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Why BMW’s Drivers Are as Important as Their Engineers

BMW Driver

Many consumers solely know BMW for their consumer vehicles, which is certainly a fair viewpoint. After all, the car brand has continued to produce some of the most luxurious and sought-after vehicles in the entire industry, and it only makes sense that individuals are most familiar with the nameplates that are currently traveling on the road.

However, the brand has also been known in the industry for its racing prowess, as BMW has continued to develop its racing team over the past four decades. BMW’s Junior Team has experienced a whole lot of success, which only helps boost the brand’s standing among industry experts and standard consumers. However, picking the correct drivers also allows the brand to best understand which of their technologies are successful, and they can vicariously begin to install these features and functions into the vehicles you see traveling on the highway.

Founder Jochen Neerpasch and BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt recently sat down to discuss the influence that the BMW Junior Team has had on the brand. Continue reading to see why this racing team is just as important as the brand’s general vehicles. We guarantee you’ll soon be itching to pursue a BMW for sale

It’s the 40th anniversary of the BMW Junior Team, which originally debuted back in 1977. Why is this such an important milestone for the brand?

“For me, it is impressive to see how we at BMW Motorsport are managing to continue to pursue the basic concepts of projects such as the Junior programme, which Mr. Neerpasch launched 40 years ago and to build on those concepts. The way that the former and current Juniors immediately got on so well just goes to show that the motorsport family has always formed a great unit at BMW.” (Marquardt)

BMW has continued to focus and invest in their junior drivers. Why as the brand made this a major priority?

“It is extremely important. Our programme is so diverse, with commitments ranging from GT racing, DTM and the WEC to IWSC and Formula E, that we obviously want to use young drivers that we have developed ourselves in these projects. I believe that Mr. Neerpasch identified very early on that it is just as important to invest in the drivers as in the technology. It is no use having a great car if the driver – and they often make the crucial difference – cannot perform to the best of their ability, and is thus unable to get 100% out of the overall package.” (Marquardt)

How did the idea for a “racing driver” school (ultimately transformed into the BMW Junior Team) develop, and how has it benefited the brand?

“I used to race myself and had certain physical issues. If there was a change in the weather, I used to suffer from headaches and could not concentrate. Back then, there were no physiotherapists. The drivers were completely on their own. That was the first thing that sprang to mind when I moved into management and became responsible for motor racing: to give the drivers a physical basis on which to promote the interaction between man and machine, and not simply to place the emphasis on the technology, but also to train the drivers. Only the combination of driver and technology can be successful. That is why we started the Junior Team.” (Neerpasch)

The initial class included the legendary “Wilde Reiter GmbH,” which included renowned drivers Eddie Cheever, Marc Surer, and Manfred Winkelhock. While hindsight tells us that this trio was a perfect choice, how confident was BMW at the time?

“We had obviously watched them beforehand. All three were really successful in Formula 3, and we identified them as outstanding, talented youngsters. Also, we did not simply set them loose on the racetrack. We gave them some technical training over the winter, at tests and trials. We then headed to St. Moritz for a fitness camp, where they were given physical training. They were well prepared. However, we did not have any regulations regarding who should be out in front. Instead, we just sent them out in the same cars against our more senior drivers – at the time, they were Ronnie Peterson, Hans-Joachim Stuck, and David Hobbs. That was the benchmark for them. The competition with each other and the seniors meant that they learned a lot more in a very short time.” (Neerpasch)

There’s no denying that the BMW Junior Team has helped the literal brand produce some innovative technologies over the years. However, how is it still helping the company?

“Exactly the same principles apply today as applied back then. The goal is to develop our Juniors technically, physically and mentally. There is no better way to do this than by using successful examples and role models. Fortunately, we have a lot of them. We have Dirk Adorf, who looks after the Juniors very early on in the programme, and Jörg Müller, who is responsible for the GT3 training. On top of that, we also have Martin Tomczyk, Philipp Eng, and all the others, who are all only too happy to drive alongside the Juniors. They all have a lot of fun and know from experience that they have also had people who have supported them throughout their career. They are only too happy to give that back to the Juniors. The drivers are a really great team. That is something I am very proud of.” (Marquardt)

On the future of the BMW Junior Team, and what’s in store over the next 12 months:

“[W]e will basically continue to work in exactly the same way as we have done this year. We have decided to stick with the BMW Juniors we currently have on board next year. We will not be taking on any new youngsters. Instead, we will intensify the programme with the Juniors. I am already looking forward to it. Jesse Krohn will have outgrown the Junior Programme next year. I am sure that he can look forward to some interesting roles in our works programme.” (Marquardt)

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