When Honda decided to exit Formula One last December, many in the racing world wondered which manufacturer would be next.
The answer came a week ago when BMW announced that it would not return to the sport in 2010.
"This was a difficult decision for us, but it's a resolute step in view of our company's strategic realignment," BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer said. "Premium will increasingly be defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility: This is an area in which we want to remain in the lead."
While F1 no longer fits into BMW's plan, the company did acknowledge that racing brought numerous technological innovations and a competitive spirit that helped its core business of making road cars.
The decision does not affect the manufacturer's involvement in other racing series, including the World Touring Cars, American Le Mans and World Superbike. BMW will also continue with its Formula BMW (FBMW) development series for young drivers. Five of the 20 drivers on the F1 grid -Sebastien Buemi, Timo Glock, Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Sebastian Vettel - honed their single-seater racing skills in FBMW.
While Toyota was thought to be contemplating an exit of its own, the Japanese car maker reaffirmed its commitment last week. All eyes are now on Renault, which many feel has lost interest in F1.
It is thought that the BMW-Sauber team, factory, and state-of-the-art wind tunnel facility in Switzerland will return to the grid in another livery after BMW sells the assets in the off-season. When Honda pulled out, it sold its entire F1 operation to team boss Ross Brawn for one euro and gave the new outfit enough funding to make it through the 2009 season.
That deal worked out swimmingly for Brawn, as the team shot out of the blocks in 2009, with its driver Jenson Button winning six of the first seven races. While Button has not tasted victory for the past three races, he still leads the championship with 70 points, 18.5 better than Red Bull's Mark Webber. Vettel, also driving for Red Bull, is third, 23 points adrift of Button. Drivers get 10 points for a win.
Unfortunately for BMW, the team went in the wrong direction in 2009 after a promising season last year. After its purchase of the Sauber outfit in late 2005, the team enjoyed three years of continuous improvement that culminated in driver Robert Kubica's maiden F1 win for both himself and the team at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
But despite contending for the championship last year, BMW made the strange decision to give up on winning the title and switch development to the 2009 car. Many observers thought that BMW was more interested in corporate milestones in F1 than winning, and the decision to abandon a championship fight it could have won only gave credence to that theory.
After battling with the teams over a budget cap plan, the sport's governing Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) tried to spin the BMW announcement to drive home its cost reduction message.
"Car manufacturers cannot be expected to continue to pour large sums of money into Formula One when their survival depends on redundancies, plant closures and the support of the taxpayer," the FIA said in a written statement.
"This is why the FIA prepared regulations to reduce costs drastically.
"These measures were needed to alleviate the pressure on manufacturers following Honda's withdrawal but also to make it possible for new teams to enter."
But from the BMW announcement, it seems apparent that the decision was made due to the FIA's continued tightening of the technical regulations that inhibit innovation rather than a concern over the amount of money being spent. Following the FIA's own logic, the cost reductions to be introduced next season would be incentive for BMW to stay rather than go.
In addition, once it leaves F1 after the November finale in Abu Dhabi, BMW plans to use the freed-up resources to develop new drive technologies and projects in the field of sustainability, pointing to a willingness to spend money provided the manufacturer sees a return on the investment.
So why leave when costs continue to come down? Previous statements about the budget cap from team boss Mario Theissen point to the fact that the team was more worried about restrictive sporting regulations that froze technical development and hindered innovation, rather than limiting the amount of cash that could be spent on an F1 program.
"For us it is not so much a question of one figure to be put on the table: We think the issue is much more complex and needs good thought," Theissen said months ago when asked about the budget cap at June's Monaco Grand Prix.
"What we currently have is a budget cap being linked to a certain set of regulations, which makes it even more difficult. I think this has to be sorted out."