Formula 1 Insight

BMW Sauber Prospects

Were it not for the explosion of interest in the Renault/Singapore scandal, the big news this week would have been the sale of the BMW Sauber team to the Swiss investment company, Qadbak. As a supporter of the team, I am relieved that it will survive (presuming that it will be given a slot in next year's championship) but I cannot help but feel that there are odd aspects to the news.

Nick Heidfeld
The last F1 BMW

For a start, the speed with which a deal was done is a little surprising when we remember the long months of suspense before the future of the Honda team was decided. Is there something about the BMW team that made it more attractive to interested parties or is it more a case of Honda being deliberately obstructive to buyers while the company waited for Ross Brawn to put together his offer? I am inclined to think it was the latter and that there is nothing unusual in BMW's team being snapped up so quickly.

Even so, there is something ironic in the buyer being a Swiss company. Switzerland banned motor racing after Pierre Levegh's terrible accident at Le Mans in the fifties and it has never gone back on that decision. However, there are signs, not least Peter Sauber's admirable efforts and this latest purchase, that there is a growing interest in the sport within the country, in spite of its lack of races. I guess that the facilities at Hinwil had a lot to do with Qadbak's interest anyway.

Then there is the continued development of the F1.09, evident in their recent improvement in performance and Dr Theissen's hopes for a major update to be introduced in Singapore next week. From what Dr Mario says, work has continued unabated at team headquarters as though the future of the team was never in doubt:

The F1.09 will feature a new front wing, more deeply undercut sidepods, another iteration of the double diffuser and a modified rear wing. The team will also introduce a totally new gearbox.

Theissen said: "We are looking forward to the whole show and are aiming to go on the attack with our significantly revised car."

Heidfeld added: "I've been looking forward to the race in Singapore for many weeks because I know we have some modifications ready for the weekend. Our simulation work has been very promising and the car will look great."

It seems odd to me that BMW should carry on putting money into the team after having decided to get rid of it. The usual reason given for this is that the company wants the team to remain an attractive proposition to potential buyers but I wonder if there is more to it than meets the eye. Dr Theissen himself, ostensibly a company man as their Director of Motor Sport, seems undeterred in his enthusiasm for F1 and it may be that he intends to stay with the team rather than go back to a more general oversight of BMW's many involvements with motor racing.

Whatever the reasons for these apparent anomalies, I am glad that the team is looking forward to a robust future in F1. The engine was always the company's main connection with its team and, now that we know this will not be on offer anymore, it becomes much clearer that the team was always Sauber and not truly BMW at all. Reversion to Ferrari engines is merely a matter of picking up where they left off, I think.

The possibility of Dr Theissen staying with the team is interesting in that it would show how strongly any engineer is attracted to F1. Competition is fiercer than in any other motor sport, demands greater and rewards more desirable. This is the peak, after all, and success demonstrates superiority in the engineer's chosen field.

It is all good news for the team and all that remains is that a slot be found for it in the 2010 season. Whether that comes as a result of withdrawal of another entrant or the expansion of the field to 28 cars, I don't much care. The team is part of F1 now and things would not be the same were it to disappear.


My problem with BMW is - I don't like their road cars.

Having said that, I suppose it is true I haven't driven a recent model. My only experience is in fact limited to a thrash along the Autobahn that heads south from Stuttgart. I still have flashbacks! ;)

Nevertheless, I hope BMW remain. F1 needs a team that can compete. With all the shenanegins it is easy to forget that the major engine manufacturers are actually putting on a show.

Keep the faith...

.. Oh, is anything happening with Pitlane? Been very quiet.

Date Added: 18/09/2009

Fractal: I'm not crazy about production BMWs either and have always regarded the F1 team as a different creature from the company. The engines were good and the money nice, I suppose, but it was really the old Sauber team with a different badge.

To be honest, I haven't looked at Pitlane for a while. Contributions dried up and John seemed to lose interest so there seemed little point in keeping an eye on it. I have no admin rights so cannot attempt to keep it going myself and I warned John from the start that I wouldn't be able to write much for it myself. So I guess we can take it that it has died. A pity, but there we are.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Alianora La Cantab
I think the reason for BMW's investment is simple: Mario Theissen is a F1 fan and the board had to do something to sweeten the blow of him losing his project. At least Mario and his team can finish their time together in honour (assuming Mario stays with BMW rather than the team, which is not a given).

I've never heard of Qadbak, but I'm pleased to see the BMW team will not be at risk of collapsing over Christmas and that Hinwil will continue to be a place where racing cars are born and made. Best wishes to the team and hope your faith in BMW is rewarded by its successor :)
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Alianora: Thanks, Ali. You're right - it could well be the board wanting to soften the blow for Theissen and, perhaps, persuade him to stay with the company.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Pink Peril
I still have my doubts that the all news teams for next year will make it to the grid, so I think there will be space for the team formerly known as BMW-Sauber. The big question is - will Kubica stay with them?
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Yes 28 BMW`s on the grid, anything to stop Clive going back to He`s farm :-)
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Glad to see the team with a buyer without all the Honda drama we saw last year. wish is that all these manufacturer/owners find a buyer and just do what they do best-supply race engines and build good production cars.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Nick Goodspeed
***Warning: May contain cynicism***

Perhaps, after all the dust has cleared, we will have a situation much like we had before all the huge piles of mindless money came into F1. With BMW gone, Renault likely to go, Honda gone, Ford/ Jaguar gone, we still have twice as many engine suppliers as we did before this influx of manufacturers. We will have Mercedes (Illmore), Ferrari, Toyota and Cosworth, building racing engines (for a while anyway.) F1, by design, will always have challengers come and go. Those who can't make the grade will be left behind. It is the name of the beast. Sometimes, someone like Brawn will luck into a winning ticket, but I have huge doubts that it will happen often or even again, (unless new sets of rules come into play one year before huge budgets are slashed.)
This pollutant of unlimited cash for racing teams has sullied the biggest names in racing. Ferrari, McLaren, Piquet, Mosley, Ecclestone, Benneton, Honda and the list goes on. It has made F1 extinct in North America, France and is threatening it on many other fronts. Auto racing survives in many, many places on very small cash rations. In the end the manufacturers have proven what we already know. There is such a thing as, too much of a good thing. Patriotism to huge multinational marques is absurd. Lets all cheer for the Goliaths. The ones that bought or drove away the private entrepreneurs. Once all these rich, heartless companies get out of F1, we hopefully will go back to having a worthy show. Where sound rules are written by sound minds. Where engineers, drivers and owners will act on the knowledge that, to have a race, racing cars must be able to pass one another. BMW were just another corporate flavour of unpalatable ice cream. Not because of WHO they were, but WHAT they were. Part of the great money glut that has changed F1 into the great greedfest it has become.
What we have seen over the last long while is a carnival of excess. A no holds barred war! Not a sport.
The one thing that we can say about BMW is that they haven't, at least publicly, stooped into the mire of the rest.
If the "swine flu" that is running F1 refuses to let go of the rope holding the huge beast they've helped to create, the beast will slim down until it slips from their noose. At this rate we may be back to decency by 2011.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Peril: It looks as though Kubica is set to go, whatever happens with the team. The real question is: which team will take him? Renault seemed likely until the recent scandal and that now depends on what happens at the WMSC hearing. Williams is rumoured to want him too and, if nothing comes of these two possibilities, Toyota will be looking for a replacement for Trulli...
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Gusto: No, no, I am all for variety. My point is really that any departure from F1 lessens the variation between cars.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Vera: I think F1 needs the manufacturers as engine suppliers but I agree in essence with Nick's last comment - they have also introduced huge amounts of money into the sport that have warped it in the end. So yes, let the car makers supply engines and the teams worry about chassis etc.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Nick: The good news is that things do seem to be heading back to the way things were. If departing manufacturers can at least hand on their engines to smaller development firms, F1 can continue without manufacturer teams. If, like BMW, they take away their ball by not supplying their engine, the teams could be limited to Ferrari, Cosworth or no engine at all. In time new independent engine developers would arise, however.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

Nick Goodspeed
All the engine variety in the world won't help if the inherent design of a car is such that it cannot be passed, due to aerodynamics and the effect on the trailing air. As things are now, the engines don't mean so much. Maybe the name on the valve cover makes something in the brand-loyalty synapse sparkle, but since the rules are so strict and confining it would surprise me if the innards were all but interchangeable. Those who can get the equation that balances downforce, top speed, reliability, economy and driver preference right are the ones who win races. I would go as far as to guess that the software, and its degree of user friendliness, in the car and pit lane race analysis probably have more effect on the car than the actual engine.
Date Added: 19/09/2009

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