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BMW Formula One Winner After 15 Years

by Larry Roberts

April 30, 2001

I expect that there must have been a lot of partying going on at the various BMW dealerships that are motorsports-oriented during the month of April. For the first time since 1986, a BMW-powered car registered a win in an international Formula One race, without question the most prestigious racing series in the world. The specially-constructed non-turbocharged BMW V10 engine powered a Williams-BMW single-seater that was driven to victory by 25-year old Ralf Schumacher in the San Marino Grand Prix on the tight Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari track at Imola, Italy.

It was a particularly sweet victory for BMW's motorsports boss, Gerhard Berger. Berger was behind the wheel of the last BMW-powered Formula One car to take a Grand Prix victory 15 years ago.

Schumacher's victory was particularly sweet for him since he beat his older brother Michael, who is the reigning champion in Formula One competition. It's the first season in the history of Grand Prix racing in which brothers are competing in the series at the same time.

Michael, the current leader in the 2001 FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) Formula One Driver's championship point standings, was not only the odds-on favorite in the event in his Ferrari team car, but the sentimental and emotional favorite of the Italian crowd at the track that was named after the Italian automotive icon Enzo Ferrari and his son Dino.

The choice of Berger to head up the BMW effort to return to big-time was a good one. The former racing great (10 Formula One victories as a driver in the '70s and '80s) has directed the Williams-BMW team to victory after only 21 entries into the highly technical and closely contested Grand Prix world, a feat heretofore thought impossible by trackside pundits.

Berger's masterful leadership was not totally unexpected, however. The Director of Motorsports job was given to him just a few years ago and in 1999, its first fully-competitive season, a BMW Prototype endurance racing sports two-seater scored a major upset when it won the internationally famed 24 Hours of Le Mans road race. Berger and BMW left the prototype endurance racing field at that point to concentrate on the next field to conquer, Formula One racing.

But the BMW success at Imola isn't going to the head of the pragmatic German. When asked if he felt that Schumacher and the Williams-BMW team could win the championship this year, he was very realistic. "I think Ferrari and McLaren are in a very, very strong position," he said. "They built up for years everything to be ahead, and we are just coming. For us, it's not even a consideration to win the World Championship."

The Williams-BMW "livery" is the same blue-and-white that colors the stylized propeller logo on the hoods of hundreds of thousands of BMW road cars. If brand loyalty means anything, American support and enthusiasm for the Williams-BMW Formula One team will no doubt be increasing ten-fold prior to the 2001 U.S Grand Prix that's coming up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of September.