BMW have announced they are exiting Formula One at the end of the 2009 season.
The shock announcement made at a press conference held at BMW’s headquarters in Munich comes as the teams prepare to sign a new Concorde Agreement, the document that governs the sport.
Although BMW have been struggling this season, team boss Mario Theissen had previously stated that BMW’s commitment to Formula One had not changed.
However, in a meeting of BMW’s Board of Management yesterday it was decided that BMW should concentrate on the development of new drive technologies and projects in the field of sustainability.
Dr. Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. said:
Premium 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. Mario Theissen has been in charge of our motor sports program since 1999. We have scored a large number of successes in this period, including some in Formula One racing. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mario Theissen and his team for this.
BMW will continue with its motor sport programmes in touring cars, Formula BMW and the American Le Mans Series.
What will this mean for BMW drivers Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld? I’m sure Kubica will find a drive somewhere else – of course, there are already rumours about him replacing Massa at Ferrari – but Heidfeld could find it more difficult. He is an experienced driver, having competed in over 150 races. But he also holds the record for the most Grand Prix starts without a win.
This also means there will be space for another team on the grid in 2010. Who will it be? Prodrive? Lola? Litespeed?
There has been some speculation in the German press recently about Nick Heidfeld’s future at BMW. His contract is due to expire this year and there have been rumours that he will be dropped from the struggling team at the end of the season.
The Bild newspaper said on the Saturday of the Monaco Grand Prix that while Kubica will be retained, Heidfeld is marked for replacement in 2010.
I’m not sure where the rumour started but it doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it. Nick has consistently outperformed his team mate this year and as Heidfeld commented:
I don’t know why they would get rid of a driver who has scored six out of the six points.
The team seem pretty supportive of Heidfeld, too. Last week they posted a glowing article on their website describing Nick’s ‘talent and meticulous work ethic’ in his career with BMW.
They point out that Heidfeld scored the first podium for the team in Hungary in 2006. In 2007 he made the first front row start for the team as well as another two podiums and in 2008 he achieved BMW’s first two fastest laps.
He may have the record for the most podiums without a win (12) but I think Heidfeld’s seat at BMW is pretty safe.
In those numbers was a hint of the dominance to come from Brawn GP and the relatively poor performance of McLaren’s MP4-24. But they were also a bit misleading in that the second best improved team was BMW followed by Ferrari, neither of which have impressed much this year. Red Bull, currently second in the Constructors’ Championship, did only marginally better in the comparison table.
Last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix marked the start of the European F1 season which is traditionally the time when teams introduce upgrades to their cars. In fact, in previous years, many teams would only release their new car when they got to Europe, choosing to run the previous season’s car for the opening flyaway races.
So with most of the teams bringing updated cars to Spain there was a lot of talk of improvements in lap times. BMW’s upgrade was the most radical, attaching a new rear wing, front wing and a completely redesigned nose. BMW team boss, Mario Theissen, said they were hoping for a half second per lap improvement.
But are the cars significantly faster now than they were at the beginning of the year? As the teams all tested at the Circuit de Catalunya in the winter we can compare their times set in testing with their times set during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.
Below is a table comparing the fastest time set by each team at the Barcelona test in February to their fastest time set during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.
Best Time (Test)
Best Time (GP)
To be honest, I’m a bit confused by the results. It shows that all the teams except McLaren posted slower lap times at the Spanish Grand Prix than they did in testing. In fact Brawn GP were the second biggest losers in the comparison despite dominating the race last weekend.
Perhaps this kind of comparison is not really valid but if BMW claim their car is now half a second a lap faster shouldn’t they have been able to at least match the time they set in testing?
If anyone has any ideas about how to interpret these results, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
Jenson Button and Brawn GP have dominated the start of the 2009 Formula One season, winning three out of the four races so far. If you listen to Renault’s Flavio Briatore that is almost entirely down to a ‘unique’ interpretation of the rules but since the FIA declared double-decker diffusers legal all the ‘non-diffuser’ teams have been working hard to redesign the back of their cars.
After the flyaway races in the East, the Spanish Grand Prix marks the start of the European tour and most teams will be bringing significant car updates to the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend. These updates, and the fact that the drivers and teams know the track backwards from winter testing, should make for a close race on Sunday.
One of only three teams to use KERS this season, BMW have abandoned the device for Spain in favour of a comprehensive aerodynamic update. Team boss Mario Theissen said:
We will not be equipping either cars with KERS in Barcelona. It was a case of lining up with either a comprehensive aerodynamic update or KERS. The tuning time on Friday would be too short.
I’m not sure why they can’t run KERS with the new aero update but BMW will be hoping it brings an improvement to their apalling start to the season.
Now that in-season testing is banned, the teams face a new problem when developing their cars this year. Previously, teams could run many miles testing new aero packages before racing them. This year it won’t be until they take to the track in Friday practice that they will know if any new parts are successful. Toro Rosso’s chief engineer, Laurent Mekies:
Obviously we dont have testing now so we have to understand how the upgrade suits the direction we have taken so far. Does it push in the same direction or does it ask us to reconsider some of the choices we have made already?
McLaren already made significant improvement in Bahrain with Lewis Hamilton wringing the most out of the MP4-24 to finish fourth and so will not be bringing anything special to Spain. The Barcelona track is unlikely to suit the McLaren but Hamilton remains hopeful of another strong finish:
We won’t have the bigger upgrades of some of the other teams as we already introduced several new parts during the opening flyaways, so it will be interesting to see where we sit in the order. Nevertheless, the engineers are optimistic that our new diffuser and front wing will once again help us to make progress towards the front of the grid.
Currently fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren will be hoping for a stronger performance at Barcelona than they displayed there in winter testing.
It just wouldn’t be Formula One without race stewards applying controversial penalties and last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix started the season in fine form.
Hanging over the whole weekend was the question of the legality of the Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers. While Rubens Barrichello thinks his car would be quick even without the fancy diffuser and the race stewards declared it legal, Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull are taking their appeal to court on 14 April. Williams made a point by lodging a counter-protest against Ferrari and Red Bull only to withdraw it “in the interests of the sport.” I really hope the case is rejected but until then the results of the Australian Grand Prix and possibly Malaysia will be provisional.
The race itself was subject to some controversial decisions, too. In the final laps, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel put his car where Robert Kubica’s BMW was and a promising race ended badly for them both.
Vettel was quick to offer his appologies to Kubica and team boss Mario Theissen and was duly handed a 10 place penalty for causing the accident. But was it really his fault? It looked like a racing incident to me. Michael Schumacher seems to think so too, telling Germany’s Bild newspaper:
He (Vettel) was on the inside – he couldn’t make his car dissolve into thin air.
And Kubica himself isn’t too sure either:
It’s difficult to say who is at fault. I think he was a bit optimistic. If that was the last corner of the last lap it’s OK, but in the first race it’s important to score the points. It’s important you understand what position you are in.
Could it be that Vettel was penalised for being too honest? If he had just kept his mouth shut and not been so apologetic perhaps the stewards would have let the incident pass.
Jarno Trulli was another disappointed driver. Before the race even started, Toyota had been found guilty of having a flexible rear wing but after some hasty modifications they were allowed to start from the pits. After a great drive from Trulli we again had the situation where one of the drivers on the podium later has his trophy taken away by the stewards. Ironically it was all caused by the Vettel – Kubica shenanigans. Trulli’s Toyota slipped off the track under the safety car and Lewis Hamilton had no choice but to pass him. According to the rules, overtaking under the safety car is permitted “if any car slows with an obvious problem”, like running off the track.
The problem seems to be that McLaren, understandably nervous about illegal passing manouvers after the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix where Hamilton was deemed to have passed Räikkönen illegally, thought they should hand third place back to Trulli so Lewis slowed and allowed him to pass. Here is a video showing Trulli slipping off the track and Hamilton (legally) going past:
Unfortunately I haven’t found any video of Trulli taking the place back but Jarno clearly felt he had little choice:
I thought he had a problem so I overtook him as there was nothing else I could do.
The 25 second penalty handed down destroyed a great drive by Trulli and Toyota announced their intentions to appeal the decision:
There are circumstances surrounding the incident that we feel have not been taken into consideration. On Sunday, we announced our intention to appeal the ruling to the International Sporting Court of Appeals. We are currently undertaking procedures to formally appeal the ruling within 48 hours, collecting data to be used as proof of our position.
It’s all very confusing. Last year the stewards came in for some criticism over their decisions and according to an FIA meeting back in November of 2008, a number of new stewarding arrangements were to be put in place in 2009, in particular the following:
Following the race, a short written explanation of stewards decisions will be published on the FIA website. This will supplement the formal stewards decision which largely defines the breach of the rules.
The FIA have an awful lot of documentation on their website about lap times and scrutineering checks but the Stewards’ Report is conspicuously absent.
I do hope this information is posted soon as it is important to see how the race stewards arrived at their decisions. At least a Ferrari wasn’t involved so there are no conspiracy theories. Yet.