissen.
This type of racing is very much core business for BMW, which has what you would call patchy history in F1. As an engine supplier it won with Brabham in the 1980s, and Williams in the early 2000s, but F1 has never really been at the heart of its strategy. And for that reason, like Toyota, it never seemed a very convincing – or convinced – participant, unlike Mercedes or Renault.
To read about its plans for the first season of life after F1, it all makes perfect sense except that what is missing is the top step of the ladder. It’s all very well seeking out and nurturing the best young driving talent, but they will want to drive in F1 and BMW can only take them down a tin-top route. In terms of media coverage, F1 is light years ahead of all the other series and they will notice that. But you can run a decent WTCC campaign for less than 5% of the budget of the F1 team and the WTCC is all about manufacturers, whereas it was clear that after their attempts to take over in F1 and dictate terms, they were no longer welcome.
Mario Theissen is an ambitious man and although this kind of programme is core business for BMW, he will miss the bright lights of F1 and the rarified life lived by team principals.
“I am pleased that we are able to offer our fans an attractive motorsport programme in the first year since our withdrawal from Formula One,” he said. “In production car racing, BMW has enjoyed countless triumphs throughout the course of its long racing history – whether with close-to-production touring cars or imposing GT sports cars. We want to follow on from this success in 2010, in both the World Touring Car Championship and the ALMS. In addition, our programme will include works entries at 24-hour classics for the first time since 2005. Promoting junior racing drivers remains an important pillar of our activities: Formula BMW Europe is once again a permanent feature in the general Formula One programme,” meaning that the Formula BMW races will still be part of the F1 support schedule.