JANUARY 15, 1996

But will BMW join the party?

BMW top management have still to make a final decision as to whether they intend to re-enter Formula 1 racing.

BMW top management have still to make a final decision as to whether they intend to re-enter Formula 1 racing. There have been strong rumors that the German car-maker is planning a return to Grand Prix racing in 1998, and there have been discreet talks between BMW and both Williams and Paul Stewart Racing.

The recent acquisition by BMW Motorsport of the McLaren Cars factory in Woking has only served to increase the speculation.

BMW has sporting links dating back to pre-war days when it ran sportscars at Le Mans and won the 1940 Mille Miglia. During the war the company worked closely with the German authorities and as a result suffered post-war sanction. There was a brief flurry of BMW engines in F1 in 1952-53, but none were successful. It was not until the company was bought by Herbert Quandt in 1959 that BMW began to revive. The company used touring car racing to create its sporty image and gradually moved up to become a direct rival of Mercedes-Benz. In 1981, after much success in F2 racing in the late 1970s, BMW embarked on a Formula 1 turbo program. This resulted in Nelson Piquet winning the 1983 World Championship in a Brabham-BMW. The company went on to supply Benetton, Arrows and ATS, but quit F1 in 1986 as a result of financial constraints.

In 1990, BMW commissioned Simtek Research to design an F1 chassis in secret, but the project was stopped in 1991. The company again considered F1 in 1993 after Mercedes-Benz entered F1, but decided to wait for two years to see how the Mercedes program developed.

Last week BMW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder told pressmen that he does not believe that the luxury car market in Europe, America and Japan is going to grow, and so BMW is planning to concentrate its marketing in the developing markets of Asia and South America. These are the target markets for F1 racing in the next 10 years. The importance of these new markets will increase as German economic growth slows down - as is now happening.

Economic logic dictates that BMW will enter F1, but the company will have paid attention to the problems Mercedes-Benz is having, and may be wondering if failure in F1 is a risk worth taking.