SEPTEMBER 15, 1997

BMW for Williams

AS exclusively predicted by INSIDE F1 in October 1995, BMW is to return to Grand Prix racing with Williams Grand Prix Engineering.

AS exclusively predicted by INSIDE F1 in October 1995, BMW is to return to Grand Prix racing with WilliamsÊGrandÊPrixÊEngineering. The news was announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show on the day after the Italian Grand Prix. As we predicted, BMW will begin supplying Williams with its engines in the year 2000 and will continue in the partnership for five-years. BMW chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder, however, said that the company intends to be involved in Grand Prix racing in the long-term.

Although Pischetsrieder refused to say how much money BMW is going to invest in the program it seems that it will be around $500m over five years.

The new BMW F1 engine is already being designed by a team of engineers at the company's motorsport department - BMW M GmbH - in Munich. The team is being led by Paul Rosche, the engineer who built the BMW F1 turbo engine - the most powerful F1 engine ever built - in the 1980s.

Ever since BMW pulled out of F1 at the end of 1986 Rosche has maintained a core of research and development engineers who have built a series of secret F1 engines to enable BMW to keep up to date with Grand Prix technology. A prototype engine - probably a V10 - is expected to be running by the middle of next year and the company will then have the whole of the 1999 season to test before entering F1 in the year 2000. There continue to be rumors suggesting that BMW will buy Cosworth Engineering from Vickers and will use the company's facilities in England to build F1 engines in the future. Cosworth's automotive expertise would also be very useful for BMW offshoot Rover.

Not surprisingly there have been suggestions that BMW will hire Gerhard Berger to do the testing work for them. Gerhard has enormous F1 experience and has long and well-established links with BMW.

Although it had yet to be officially announced we expect that Williams will also work with BMW to design and build an open sportscar for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1998 and 1999. We understand that Williams and BMW will set up a joint venture to be called BMW Motorsports Ltd. with a facility in the Didcot area but we hear that the 1998 cars will be built at the old Williams factory in Basil Hill Road. This had been sold by the team but has since been leased back from the new owners.

The announcement puts BMW into direct competition with Mercedes-Benz in F1. The two companies are currently battling one another in the world's car markets: in 1996 BMW sold 644,100 cars while Mercedes-Benz sold 645,000. Both companies have opened factories in North America and both are looking to Asian markets for the future. The McLaren-Mercedes combination has not been as successful as Mercedes had hoped and BMW will be aiming to come into F1 and start winning much faster than was the case with its rival.

German sources continue to suggest that Volkswagen is considering entering F1 with its Audi division in an effort to beat both Mercedes-Benz and BMW. There were rumors last week that Volkswagen was about to buy Porsche but these were denied by VW chairman Ferdinand Piech. Volkswagen issued six million new shares last week in an effort to raise $4.4bn which is expected to be used for further international expansion.