Formula BMW to expand

Formula BMW could be expanding into Britain and America next years. The inaugural Formula BMW series is taking place in Germany this year - and is being led by Keke Rosberg's son Nico - but BMW wants to expand as quickly as possible so as to create a modern alternative to Formula Ford, the series in which most youngsters have started out in the course of the last 30 years. With Ford showing less interest BMW saw the opportunity to create a junior series for the modern era and the result is very impressive with carbon composite Formula 1-lookalike chassis, powered by the in-line four cylinder 1.2-liter engine which is built for the BMW K1200RS motorcycle. The 140 horsepower cars, designed at BMW's Dreamworks/USA design bureau in California, also feature six-speed sequential gearboxes and a variety of safety features which have filtered down from F1, largely thanks to Gerhard Berger's involvement in the project.

Berger, who served for many years on the FIA Safety Committee with Professor Sid Watkins, decided to build the safest car possible and BMW invested considerable effort and money in the program which was based on the current FIA standards for Formula 3 cars. The cars were crash-tested and given the necessary crumple zones and cockpit protection so that they look like small F1 cars. They also feature extractable seats similar to those now used in F1.

The chief aim of the series was to keep down costs so that the best drivers rather than those with the most money emerged as the winners. There were two routes chosen to attain this goal. Before the start of the year BMW held a training course for anyone over 15 years of age. The BMW experts picked out 10 who they felt had particular talent and each was given a $50,000 budget to take to whichever team they chose. The remaining 20 drivers racing in the German series have to raise their own budgets with total costs estimated to be around $100,000 a year.

In order to achieve this figure costs have been kept to a minimum by restricting the technical options available: suspensions can be adjusted but only within certain parameters, the number of different gear ratios are restricted but, most importantly, BMW controls the engines, which are prepared for BMW by the tuning firm Schnitzer and are supplied sealed to competitors. The chassis are built for BMW by Mygale at Magny-Cours.

The series has been a huge success in Germany and, if all goes to plan, Formula BMW may one day have an international series in addition to the individual national championships which are being planned.

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