The sensational news that British rally star Kris Meeke is to be dropped from the Mini team he joined barely a year ago for the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally next month will doubtless be billed as a matter of financial strictures within Prodrive, the Banbury-based team that builds and runs the cars.
Whatever the truth, the episode promises to reflect very badly indeed on BMW, a company which talks a great deal about being internationalist in outlook — and is more than content to earn richly from all points of the compass — but remains cloyingly German when the chips are down.
While the promising Mini WRC team, which exceeded all expectations (including BMW’s) in its debut season, struggles to keep its head above water, BMW is spending an estimated 20 times more on a programme in the German DTM touring car series which, even if successful against Audi and Mercedes, will have zero impact on the brand’s value or strength outside German borders.
The fact that a promising international competition effort looks like being allowed to whither in favour of DTM – along with BMW’s former F1 involvement and its international saloon racing programmes — shows just how parochial the company’s top management is inclined to be when the chips are down.
The final indignity is the dropping of a British driver, Kris Meeke, in favour of a Spaniard who on his last outing was slower. When it suits them — or at least their cash register — BMW will bang on at length about the importance of Mini’s British roots.
Ours is Europe’s biggest market by a mile for the brick-shaped cars. Our country is where the rally cars have been developed and promoted. Yet when pressed they drop the Brit, and make no mistake, that decision will have come from the very top.
There is a suggestion that some of the financial fault is Prodrive’s: they agreed to a comparatively small financial input from BMW and backed themselves to find big-note sponsors (as they have done in the past) but have so far failed.
But BMW’s big men, whose actions appear to show that on weekends they only really care what happens at Hockenheim and Lausitzsring, should really have a concern about this debacle will play in largest biggest Mini market. And rapidly do something about it.