BMW cuts further, scales back Formula series

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BMW cuts further, scales back Formula series

Just two days after BMW pulled out of Formula One for the 2010 season, the German manufacturer announced further cuts to its racing programs, canceling the 2010 season of the Formula BMW Americas series. 2008 champion Alexander ...

Just two days after BMW pulled out of Formula One for the 2010 season, the German manufacturer announced further cuts to its racing programs, canceling the 2010 season of the Formula BMW Americas series.

2008 champion Alexander Rossi.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"In the current economic conditions it has proven difficult to establish the young driver programme as successfully on American soil as managed by its sister series in their respective regions," said the sparsely-worded BMW press release. "Taken in combination with the - by comparison with Europe and Asia - vastly different motorsport infrastructures prevailing in the Americas, this led to the decision to cease promoting the series in future."

Formula BMW Americas was the result of the 2008 rebranding of the relatively successful Formula BMW USA series, which ran from 2004 to 2007, attracting grids of 20+ up-and-coming open-wheel racers to each of the events.

However, the fields shrank noticeably in 2008 in spite of the inclusion of a round as a support event for the Brazilian Grand Prix Formula One race -- previous seasons had supported the US and Canadian Grands Prix, but with those events not on the F1 calendar, Brazil was the only possibility -- and this year only 12 drivers contested most of the rounds.

Those dozen drivers will see the series disappear into the history books with a race meeting at Road America in a fortnight's time, and the series' swan song at Mosport at the end of August.

Formula BMW Europe, the result of a merger of Formula BMW UK and Formula BMW Germany for the 2008 season, is still running strong, however, and this season's races, most of which are held in conjunction with F1 Grands Prix, have seen full grids of 26 cars starting each race.

Formula BMW Pacific must surely be in a precarious position as well, though. The grids for this Asian series -- with races in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and Macau -- have been barely better than those of Formula BMW Americas so far this season. However, the series will not conclude until November, while the Americas series will wrap up in a month's time; the other shoe may take some time to drop.

2006 champion Robert Wickens.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.

One event notably not mentioned in the BMW announcement was the Formula BMW World Final, the season-ending event that was most recently held in Mexico City. The big prize to the winner of the World Final has been a test drive an a BMW Sauber Formula One car, and the company confirmed that the 2008 World Final winner, Alexander Rossi, would still get his test in spite of the Americas series and the Sauber BMW F1 team being shut down.

However, there was only silence on whether a World Final would still be staged, allowing the drivers from the different regions to test their skills against each other -- even if the F1 test might not be feasible as a prize in the future.

Formula BMW has been a strong stepping-stone for young drivers: an entry-level professionally-run series, safe but quick Mygale-built cars with wings and slick tires, and a combination of driver coaching and media training.

From the European series, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi have all reached Formula One. The US/American series is younger, but alumni Richard Philippe and Sebastian Saavedra are racing in Indy Lights, while 2006 champion Robert Wickens is currently second in the Formula Two championship.

"The Formula BMW car is an excellent training tool for drivers no matter what they intend to race in the future," said Enrico Diano, the team principal for Autotecnica, one of the mainstays of Formula BMW Americas. "The car is the core of our Junior Team program and we will continue with it despite the cancellation of the Formula BMW Americas series as it still provides great value and experience for young drivers looking to transition from karts into cars."

2005 World Final winner Nicolas Huelkenberg.
Photo by BMW AG.

Autotecnica will participate in the late-season rounds of Formula BMW Pacific, and plans to pursue opportunities in the European series in 2010.

Next to the cancellation of BMW's Formula One program, the demise of Formula BMW USA is small news. However, it is certainly another blow to the already-weakened North American open-wheel racing ladder, leaving no obvious replacement where a young driver might gain as much much experience and knowledge in as short a time.

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