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BMW Deal Leaves Williams in a Quandary

BMW's move deeper into Formula One with the takeover of Sauber cements the future of that team while dealing a blow to current partners Williams

Even if the move was not unexpected after a clear deterioration in relations with the Munich-based carmaker, Williams now have two obvious options and neither involve an exclusive manufacturer deal.

Although the British-based team had no immediate comment on Wednesday's announcement, they can either continue racing with BMW engines on equal terms with Sauber next season or look elsewhere.

BMW and privately-owned Williams have been together since 2000, winning just 10 races in that period, and their partnership was supposed to run until 2009.

The Sauber deal alluded to that situation, with BMW committed to buying team founder Peter Sauber's shares and then successively the stake held by principal sponsor Credit Suisse through to the end of 2008.

BMW board member Burkhard Goeschel said the carmaker would be happy to continue supplying Williams with engines, which would be the same as supplied to Sauber, and talks would continue next week.

"There will certainly be an offer from us," he told reporters in Munich.

Whether Williams would still get a 'free' supply remains to be seen however.

"We've managed to get through merit a freebie engine but next year, maybe, we have to pay for engines," owner Frank Williams said in Indianapolis last week.

Scant Choice

The problem for Williams, winners of nine constructors' titles and seven drivers' crowns since 1980, is that there is not a lot of choice elsewhere.

Only privately-owned Cosworth is clearly touting for business.

Toyota, Honda, Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes all have existing teams - either wholly or partly-owned to concentrate on - while Toyota and Ferrari are also providing engines to second teams.

Sauber's Ferrari engine supply will go to Red Bull in 2006 while Toyota are talking to Jordan about renewing that deal when the team are renamed Midland next year.

The engine rules are also changing, with V8 units being introduced for 2006 although teams can stay with rev-limited V10s if they chose.

Minardi have already said they will use a Cosworth V10 next year, leaving no takers so far for a Cosworth V8 that is well-advanced and reputedly impressive.

The engine side is only part of the problem for Williams however, with the team deriving most of its funding from sponsorship.

The main backer is HP, with other sponsors including Royal Bank of Scotland, Allianz, Accenture, Budweiser, FedEx, Hamleys, Oris and Reuters.

Williams would not say last week what proportion of the team's backers were linked to the involvement of BMW.

"That's a business question and I'd rather not answer it," he said. "But in simple terms, in the event of a switch, it means we're still solidly in business."

BMW's decision to run their own team also subtly shifts the Formula One landscape, strengthening the hand of carmakers in their battle for control of the sport and sending the message that BMW at least intend to be around long-term.

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