BMW pick GT racing and WTCC over F1

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BMW will do a lot of its racing at American venues - like Laguna Seca - next year

BMW have announced details of the categories they will be racing in during 2010 having pulled out of F1.

Far from pulling out of motor racing entirely the company is expanding its GT racing programme, leaving you to wonder what these other categories offer which F1 does not.

GT racing

BMW M3 GTRs racing in the ALMS at for F1 venue Long Beach

BMW will have a works team competing in 24-hour races for the first time since 2005 – before it became a full Grand Prix team.

The BMW M3 GT2 will race in the 24-hour races at Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps and the Nurburgring. BMW will also have two M3 GT2s in the American Le Mans Series run by Rahal Letterman Racing.

Customer teams will be able to run a GT3-specification BMW Z4.

What does GT racing offer BMW that F1 does not? Certainly the cost of competition will be lower, though the amount of exposure offered by these championships will also be less.

It’s also significant BMW is racing in the major American sports car championship when F1 has not had a race there since 2007. The 2010 ALMS calendar has eight rounds in the USA and one in Canada – which F1 is returning to next year.

BMW may also be attracted by the potential to promote particular models – the M3 and Z4 – which people can buy road-going versions of.

World Touring Car Championship

Multiple WTCC champion Andy Priaux in action at Macau this year

BMW’s scaled-down WTCC programme for 2010 shows the team is looking for a more cost-effective motor sport programme. It’s five-man team of 2009 has been trimmed down to two – Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus.

What has always been curious about BMW’s choice of the WTCC to compete in is that its manufacturer rivals in the series – Seat and Chevrolet – are not significant competitors for road car sales. If that’s what it wanted, BMW would surely race in the DTM against Audi and Mercedes instead.

Rather like F1, the WTCC is an international series with a European bias. Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Japan and Macau are the only races outside Europe in 2010, with the other rounds taking place in Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain.

Andy Priaulx won the world title in a BMW 3 Series from 2005 to 2007 (and in 2004 when it was the European championship). Since then the team have struggled to beat the diesel-powered Seat Leons and there have been several rows about how the FIA has gone about equalising the performance of the cars.

Formula BMW

F1-supporting Formula BMW Europe remains in 2010

The Formula BMW junior single-seater championship started as a category in Germany in 2002 and spawned several international offshoots including an F1-supporting European category in 2008. There has been some scaling back of the programme in recent years and in 2010 only the Pacific and European categories will continue.

Mario Theissen is keen to stress the success of the programme:

Five former BMW drivers lined up in [F1 this year] – and with great success. Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil and Sebastien Buemi all scored World Championship points. Sebastian Vettel even celebrated four Grand Prix victories and finished the season as runner-up in the drivers’ championship, behind Jenson Button.

Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna will join the quintet in 2010 as regular F1 drivers. A number of other Formula BMW graduates can also hope to get a taste of Formula One as test and reserve drivers.
Mario Theissen

However BMW never got any of its graduates into its F1 team for the long term: Sebastian Vettel made his F1 debut for them in 2007 but was already on a long-term contract with Red Bull. BMW also tried and failed to keep test driver Timo Glock from joining Toyota in 2008.

Without a single-seater team to promote its drivers to, you have to wonder what the value of the championship is to BMW, and whether it might wind down in the future. There is certainly no shortage of junior categories for young drivers and there’s about to be one more with the arrival of GP3 next year.

What do you think has attracted BMW to these other racing series as it turns its back on F1? What role, if any, might the Max Mosley sex scandal and Bernie Ecclestone’s notorious Hitler comments have played? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: BMW: Ten years in F1 in 100 pictures

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “BMW pick GT racing and WTCC over F1”

  1. Hi Keith… great coverage and i must applaud you for that mate!

    This is no surprise, as they allow them to advertise well almost road going cars and associated tech and FIA does not mess around with the rules as much as they have in the last 7 or 8 years in F1.

  2. It would be a great shame if Formula BMW were to be scrapped, because that is an excellent series. It’s great to see fearless kids (well, I say kids, they’re the same age as me!) going for gold and going all out to promote themselves as future candidates for an F1 drive.

    Formula Ford has managed to carry on, despite Ford leaving the sport and having severe financial problems, and Formula Renault is pretty strong as well, which seems almost certain to pull out as a constructor.

  3. Perhaps this is why BMW is taking more of an interest in GT.

    From Autosport- DTM eyeing Japanese GT tie-up:

    An accord between the DTM and Super GT could help lure BMW into the German series… BMW motorsport boss Mario Theissen has stated that the Munich manufacturer would not build a car specifically for the DTM. That is why it pushed for the adoption of GT regulations to allow it to compete with its V8-powered M3 from the American Le Mans Series.

    1. DTM and Super GT together? OMG that would be brilliant!

    2. Wow, that would be epic – I wonder where the top level japanese drivers would go if there weren’t as many spots in Super GT though

      1. I don’t think they’re looking at merging the two series, rather allowing Super GT cars to compete in the DTM and vice versa.

        That would allow Mercedes and Audi to showcase their products in Japan, Toyota and Honda to do likewise in Europe, and potentially BMW in both series – all without the expense of building new cars.

        A merged series would be too much like the old ITC, a high tech international version of the DTM, which collapsed in the mid-1990s because costs were too high.

        1. Haven’t they had a pretty stringent development freeze in the DTM for a while now?

          1. Yep, trying to keep costs down and attract that elusive third manufacturer to take some of the pressure off Mercedes and Audi.

        2. Rather, this makes an interesting case for a unified international set of GT regulations, but technically DTM involves touring cars.

          That said, I’ve always wondered about a BMW DTM cars and Super GT Corvettes…

  4. What role, if any, might the Max Mosley sex scandal and Bernie Ecclestone’s notorious Hitler comments have played?

    Probably not very much. BMW cited F1’s lack of road relevance when it pulled out earlier this year – GT racing and the WTCC are both very road relevant as people can actually buy a version of the BMWs they see on track. The ALMS doesn’t have a huge profile in the US but neither does F1.

    There’s no obvious reason for retaining Formula BMW but presumably it doesn’t cost the company very much, if at all, given that independent teams pay to buy and run the cars, with funds typically coming from drivers. For a fairly small input, the BMW name gets some publicity and the firm can associate itself with FBMW’s successful graduates.

  5. I think BMW have decided they will actually get more exposure with their GT cars than from being part of F1, particularly in their largest market the US. And crucially, that exposure will be more directly linked to their road-going cars. For example, they pushed really hard to get KERS in the regulations in F1. But then ended up stuck with an old-fashioned, backwards definition for KERS, the likes of which no manufacturer would use in their production models anymore. Which made them “waste” a lot of money on pointless, backwards technology research.

  6. With F1 only set up for one purpose, to extract maximum
    revenue for CVC, offering no technical challenge and ever fewer races in the main car markets there is less and less interest for the car manufacturers to take part.
    The BMW race program looks like a way to promote their cars in the main markets with the added benefit of not being exposed to the FIAs ruling more than needed.

  7. I have to say that I prefer touring cars to F1. Don’t get me wrong though, not much can match the excitement and speed of F1. It’s just that I can pretend it’s me driving a bit easier if the cars resemble the ones I can see on the road every day! Also, nothing can match the close quarters and bumping and shunting you get with touring cars!

  8. The USA represents BMW’s largest market. It only makes sense they expand their presence in racing series that will promote their road going cars. It seems that if they felt they could get value for their main purpose in life, selling cars, they would have stayed in F1. Frankly, I’ll bet if there were a GP in the USA they might well have stayed in F1.

    1. Also, consider the fact that though ALMS is probably less competitive in F1, the sheer number of teams running in the GT2 class which RLR’s M3s competes in means it’s not easy for them either.

      I have to think their successes in ALMS this year were very attractive to BMW’s GT program – I attended the ALMS race at Road America in August and despite lots of time spent re-lapping the field under safety cars and a stop and go penalty, Rahal Letterman Racing’s BMW M3s took home a 1-2 finish! That’s very impressive, certainly it took less time and I imagine significantly less money than achieving their first F1 win…

    2. The USA represents BMW’s largest market. It only makes sense they expand their presence in racing series that will promote their road going cars.

      Bingo. Ferrari is pretty much the only supercar maker in F1 at the moment, and certainly the only constructor in a position to market (watered-down versions of) their single seater’s technologies.

      Manufacturers like BMW or Renault have a harder time extracting value. They need wins and championships, and even then the return is slim. So yes, BMW is wise to focus on series that run cars you can actually buy.

  9. F1 doesn’t have David Letterman. It is really that simple. ;)

    1. haha! well said, sir!

  10. I hope Audi will wax them in the 24hr races. BMW quitting F1 was a big disappointment after they had all of these goals set. Who is really going to watch theses races? Those are mostly attended by car enthusiasts that have strong opinions about cars. They won’t get much exposure to the general public.

    1. They won’t be in the same class though – Audi have a prototype, BMW will be in a GT category.

  11. WTCC is a mess with the “equalization” of the cars, I doubt anyone understands how the weight penalties work.
    I don’t think Bernie’s comments played such a big role. Mercedes is German too after all.

    1. WTCC is a mess with the “equalization” of the cars, I doubt anyone understands how the weight penalties work.

      I’ve given up on it partly because of that and also because of the too-short races and strange choices of circuits. That Moroccan track is awful.

  12. smart move by bmw.
    they gain:
    exposure in their #1 market
    entry in the world’s premier motorsports event – le mans
    road-relevant race cars
    lower costs and greater return on investment
    the ability to leverage their tech and skills, instead of relying on a highly specialized operation for a highly specialized catagory
    a lot, and i mean a whole lot, less BS

    they lose:

    1. Yeah I was just going to say this.

      This is similar to why manufacturers run thier cars in championships like NASCAR, WTCC, etc. Its a lot more road car relevant, people could actually go out and buy the cars they see on track.

      For BMW, with their wanning car sales, this is probably the best way forward, I would say the same for majority of the other manufacturers as well, unless you’re Ferrari of course.

  13. No BMW in F1 so from now on I will stop promoting it.

  14. BMW should enter NASCAR if they want even more exposure in their #1 market

    1. Ehhh….the type of customer BMW targets, and the companies BMW competes with for sales in the USA, really aren’t present at many NASCAR races ;) Than again, perhaps the same could be said about the WTCC from what Keith says….

  15. F1 should be in USA. Everyone who is anyone who sells something, from music to cars, wants to crack the US market. Yes the world is becoming increasingly multi-polar in terms of economic, an other, might- but the USA is still such a massive market, it should have been sorted out years ago for F1.

    1. F1 needs a big marketing effort if it wants to really grab a hold of the US. But since its main asset is the brand itself, F1 must be very careful about admitting it still needs promotion. Given the current situation of the sport, with all the scandals and fan dissatisfaction, such a move could be seen as a sign of weakness and actually lose the brand some value. Bernie doesn’t want that, and I suppose neither do any stakeholders (investors, sponsors, teams and even ourselves).

      1. true, but they should have been there long before the recent scandals

        1. HG, I agree with you 100%. As an American who wants F1 to have a strong presence here, your remarks are fantastic!

          I will be the frist to admit that F1 will never be as big here as NASCAR, or the domestic sorts leagues. But if the various powerbrokers in F1 would simply make a decent investment in marketing and promotion in the USA, they could develop a great brand here that would get them a good bit of publicity, and do a great dela for their business plans.

          A few kind words from Bernie would also be a great help, but that’s probably too much to ask…;)

  16. AMLS is a fun series to watch and they get a lot of fans att he race. TV however is limited to mostly nextday tape delays. In the GT2 Series they should do quite well. Maybe they will try to develop a P1 in the future.

  17. I can agree that the ALMS Series is not a widespread sport here in America, but it dose have a dedicated following of motorsport fans, and races at many venues (Laguna Seca, Road America) than many F1 fans would like to see a race at. It will probably wind up being an effective and cost-effecient investment for BMW.

    I applaud Dr. Mario for standing up for a strong F1 presence in the USA during his times as boss at BMW. Nick Fry was always right there with him when working with Honda- now that he’s back in the employment of a car company with major U.S. interests, let’s see if he joins Martin Whitmarsh in championing a new U.S. race.

  18. BMW is no longer in F1 because they lacked results, pure & simple. They made a strategic mistake while leading the championship after Canada in 08 to focus on the 09 car when they could have won it all. They would still be there especially with smaller budgets going forward.

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