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It was in Munich on 22nd June 2005, a year ago to the day, that BMW announced its acquisition of a majority stake in the Sauber Formula One team. So what better time for BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen to give a mid-term report on the new outfit's progress.
Hand on heart: how often have you wondered whether BMW's decision to form its own team was the right one? Mario Theissen: "I haven't doubted it for a second. It was really the only way to go. The decision to line up on the grid with a BMW-led team was based on various things we learnt in our time as an F1 engine supplier. One of these was that the role of the engine in a team's success is generally not as great as before. And, more than anything, we were and are in no doubt that success is only possible with structures in place which run throughout the team. The integration of the team's bases in Munich and Hinwil through jointly coordinated project management is now working well. I'm pleased that we've pursued this path towards overall responsibility. But that doesn't mean we're not constantly analysing how we're going about things. After all, we're still in a development phase."
How do you rate the team's progress after eight races of the season? MT: "Very positive. We have collected points in six of the eight rounds of the championship so far and seen both cars finish in the points on two occasions. The British Grand Prix went particularly well for us and we were never out of the top four teams during the Silverstone weekend. Both our BMW Sauber F1.06 cars made it through comfortably to the top ten qualifying shootout, and in the race itself we finished seventh and eighth without benefiting from any retirements ahead of us. This represents a significant step forward from our starting point last year."
Aside from the results themselves, are you happy with the advances the team has made?MT: "Getting a Formula One team off the ground is never an easy task, even with the resources of a car manufacturer and the existing infrastructure of an F1 team behind you. We are currently in the middle of a two-year development phase. I take my hat off to the whole team in Munich and Hinwil for what they have achieved over the past few months. They have worked virtually around the clock. Our first move was to link up the operations at the two locations, then we put in place a programme for the future and introduced the measures we needed to implement these plans. An interim car was built for winter testing, the drivers were signed up, agreements concluded with four major partners and a separate testing team assembled. We've already got almost 70 new team members on board, with more set to join us gradually in due course."
Is the aerodynamics department now able to keep pace with the big teams?MT: "The wind tunnel in Hinwil is first-class – one of the best, if not the best of any team on the grid. However, previously there were only enough people to run the tunnel on a single-shift basis, whereas the top teams were already using their facilities around the clock, as is standard. We responded by introducing a second shift in January, and by the end of the year we should also be running the tunnel on a three-shift basis. Stepping up the pace of development has already borne fruit. We are committed to making improvements available for each GP in the form of tested and approved new parts. And we've managed to do that on almost every occasion. The correlation between our simulation work, wind tunnel testing and the introduction of improvements in race action is extremely encouraging."
Is it true that you're looking to expand the Hinwil facility in terms of buildings as well as personnel?MT: "Yes, we've already secured planning permission for the expansion of the plant and the new buildings should be completed by the end of next year. These will include both offices and technical facilities. Of course, all these measures are running alongside the race and testing programme, so for the team this means an especially tough 2006 and 2007."
What are the team's aims for the second half of 2006?MT: "For our first year on the grid, we set ourselves the goal of both halving the 1.5- second per lap deficit to the leading cars which the Saubers were running at in 2005 and improving on eighth place in the constructors' championship. Those remain our aims for 2006 and we're well on course to meet them."
The BMW Sauber F1 Team is currently lying fifth in the constructors' standings – is fourth place within your grasp? MT: "We shouldn't get carried away. Of course, you've always got your sights fixed on the teams immediately ahead of you rather than looking over your shoulder. But if we can keep hold of fifth position through to the end of the season, we will have met a first intermediate target."
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