German car manufacturer BMW has announced it will pull out of Formula One motor racing at the end of the season, four years after taking over former Swiss team Sauber.
The end of the BMW Sauber team has cast doubts over the future role of the chassis design centre and wind tunnel in Hinwil, canton Zurich. The plant and the team were originally created by Swiss motorsport enthusiast Peter Sauber.
BMW ended intense speculation on Wednesday by announcing that it would terminate its association with Formula 1 for "image reasons".
The car manufacturer said the money it would now save would be diverted to its core strategy of focusing on the environment and sustainability.
The company denied that it was pulling out for economic reasons but admitted that disappointing results on the racetrack this season had been a "hiccup" in its ambitions.
BMW said in a statement that it could not rule out redundancies at its key plants in Munich and Hinwil. But the manufacturer also said it would be looking for a partner to take over the team.
Team spokesman Hanspeter Brack told swissinfo.ch that it was too early to say if the team could find a way to proceed in the future and would not comment on the continued viability of its Swiss operations.
"The end goal is to continue with the team in some way. The decision was only taken yesterday so we have only just started exploring our options," he said.
Start of a dream
Peter Sauber's continued personal attachment to the Formula 1 team - he remained on as a consultant and retained a 20 per cent stake in the team after selling - was evident by a statement he released on hearing of BMW's withdrawal.
"BMW's announcement that it is pulling out of Formula One at the end of the season came as a complete surprise to me. I accept and respect the decision, though personally I find it difficult to comprehend," he said.
"I will now do everything in my power to find a solution that will ensure the survival of the team at Hinwil in some form or another. The baseline for that is very difficult."
The Swiss motorsport racer and enthusiast started a Formula 1 team in his own name in 1993 and sold a majority stake to BMW 12 years later.
He started out building competition cars in Hinwil in 1970, forming a company called PP Sauber that was later renamed Sauber Motorsport.
Speaking to swissinfo.ch in 2005, Sauber said that his C-model cars were named after his wife Christine.
He also revealed that his first car was built in his parents' cellar only for him to find that he could not get it out through the door.
Hinwil mayor Walter Bachofen told the SDA news agency that the news was bad for the economic reputation of the small community. "We mention the BMW operation at every opportunity. In this way, Hinwil has become known throughout the world."
The Hinwil operation, with 430 staff, includes a SFr70 million ($65 million) state-of-the-art wind tunnel that is used to test the aerodynamics of the car chassis.
The future of that tunnel, and Switzerland's continued involvement in Formula 1, now appears to hang on a thread.
Matthew Allen, swissinfo.ch in Zurich with agencies
Swiss motorsport manufacturer Peter Sauber formed an Formula 1 team under his own name in 1993.
In its original format, the Sauber team failed to win any races or the constructor's championship, but did take six podium finishes – the first at the Italian Grand prix in 1995.
Sauber gave debuts to many drivers who went on to make a name for themselves in the sport, including: Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikönnen.
Sauber achieved their best place in the constructor's standings – fourth spot – in 2001.
Four years later, the then 62-year-old Peter Sauber handed over the keys of his independent team to German car manufacturing giant BMW – a company that had previously partnered the Williams team.
The last race for the old Sauber team was the Chinese GP in 2005.
Peter Sauber retained a 20% stake in the team and remained as a consultant, but pulled out of daily operational activities. Engine manufacturing moved to Munich, but chassis design remained in Hinwil.
The new team managed to finish second in the constructor's standings in 2007. BMW sauber then claimed their first GP win in Canada the following year and finished as the third-best constructor.