Taking a bold concept leap has paid off
An recent interview with Mario Thiessen
How do you review the situation after the first two races of the season?
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen: Naturally were extremely pleased with the way the season has started off for us. Two second places by Nick and Robert in Melbourne and Sepang, Robert on the front row of the grid in Australia, Nick claiming the fastest race lap in Malaysia, plus 11 points in one race and 19 in the championship thats an outstanding achievement and a strong basis for the coming races.
It demonstrates we have been making steady progress since the roll-out in mid-January. I wasnt just gratified by our good results, but above all by the performance and pace we managed in both races.
The BMW Sauber F1.08 didnt come up to expectations in the first tests. How did the engineers deal with that?
Theissen: It was the first real acid test for our young team. Since the first outing in Valencia the day after the launch, we refused to be diverted at any stage and systematically continued along our planned path. Measured data and driver feedback were compared, causes analysed and a whole package of measures adopted with success. In the weeks following the launch of the F1.08, we not only brought the car up to speed but also learnt a great deal in the process. In retrospect these were extremely productive and motivating weeks. Willy Rampf and the entire team deserve a huge compliment for never once losing sight of the goal even under extreme pressure.
You mentioned a package of measures. What precise modifications have been made to the car?
Theissen: During the first tests we very quickly established that the F1.08 is a far more complex car than its predecessor. It wasnt a case of an individual component in the car not working. The key factor was that, in the first tests, individual elements werent interacting with each other perfectly. We rectified that step by step. It was a matter of fine-tuning the overall package, which we managed to improve through dozens of minor alterations. On the aero front we optimised the interplay of the front wing, deflectors and underbody, and in terms of mechanics, for example, we modified the front suspension slightly. These are all changes you cant see but which all add up to a significant improvement in performance. And, of course, with each test we were able to gather new data that now enables us to find the right set-up for varying conditions.
So will you be pitching your season target higher now?
Theissen: Theres no call for that really. Our goal is to close the gap to the leaders and win our first race. Thats a fairly ambitious goal and were sticking to it. In the first two races we managed to open up the two-way battle. We were faster than one of the two top teams on each occasion. But one shouldnt draw any premature conclusions. Were still not on a par with Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes. However, the latest results are certainly a great incentive for everyone. The clear message to the workforce is: we can make it.
How much potential remains inside the BMW Sauber F1.08?
Theissen: Weve still got several arrows in our quiver and certainly havent exhausted our entire potential yet. The next major step is planned for the European curtain-raiser in Barcelona. For us one thing is clear: risking a major concept leap in the winter has paid off. Now its up to us to systematically continue along the path weve embarked on.
How do you rate the performance of your two drivers?
Theissen: Both of them have delivered what we expect of them. Not just in the two races, but prior to that during the important testing work over the winter. Both of them have prepared single-mindedly for the new season. And both of them have got what it takes to claim the first win for our team. They also know that it takes more than just a few fast laps. The drivers are leaders within the team and have a huge impact on the team spirit and the ongoing development of the car. Both of them are bringing this awareness into play, and I am very happy with the results so far.
How did you fare with the standard electronics in the first two races of the season?
Theissen: There was the occasional hiccup, but that was down to the fact that the application had not yet been perfected and was unrelated to the basic software. There were no malfunctions that might have threatened to end the race or compromise driver safety.