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Friday Mailbag: Will BMW return to F1?

F1. I love to watch it. But does it serve a purpose for car makers like BMW? And will BMW return to F1? Let’s find out. As always, email your questions. Question Hi Mike. We met briefly at the Fall Cruise and spoke about the F1 season going on at the time. Always nice to…


F1. I love to watch it. But does it serve a purpose for car makers like BMW? And will BMW return to F1? Let’s find out.

As always, email your questions.


Hi Mike. We met briefly at the Fall Cruise and spoke about the F1 season going on at the time. Always nice to meet like-minded fans!

Anyway, do you think BMW will return to F1 soon, with news of Audi, Porsche and Cadillac wanting in? Does racing still serve a point in road cars?

– Paul


Finally, an F1 question!

First, I will state that I have no idea what BMW plans for its future, but it’s fun to speculate! And I think there are two ways to look at a BMW return to F1.

F1 cars share nothing with yours

Paul, we tend to think of F1 cars as being the most advanced, technologically capable things with four wheels on the planet. And they are.

But they are useless as a breeding ground for new ideas on road cars.

Think of everything your current car has. Navigation system. Traction control. ABS. Automatic climate control. I bet your comfy.

Well, an F1 car has none of those things, either because they don’t need it, or because it would ruin the sporting nature of the race. Does Lewis Hamilton really need traction control?

The kind of advances they make have more to do with F1 than anything else.

Can you name any road car with such a sophisticated aero package? (no, a VR-4’s active aero does not count.) How about the special rubber compounds in those tires? And the pushrod suspensions; think about it. Our cars have struts and springs that are vertical to the road. F1 cars are so low and so capable that they use a pushrod suspension; their connections are all horizontal.

Mtsubishi 3000GT
Look Ma, active aero!

Think of all the common tech on modern cars today. Take ABS brakes. Developed in the 1950s to prevent aircraft from skidding off the runway in wet conditions, it had nothing to do with racing developments. Turbochargers too – they came from the need for radial engines (airplanes) to have more air fed into them at higher altitudes. Seems like the aerospace industry helps out a lot more than the racing one does.

Finally, F1 cars operate at the limit constantly, and their parts (transmissions, engines, etc) need to be replaced multiple times throughout a season. The heat, the speed – it might be stress, but it’s a much different kind than the one a road car faces.

Point here is that BMW isn’t going to learn much that it can apply to its products. Given the gigantic financial cost it takes to not just enter, but do well in the sport, it’s strike one.

Has BMW ever put F1 tech into its cars?

Racing doesn’t always give experience you can use on road cars.

Technically no, but it depends on how you look at it.

Currently, F1 cars are powered by a turbocharged V-6 engine. Perhaps you’ve noticed that BMW has never made a V-6. Fun fact – they do make prototype V-6 engines all the time, but they never meet BMW’s NVH standards.

But there was a time, not that long ago, where F1 cars had V-8s, V-10s, or even V-12s in them. I bet you see where I’m headed with this.

BMW’s S85 V-10 in its E60 M5 was built in the same Landshut factory as its F1 engines. At the time, there wasn’t really a reason to place a V-10, let alone a bespoke one, in the M5.

During the S85’s development, BMW was making the P80 engine (and derivatives) for Sauber. Aside from a 90-degree cylinder bank and cylinder count, they don’t share anything. The P80 is 3.0 liters, the S85 is 5. The S85’s redline: 8,250. The P80…ahem…19,000 (or more, BMW never said specifically what it was as far as I can tell). That screaming redline is why the two engines sound so different.

Don’t think the S85 isn’t special because it’s not really an F1 engine for the road. I’d argue BMW did the best it could – a V-10 that revs beyond 8,000 RPMs is something you’d normally find with a prancing horse on the hood. The S65 is related of course – it’s basically the V-10 with two cylinders lopped off.

Was the S85 a marketing exercise? I think so. Which brings me to my next point.

S-6-5. And S68. Thank you, F1.

BMW can only lose in F1

BMW M certainly has a history of victory, but the motorsport reputation of its more recent offerings is somewhat dubious, and definitely no thanks to its part in F1.

Though they have been involved in the sport since the 1950s, BMW has just one Driver’s Championship to its name (1983). Remember they had only been an engine supplier, not s full works team.

After a 10-year absence, they returned in 2000 with Williams and accomplished…not much. They achieved second place in 2003 for the Constructor’s title, but Ferrari and McLaren were always a step ahead.

By 2006, the Williams relationship had soured, and BMW bought Sauber to become a full works team. They ran from 2006 – 2009, and the high mark was second place in the Constructor’s title in 2007. In the end, they sold the team back to Sauber (which morphed into Alpha Romeo and soon Audi).

Funny thing happened after that – BMW M started recording record sales for its road cars. Does F1 help sell cars? I’m not sure. For all the success AMG has had, they do not possess the winning perception that M does as a brand.

Mercedes is the most successful team of the modern F1 era. But has that made you want to buy one? Photo: Mercedes AMG.

But what about other auto makers coming into F1?

And that’s precisely why companies like Audi want in. Cadillac too. As good as the Blackwing is, it’s still missing an identity. Simply being in F1 will raise the credibility of the brand.

But while companies such as Audi have the backing of giants (VW) behind them, BMW has no one. They are still a relatively small car maker when compared to their competition. The investment risk isn’t worth the reward.

By the way – I think you can consider Porsche in the same boat as BMW here – they already possess a winning perception. That’s why they chose to partner with current World Champion Red Bull, and when it fell apart, I don’t think Porsche was that upset. Sort of a “take it or leave it” deal.

Does racing even matter to BMW?

Yes, but it has to be the right fit. They bowed out of Formula E last year, as did a few makers, because they felt they had learned all they could from the racing series.

BMW pulled the plug (haha) on its Formula E program after 2021.

Instead, they’ve chosen to focus on series like IMSA, because the cars look like the ones you drive. The M4 GT3 might not be exactly the same as your regular M4, but at least it shares tail lights.

There is also the M V8 Hybrid. Set to do battle with Audi and Cadillac, I believe this is as close as we’ll get to a BMW return to F1. Sorry.

Never say never, but for now, do what I do and root for your favorite drivers.

I just don’t think I can bring myself to get that Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 shirt…

This is what we get for now Paul. Not a bad consolation prize. Photo: BMW.

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2 thoughts on “Friday Mailbag: Will BMW return to F1?

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