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BMW pulls F1 pin to go green

Formula none: BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld will be out of a drive as BMW withdraws from F1 to concentrate on alternative drivetrains.

BMW pledges ‘CO2 champion’ car for Frankfurt as it cuts F1 cash pipeline

BMW logo30 Jul 2009

By RON HAMMERTON

MOTORSPORT’S loss will be environmentally-conscious motorists’ gain as BMW withdraws from Formula One to divert vast sums of money into new technologies, including development of its ‘Project i’ family of fuel-friendly vehicles.

The German car-maker announced its departure from motor racing’s premier arena last night – just one day after making the decision at its headquarters in Munich – thereby making good on its promise of last year to put sustainable motoring first.

Announcing the decision, BMW chairman Dr Norbert Reithofer confirmed that BMW would unveil a ‘CO2 champion’ concept car at this year’s Frankfurt motor show.

This vehicle is expected to be the prototype for BMW’s first ‘near-zero’ emissions car, dubbed the Megacity Vehicle.

While it is not expected to hit the roads of Europe until the first half of next decade, the micro Megacity will offer a choice between fully electric drive and high-efficiency combustion engine.

This city-car – the first fruits of the Project i skunkworks established within BMW by Dr Reithofer – is expected to be based on a new micro-car platform developed by Fiat and sold under the Isetta brand taken from BMW’s 1955 city car.

14 center imageLeft: BMW chairman Dr Norbert Reithofer. Below: BMW's 1956 Isetta.

Other vehicles using Project i technologies will follow, now propelled through the development process by extra budget diverted from the Formula One campaign.

Dr Reithofer said the decision to withdraw from F1 had been a difficult personally.

He said the program had come under scrutiny from BMW’s Strategy Number One – an internal review of BMW projects to check them for future viability and sustainability.

“I have always been clear about my position on making tough decisions that will help BMW Group’s success over the long run,” he said.

“As our company places stronger focus on sustainable initiatives, our participation in Formula One becomes less a key promoter of this engagement.” BMW’s latest, 10-year stint in Formula One – first with Williams and then Sauber – earned 11 grand prix wins, 10 of them as an engine supplier to Williams between 2000 and 2005.

In the middle of 2005, BMW bought Sauber to race under its own flag from 2006. While it was regarded as one of the top three teams until this season when Brawn and Red Bull exerted their muscle, BMW Sauber couldn’t crack a constructor’s championship, coming second in 2007.

This season, it has slid back to eighth in the standings. It is a fair way short of BMW’s glory days in its first seven-year stint in the 1980s, as an engine supplier.

That turbo-era partnership with the Brabham and Benetton teams resulted in BMW’s only driver’s championship, to Brabham’s Nelson Piquet in 1983.

In all, BMW scored 20 grand prix victories, the last coming to BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica in Canada in June last year.

Now BMW joins Honda on the Formula One sidelines at the end of this season, another consequence of the global financial crisis that has forced car companies to re-focus resources.

The question now is whether any other companies, including Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Renault, will follow.

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