Gerhard Berger will make his final Formula One appearance as BMW motorsport director at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, bringing to an end almost 25 years of motorsport involvement.

It was announced towards the start of the season that the 44-year old Austrian would not be extending his contract when it runs out at the end of the month, and he has decided to bow out without completing the F1 season with trips to America and Japan.

"It was a tough decision," Berger admitted, "It has been great doing the job and working together with BMW but, after almost 25 years of leading the life of a vagabond, I
just want to take things a bit easier."

After 14 years and 210 grands prix as a driver, the Tyrolean took up his post as BMW motorsport director in October 1998. His new job at the top, occupied in tandem with Mario Theissen, turned into a similar success story. In 1999, BMW won both the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hour race with the BMW V12 LMR against the toughest of competition, and pre-empted a return to Formula One for one of the sport's most popular figures.

In the debut race marking BMW's Formula One comeback in March 2000 in Melbourne, the company went straight into third place. By the end of the season, the BMW-powered WilliamsF1 team had taken third place in the constructors' championship - as it would in 2001. In 2002, the partnership forged ahead into second place in the table, taking wins with Ralf Schumacher and Juan Montoya, and is poised for a tilt at both the individual and manufacturers' crowns in 2003.

Alongside its Formula One involvement, BMW also triumphed in the 2001 American Le Mans Series with the M3 GTR, winning the manufacturers', teams' and drivers' championships. Between 1999 and 2002, BMW also collected a total of 38 touring car titles.

The company, and Berger, was not slow in recognising the need to bring on junior talent and, in 2002, debuted Formula BMW, an ultra-modern single-seater series employed as the standard entrance level class in Germany. An Asian counterpart series was launched in 2003, and other European series appear to be on the horizon.

For all his desire to 'take things easy', Berger has insisted that he will not be divorcing himself completely from the sport that has been his life for the past quarter-century.

"This string of successes is down to the fact that we have managed to create a truly first-rate team that has shown tremendous enthusiasm and commitment," he stressed, "I will be staying in touch with the BMW brand and the entire team at BMW Motorsport beyond 2003 as well."



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