They walked out of Formula One seven years ago and now BMW have signalled that they are not coming back. Instead, Formula One’s loss of one of the biggest brand names in motoring will be Formula E’s gain.
The German giant has analysed plans for the company’s future in motor racing and a return to the premier series has been ruled out in favour of events that will give BMW a chance to showcase its technology for the roads. As well as Formula E, BMW will also return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race with the World Endurance Championship.
It is not a disaster for Formula One but food for thought for Liberty Media, the American multinational pushing for control. Formula E – derided as too slow and not as cutting edge as Formula One – is now sweeping up manufacturers who want to experiment with electric power, which many now see as the future. BMW joins Jaguar, Renault and Audi in the line-up with other manufacturers also considering entering.
The commitments allow us to demonstrate our expertise in the areas of technology and integration on international platforms
Formula One is expensive, requiring a spend of at least £100 million a year and triple that as an engine manufacturer, while Formula E represents good value for money. Meanwhile, Formula One’s hybrid engines – with 1.6-litre petrol engines linked to energy recovery systems and batteries – seem ludicrously complex and difficult to explain while electric power is a simple concept and one increasingly making its way onto the high street.
BMW will enter an alliance with Andretti Racing, the American outfit owned by Michael Andretti, to compete in Formula E.
“Everyone knows that BMW and motorsport are intrinsically linked,” Klaus Fröhlich, BMW board member, said at the announcement. “The commitments allow us to demonstrate our expertise in the areas of technology and integration on international platforms, including the world’s leading racing series for electric mobility and classic motorsport. Electric mobility will continue to grow in importance.”
BMW have been supplying electric-powered cars as support vehicles for Formula E, evidence that the showcase is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers. Earlier this month, Jaguar, another company that deserted Formula One, announced that they will also race in Formula E.
BMW has a long history in Formula One, from supplying engines to the Brabham team to a partnership with Williams and an attempt to compete as a works team after acquiring Sauber. However, success eluded the company and, in 2009, BMW joined a mini-exodus with Toyota and Honda.
Liberty Media, on the threshold of buying Formula One, will need a long-term plan to maintain the sport’s place at the top of the motor-racing tree. Although Mercedes remains as the biggest manufacturer, the company has also unleashed a period of unprecedented domination due to its almost unlimited spending power.
Massive costs, uncompetitive races and constant political upheaval have deterred manufacturers in the past, not least Audi, who were wooed by Red Bull two years ago, but turned their backs on Formula One to move to the all-electric series.