Posts Tagged ‘BMW’

BMW boss – Now for the world title

Mario Theissen put out a quick Q & A today with some comments about FOTA, a look back at the winter testing and a quandry about whether to use KERS or not at the first race. He makes no mention of the Brawn phenomenon.

BMW’s testing has gone pretty well, but not outstandingly. Many, including myself, though that they would start the year with an advantage over Ferrari and McLaren because they devoted more energy earlier to the 2009 programme than their rivals. But despite topping the time sheets occasionally at tests, they have yet to show blistering pace. Robert Kubica signed off in Barcelona on s bit of a down note, saying he felt that BMW was behind Ferrari, Brawn and Toyota.

My only thought is that last winter they masked their true performance in testing by carrying extra fuel and that became clear once the racing started. They could be doing that again, but I’m not hearing the chatter from the other teams about it like I was 12 months ago. Then again, Brawn’s performance has recalibrated everyone’s expectations.

Theissen confirms Kubica’s line last week that the team has yet to decide whether to use the KERS system in Melbourne.

” We’ve got our KERS to the stage where it is race-ready, which means we can use it in Melbourne. Now it’s just a matter of weighing up the pros and cons. On the positive side, the drivers would have an extra 82 hp at their disposal for 6.6 seconds per lap. However, the system adds weight to the car and this has an impact on the car’s weight distribution and tyre wear. We will make a decision on a driver-by-driver, circuit-by-circuit basis.”

The driver by driver bit is significant as he goes on to say that KERS really punishes heavier drivers and although Kubica is a whippet, he’s still heavier than Heidfeld. I can see Quick Nick using the system at times where Kubica doesn’t.

As to the objectives for the season, Thiessen stops short of coming out with a bald,’ We must win the title” line. He’s a master of setting achievable targets and hitting them, that’s the corporate player in him. Although the expectation now has to be to fight for the title down to the wire, he’s more cagey than that.

“We are following a long-term timetable,” he says. “In our first year we set out to finish regularly in the points, in year two we wanted to record podium finishes and in our third year we were aiming to notch up our first victory. We achieved all of these ambitious aims. In 2009 we are looking to take the next and most difficult step yet: we want to be fighting for the World Championship title. The F1.09 gives us a good platform to fulfil this aim; now we have to see what happens in the season’s 17 races. What we know for certain is that you can plan your level of performance, but not your results.”

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Today’s Financial Times has some shocking information about the state of the motor industry. And as F1 is seen as an extension of that industry because of it’s reliance on, and domination by, the car companies, you need to know about this.

One story says that for most manufacturers, sales of new cars in the United States are down between 40-50%. That includes Toyota who have taken a 40% hit.

A little lower down on the page there’s a story from Tokyo about how Toyota is seeking a $2 billion bail out from the Japanese government. The company is facing its first net loss in 60 years.

Meanwhile the number of cars exported from Germany has halved. The bosses of BMW and Mercedes are arguing against government intervention in the car industry because they believe that it will lead to irrational consequences and the wrong businesses being propped up. They are talking about the mass market producers like Renault, which recently received a share of a £6 billion hand out from the French government. The BMW boss said, ‘If we go much further then there is a danger that we will have only one or two independent manufacturers and the rest will be state or semi-state owned. If governments did not get involved we would have a much stronger selection process. Because then only companies with high liquidity and no cash-burn would survive. Both BMW and Mercedes are in this position..

From Geneva comes word that one of Renault’s most senior managers has said that the company wants F1 to cost less and demands a fairer share of the commercial revenues and that if this is not forthcoming ‘there really are no taboos’ – ie Renault would be quite prepared to quit. This comes a day ahead of the Formula One Teams Association press conference where these subjects will be addressed. FOTA is engaged in discussions with Bernie Ecclestone about the commercial revenues from 2013 onwards, not the short term.

But there is a glimmer of hope for car makers in another FT story. Apparently the German government has stepped up the scrapping of old cars with an incentive scheme whereby owners of cars nine years old or more get a £2,500 subsidy against a new model. And as a result new car registrations of small cars in Germany have risen steeply. As you can imagine this too has upset the bosses of BMW and Mercedes, who have not seen any gain from the policy.

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BMW gets a head start

It’s only week one of the 2009 season, but already BMW has its nose in front. By choosing to go to Valencia this week, the expected challengers for the world title have managed to get some serious dry running in, 99 laps yesterday and 116 laps today.

Ferrari got over 100 laps in today on slicks after covering a similar distance yesterday in the wet, while the teams who went for the new Algarve Portimao circuit have struggled to do much all week and have been watching the rain drilling off the tarmac. Today was a total wash out for Williams, Renault, McLaren and Toro Rosso (still with the 2008 car). Yesterday was the only day they really were able to get anything done on slicks!

BMW has two more days with Nick Heidfeld in Valencia. It’s a bit windy over there on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, but the forecast is fine for the remainder of the test.

It may not seem very significant at the moment, but with only a handful of tests before the season starts in March and then no testing allowed until the season ends, this has been a very positive start by BMW, with very impressive reliability. McLaren and Renault have both had minor early teething problems.

Ferrari has made solid progress with its KERS system and is making more positive noises about using it from the start of the season.

Ideally, the teams who’ve suffered this week in Portugal would like to add some days to their schedule to make up for lost time. But the new testing rules for 2009 mean that they cannot. The days are lost. Advantage BMW.

It’s still too early to say who’s quick. That picture will not emerge until well into next month.

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Can BMW do it this year?

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited launch this January was the BMW Sauber team’s new car. This is because the team has been making a steady march towards the front of the grid in the last three seasons and now it needs to make the last and most difficult step of all, to champion status.

A few teams have come along in the last twenty years or so and threatened the McLaren/Williams/Ferrari elite, including Jordan, which won a few races. But really only Benetton/Renault has been able to elbow the big boys aside and make a permanent space for itself at top table.

BMW quickly got into the winning groove as an engine builder with Williams, but broke up with them in 2005 because the progress stopped and they had in mind to do their own thing anyway, based on the old Sauber team. After three years of delivering on their goals, they now have to fight for the championship. Anything less would be a disappointment. You could argue that they fought for the championship this season, after all Robert Kubica led the points table after Montreal and was still in the title race at the penultimate round.

But I think BMW know that they have to be right in there from the first race and at every race, fighting for pole, the win and the podium. And not only that, they have to match the development rate of Ferrari and McLaren across the whole season. In many ways this is the toughest aspect of the challenge. With new rules, its possible that anyone might have lucked into the right aerodynamic package and start with a strong position, but you know that as the races grind on, Ferrari and McLaren will be developing faster than most and it will take a special effort for a BMW or even a Renault to stay in front.

Having watched the Ferraris and McLarens steadily driving away from him in the second half of 2008, Kubica realises this better than anyone and it was interesting that at the launch he highlighted failed developments last season, ones which did not deliver the expected performance gain. The message is clear – ‘Don’t do that again’. He’s keeping the team honest, keeping the pressure on. You’ve got to love his hunger and his honesty. He’s already shown he has what it takes to race Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen and Alonso and he will be strong in Melbourne as he always is. HIs potential downside is his size. He lost some weight last year, but he’s still a big guy and the boffins are all saying that’s a penalty this year with the extra weight of KERS making weight and weight balance critical.

The first test day went well for them, over 70 laps of Valencia on day one is quite impressive and now they get down to some serious work. It looks like the weather has been kinder to them than to Ferrari over in Italy and McLaren and the rest in Portugal.

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BMW – World champions 2009?

There have been some very positive noises coming out of Munich recently to the effect that BMW has set its goal for 2009 as nothing less than fighting for the world championship. No big deal, I hear you say, teams always come out with that kind of talk.

Well not BMW. Mario Theissen’s team has always been meticulous in setting targets that it believes it can hit. If you read my Theissen interview elsewhere on this site you’ll get more background insight into the way the man thinks. He’s a company man, one who has come up through the ranks by hitting targets, sending memos and doing the right things and he’s been very careful in F1. The partnership with Williams was going well until they started to miss their targets and it was a short step from there to BMW setting up its own team based on the Sauber outfit. Ruthless, but very effective.

Theissen has hit his targets for three consecutive years, which is pretty rare in F1. But they could have done even better and that’s what makes you take them very seriously for next year. I still believe that the BMW team ducked out of the possibility of winning Monaco in 2007, where it made daft strategy choices, which it explained as being safety car based. But I think they didn’t want to win a race too soon and then raise expectations unrealistically for 2008. It had to progress in stages. Where’s the passion, you ask? Well stuff passion, this campaign has been meticulously planned and executed by Theissen, in so far as you can plan for something as chaotic at times as F1. They have also not fallen foul of the FIA in any major way yet.

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Interview with BMW Sauber boss Dr Mario Theissen,

 The character of the Formula 1 boss is changing. The old guard were the products of the 1970s; grafters, boys-done-good, men who were passionate about racing, who pulled strokes and called in favours to keep their cars in the race. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps from humble beginnings and then in the 1990s found themselves owning private jets once Bernie Ecclestone’s TV deals started to bring in serious money. This type of team owner, personified by McLaren’s Ron Dennis, the mechanic made good and Sir Frank Williams, the used car dealer has ruled the sport for decades.

 But now the model is changing. Dennis and Williams increasingly find themselves surrounded at team principals’ meetings by professional managers, corporate men who are in Formula 1 because the manufacturers they represent feel that they have the talents required to put together the winning formula on the race track.

 The embodiment of this new breed is Dr Mario Theissen, boss of the BMW Sauber team. Theissen is a very impressive operator. He combines the polish of a BMW trained professional with the steely determination of a Williams or a Dennis. He’s not a racing man, he’s a powertrain engineer, but he’s a racer nevertheless. He’s a winner, but can he take the next step in 2009 and become a champion?

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