Why Did BMW Leave F1? Could They Return?

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BMW is a German automotive giant that builds luxury performance cars. They are known for being on par and in fierce rivalry with Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Curiously, however, they aren’t in Formula 1 anymore, and many fans may wonder why BMW left F1 and whether they could return.

BMW left F1 in 2009 due to a “long-term strategic decision.” BMW instead decided to focus on developing powertrains and other technologies for their road cars, and it is unlikely that BMW would return to F1 in the near future.

BMW made its way into other branches of motorsport after 2009 with reasonable success. The Bavarian luxury carmaker had some decent results in Formula 1, but the championships never came their way. Below, we’ll explore the reasons BMW left F1 and whether they may return in the future.

Is BMW In F1?

BMW is not currently in F1. After a long and established history in the sport, the German luxury car giants withdrew in 2009. The company made a statement saying that its choice to leave Formula 1 was based on a long-term strategic decision.

BMW bought the Swiss-owned Sauber team midway through the 2005 season. The team became known as BMW Sauber and had reasonable success, scoring their most recent win with their incredibly talented Polish driver Robert Kubica in 2008. However, the following season in 2009 would ultimately be their last in the sport as they sold the team back to the founder, Peter Sauber.

BMW As An Engine Supplier

But before being a works team, BMW supplied engines to many teams, notably Brabham and Williams. The BMW-Brabham partnership saw decent success between 1982 and 1987, with Nelson Piquet famously winning the 1983 world championship in a Brabham BT52-BMW.

The BMW Williams team also saw some reasonable success with an incredibly fast driver pairing in Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, who together scored multiple podiums and even a pole position in the BMW-powered Williams.

But BMW’s history in the sport stretches back even further. They first made an appearance in the sport as a Formula Two entrants in the early 1950s, when the rules allowed for private Formula 2 teams to enter F1 races. BMW has a total of more than 270 race entries in Formula 1 when you account for their appearances as a team and as an engine supplier.

Was BMW Successful In Formula 1?

BMW had reasonable success in Formula 1, both as an engine supplier and when they owned the BMW Sauber F1 team. In total, they won one World Drivers’ Championship with Nelson Piquet in the Brabham-BMW, and they scored plenty of podiums and points.

During their time in F1, BMW garnered a total of 20 victories, 86 podiums, and 1,021 points. They also got 33 pole positions and set a total of 33 fastest laps.

BMW Sauber

The BMW Sauber team was the German car maker’s first and only real attempt at a fully-fledged Formula 1 team. They had reasonable success with notable drivers Sebastian Vettel, Robert Kubica, and Jacques Villeneuve. The team scored one win, 17 podiums, one pole position, and two fastest laps with a total of 308 points in 72 race starts.

These are relatively average numbers for a modern-day Formula 1 team, but the BMW Sauber outfit scored their highest position in the constructors’ championship of second place in 2007. This is partly due to some decent performances by the team, but also because McLaren were disqualified from the championship following their spy-gate scandal.

BMW Sauber had their first win the following year in 2008 through Robert Kubica in Canada. The team then suffered a disappointing 2009 season, at which point BMW decided to pull the plug on the Formula 1 program following the global financial crisis of 2008, and a desire to focus on their production cars.

Why Doesn’t BMW Have An F1 Team?

BMW doesn’t have an F1 team because they are focusing on their road car business. BMW says the direction Formula 1 has taken does not help them develop their road cars any further, and claim the sport is now “irrelevant” to them and their corporate goals.

Ever since leaving the sport in 2009, there have been rumors about BMW making a return to Formula 1. However, as recently as 2021, BMW confirmed they are still not interested in coming back to Formula 1 in any way, and they have their reasons for this stance.

BMW also claims Formula 1 is too expensive, even with the budget caps in place. BMW doesn’t have their own Formula 1 factory, which means that rejoining the sport would be more expensive than ever and the company wants to focus on other technologies instead.

Has Leaving F1 Hurt BMW?

BMW left F1 in 2009, claiming the direction the sport was taking hindered their progress in developing useful technology they could successfully transfer to their ever-popular luxury road cars. This seems a reasonable economic explanation for declining to race F1.

However, this might not have been the case. BMW had a bad experience with the KERS system during their final season (now ERS). The technology was in its early stages and was still being developed by many teams. It led to poor performance and reliability issues for the few teams that opted to use it during the season.

This might have given BMW the impression that the technology was not worth investing in. However, other teams, such as Mercedes-Benz, found great success in what has become the modern-day hybrid system and even transferred the technology over to their road cars.

Is BMW Coming Back To F1?

BMW says they are not interested in coming back to Formula 1 and their position on this likely won’t change anytime soon. BMW has not given up on motorsports entirely, though. They’ve had a short stint in Formula E and their other motorsport programs are still very much alive.

The BMW Group is constantly being questioned whether they will ever come back to Formula 1. Given the success that they had in the past and the fact that they are a massive global company, many fans and pundits would love to see them back in the sport.

Should BMW Return To F1?

Whether BMW should return to the Formula 1 grid or not is an entirely different question. A lot has changed since they left the sport in 2009. Everything from engines to aerodynamics is different, and these changes take a long time to adapt to, even for a manufacturer as experienced as BMW.

On top of that, one of their biggest rivals in the automotive market (Mercedes-Benz) has been dominating the sport for years. Finishing below Mercedes would be harmful to BMW’s brand image, as they have always marketed their cars as being superior to their German rivals.

Finances would not be a big issue for the global car manufacturer, but competition is another issue they need to face. Ultimately, it would be difficult for BMW to come back into Formula 1 and pick up where they left off. They would most likely be closer to the back of the grid while building their team. This would be true for any new team that joined F1.

Why Did BMW Leave Formula E?

BMW left Formula E for the same reason they left F1. BMW said in a statement they had “exhausted the opportunities for this form of technology transfer” and would instead focus their budget elsewhere. Once again, BMW chose to focus on road cars rather than race cars.

At the end of the 2021 season, Formula E received the devastating news that massive car manufacturers were leaving the sport. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW all opted to leave Formula E, with Audi and BMW leaving in 2021 and Mercedes leaving after the 2022 season. Each one had their own reasons for leaving the sport, but it ultimately is not a good sign for Formula E.

This is very much the same reason BMW gave for leaving Formula 1, stating they had learned everything they could from Formula E and saw no further opportunity for development in their technologies, resulting in the company’s shifting focus to developing electric powertrains for their road cars.

Has The Development Ceiling Been Reached In Formula E?

Formula E is limited by regulations, as all other forms of motorsport are. This means many teams can’t develop certain aspects of their cars as they need to remain compliant with the rules in place for the season. If a team can’t continue to develop technology, there’s no economic reason for them to continue racing.

BMW claims that it has completely developed its e-drivetrains and the only way they could consider remaining in Formula E is if the sport opens up battery development. However, this is highly unlikely to happen due to the massive costs that would be involved, thus resulting in BMW shifting its focus elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

BMW left F1 because the sport no longer suited their long-term business plan. BMW quit F1 in 2009 to shift focus to their road cars’ powertrains and to develop technology that could be used in their production cars. BMW had reasonable success in F1, both as an engine supplier and as a racing team.