Probably a little of both. But BMW says it's leaving the pinnacle of motorsport so it can channel the time and money it spends on the sport into developing greener cars.
"Sustainability is becoming increasingly important," Dr. Klaus Draeger, a member of BMW's board of management, said in a statement. "As a responsible premium manufacturer, we want to address this issue even more extensively than before."
Both men dropped some big hints suggesting we'll soon see a hybrid with a rondel on the bonnet.
bmw_02There's no doubt F1 is a very expensive game to play. Just how expensive is an open question because the teams keep quiet about their budgets. But BMW is probably putting in something north of $300 million a year. In the current economic climate, that's hard to justify. It's especially hard to justify when you've got exactly one victory in four years to show for it. (We aren't counting the 10 wins BMW shared with Williams when it provided engines to the team between 2000 and 2005.)
It doesn't help that BMW has been waist-deep in a power struggle between the Formula One Teams Association and the rules makers at the Federation International d'Automobile over a whole host of issues. Putting that mess behind them is probably a relief to the suits in Munich.
But BMW's official reason for walking away is it frees up resources it can devote to developing sustainable mobility.
Note that he said those factors were not the main reason. BMW clearly isn't happy with the direction F1 is going. The FIA has been hell-bent on reining in the stratospheric cost of racing, something BMW says will limit its ability to develop leading-edge technology.
"[F1's] planned cost reduction will cause component standardization and homologation to increase, and thus will set certain limits on our engineers creativity," Draeger said. "This doesn't necessary correspond to our belief of what's ideal."
That said, BMW isn't walking away from the technology underpinning the F1.09 race car even if the car has been a dog. BMW made a huge investment in the car's kinetic energy recovery system, and Draeger says KERS will "be applied to series production." That's a pretty big hint that BMW is working on some sort of high-performance hybrid road car. Draeger tantalized us further when he promised we'll see a green concept car at the Frankfurt auto show in September.
"The BMW EfficientDynamics Vision will demonstrate how efficient a sports car can be," he said. "It will also prove that sustainability does not apply to the drivetrain alone, but to design and materials, as well. Anyone who takes a closer look at this concept car will understand the direction in which we are developing our technology."
Design and materials? F1 is all about optimizing efficiency through design and materials, so look for some technology transfer from the F1.09 beyond KERS. Still more interesting, Reithofer said the concept car will be "a CO2 champion" — another suggestion we'll see a hybrid.
And don't forget BMW is pursuing electric vehicles with cars like the Mini E. It has some sweet diesels that get great fuel economy. And it's still infatuated with hydrogen. With so much going on, it's easy to see why BMW decided to hit the silk — and see where a lot of those F1 engineers may end up. But BMW isn't giving up on racing entirely. It plans to compete in touring car racing and the American Le Mans Series, which has emerged as a proving ground for greener tech ranging from algal fuel to hybrids.