The news that BMW will quit F1 at the end of the 2009 season will send a chill wind blowing through the five-star corridors of the sport, inevitably calling into question the future plans of both Toyota and Renault in the longer term.
The news from Munich was certainly no surprise, coming barely six months since Honda quit the sport and sold their operation to Ross Brawn for a nominal fee. It’s too early to say whether the Sauber F1 operation at Hinwil – the Swiss core of the BMW F1 operation – will be spun off into a private team again in the same way, but the clear signal coming from Munich is that you just can’t rely on the major car manufacturers to have an open-ended commitment to the Grand Prix game.
Truth be told, one can see the whole texture and character of F1 changing significantly over the coming years. The fact that Jarno Trulli has been offered a one year extension to his Toyota contract raises inevitable speculation that they will follow rivals Honda out of the sport at the end of 2010.
Thankfully, Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix will have taken the sting out of any pressure for Mercedes to re-evaluate its F1 involvement, although their position is more complicated and deep rooted as they are shareholders in the McLaren group.
But, on the other hand, I would not like to risk a large amount of money betting that Renault stays in on an open-ended basis. Only as engine suppliers perhaps, as they have done in the past.
This is another signal that F1 needs to re-shape itself. It must continue and accelerate its initiatives to slash costs and re-trench into a more economically effective business. If that means a bunch of Cosworth-engined privateers making up the field, then so be it. Better that than a 14 car grid.