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Sauber

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
03/11/2009

There are many reasons to admire BMW. Here is a company whose staple product was once the Isetta bubblecar made under licence from the Italian maker, Iso, but which went on to make some superb machinery.

After the 1939-45 Unpleasantness, BMW's only car plant, in Eisenach, found itself in the Russian Zone which became the DDR. Munich did not make a car until December, 1952, but while Bavaria spawned a prestige brand, Eisenach finished up making Wartburgs, a marque banned from the UK because the cars were unsafe.

I have never desired to own a Beemer, they come laden with too much image for me to be comfortable in one. That said, I have long admired BMW, and I've driven a few, until the Sauber saga.

Peter Sauber is a proper F1 team owner, not a billionaire with an expensive hobby. He made his first racing car forty years ago and with it won the 1970 Swiss Hill Climb Championship. He built a series of other competition cars, little known outside of Switzerland and its near neighbours, though Saubers did run at Le Mans.

In 1985, there began a relationship with Mercedes-Benz in sports car racing, the high point of which was a 1-2 at Le Mans in 1989. The programme also brought along Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger.

Since 1993 Sauber has been in Formula One and Peter Sauber has shown himself to be the canniest judge of driver talent since Colin Chapman; he plucked Kimi and Felipe from obscure series while Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel are both from the Sauber school of talent.

Anyone can understand why, in the present economic climate, BMW decided to pull the plug on its F1 programme. What I do not understand is why a company which has a long tradition of being sure-footed, has left Sauber out on a limb. Honda behaved impeccably and did not throw hundreds of people out of work.

Honda's reputation has soared. Okay, it is we enthusiasts who know and appreciate that, but in every workplace there is someone who knows about cars and that person's opinion is important. Ford UK realised this in the late 1950s and set out to impress those people. It was deliberate policy by a company whose strongest selling point had been the ready availability of spare parts when something went wrong.

I have never understood why BMW wanted to be in F1 as a team owner and regular readers will know that I predicted BMW would fail. The culture that makes a strong motor manufacturer is not the same that makes for motor racing success. As an engine supplier, BMW won races with Williams and if Williams cannot deliver the results you crave, examine yourself carefully.

Williams-BMW won nine Grands Prix in six years, BMW-Sauber has won a single race in four seasons. I would love to know the cost per win in each case.

It was ludicrous to believe that Sauber, a decent back of the grid team, plus an injection of cash, technology and personnel from Bavaria would do better than Williams. It's a fantasy, like you or I believing that if only Cameron Diaz had the opportunity to get to know us, really know us, we could score.

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