BMW boss slams Formula One team’s performance

BMW chairman Helmut Panke has lashed out at his company’s performance in Formula One, amidst growing speculation that it may pull out of the sport.

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By  David Robinson Published  May 15, 2005

BMW chairman Helmut Panke has lashed out at his company’s performance in Formula One, amidst growing speculation that it may pull out of the sport. BMW — engine supplier to the BMW-Williams F1 team — has been left trailing behind arch rivals Ferrari, Renault and McLaren Mercedes, despite investing over US$200 million into the sport. “With the current mid-field position of BMW in Formula One we are not happy and it’s something where we will have to look at alternatives to see how it can be improved,” Panke said, in an exclusive interview with Arabian Business. The BMW boss is said to be fuming at the team’s performance last year, when it only managed fourth place in the constructors’ championship. This year, it is again stuck in fourth place, 37 points behind leaders Renault. “The performance of the BMW-Williams team up until now has not been such a high performance that we would expect easily to become champions this season as we have announced is our target,” Panke added. BMW began supplying engines to the Williams team, led by Sir Frank Williams, in 2000. Initially, with super star drivers such as Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya at the helm, Panke had been hopeful of achieving victory in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. However, neither has been achieved and the company has been forced to fund nearly US$30 million in driver salaries alone each year. This season, the team changed its driver line up, bringing in Mark Webber and Nick Hiedfeld to replace Schumacher and Montoya, but there has been no change in the team’s performance. Panke is now facing increasing pressure from the BMW board to either pull out of F1 altogether, or to spread its investment among other teams, to increase the chances of success. He admitted: “For the 2006 season we have been approached by [the] Sauber team and the Red Bull team to see whether we will supply engines and we are in constructive negotiations with Peter Sauber (Sauber team owner) and his team to supply engines. Frank Williams is aware of that.” The news comes as BMW has managed to overtake arch rival Mercedes Benz in the luxury car market. The Munich car giant saw first quarter sales rise 7.8% to 239,387 vehicles, beating the 226,400 units sold by Mercedes. Overall, BMW’s global sales, including the Mini and Rolls Royce brands, rose 8.2% as the world’s largest carmaker posted profits of US$668 million. However, despite beating Mercedes Benz in sales, senior officials believe the company’s brand may be damaged if it continues to perform poorly in Formula One. At the Spanish Grand Prix last Sunday, McLaren-Mercedes stormed to victory, with the BMW-Williams team coming sixth. The change in BMW's motor sport fortunes come at a time of major upheaval in Formula One. World championship winning team Ferrari has failed to register a single victory in any of this season's five races. Last week, the BAR team was suspended for two races after allegations of cheating, and next year's time budgets are likely to rise by 12%.

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