In a Formula One season full of surprises, the BMW Sauber F1 Team was a model of consistency. As if setting out to reinforce the popular stereotypes of German thoroughness and Swiss precision, the young team swept through 2008 without a single technical retirement and notched up by far the most race laps and fastest pit stops of any team.
The BMW Sauber F1.08 racers were not only reliable, they also proved their mettle in performance terms. The highlights of the season were the one-two finish in Canada when Robert Kubica took the chequered flag ahead of team-mate Nick Heidfeld a year after crashing heavily at the Montreal track, Kubica s pole position in Bahrain and two fastest race laps courtesy of Heidfeld (Malaysia and Germany). Together, the BMW Sauber F1 Team drivers collected eleven podium trophies in what was the team s third season on the grid up from two in 2007.
Here, BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen, Technical Director Willy Rampf, Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld look back on 2008.
Mario Theissen gave a positive verdict on the season: “We are proud of our successful season and we have once again achieved our exacting goals. We set out to turn the two-horse race at the top of the standings into a three-way battle and to record our first victory. We reached this target much earlier than expected and even managed to do so with a one-two finish.â€
After the first three races of the season, the team was leading the World Championship, while Robert Kubica s win in Canada put him top of the drivers standings. Should the season have worked out rather better in the end?
Theissen: “It wasn t a question of what should have happened, but what we wanted to be the case. These magnificent achievements so early in the season naturally whetted the appetite for more. Although it didn t take us long to reach our goals, there was no let-up from anybody in the team. We continued to bring new and further stages of technical developments into the car in the second half of the season, but unfortunately they didn t produce the performance gains we expected. Our pace of development was fine, but the results were not up to scratch and our rivals opened up a gap over us during the course of the season. We will learn from this for 2009, when we will be looking to be up there battling for the title.â€
Were you happy with the performances of your drivers in 2008?
Theissen: “All in all, yes otherwise neither would be driving for us in 2009. However, Robert and Nick had very contrasting years. Robert shook off the memory of 2007, was hugely motivated for the job in hand and threw himself into his work with his new race engineer. Robert was in top form and if the F1.08 was not quick enough he took it as a personal affront. The working relationship was therefore not always easy, but his unreserved determination to achieve success commands respect.
For Nick the season was very different. It took too long for the seriousness of the situation to be recognised and the causes of his problems above all in qualifying to be systematically addressed. When you ve got so many years of experience, you can maybe tell yourself after one or two unsuccessful outings that these were just blips and everything will be alright again the next time around, but that was not the case. It was only with intensive work that we got to grips with the problem. What stood out about both Robert and Nick was their extremely low error count on the track. In this respect, nobody else on the grid comes close to our two drivers and for that I take my hat off to them.â€
What are your expectations for 2009?
Theissen: “Formula One is set to experience the most significant rule changes in its history. Wide-reaching controls on aerodynamics systems will see the cars looking totally different in 2009, treadless tyres (slicks) will be brought back and the totally new KERS technology introduced. This may bring about shifts in the balance of power. This extremely challenging scenario does not alter our goal of fighting for the World Championship title in 2009.â€
Willy Rampf gives his assessment of the BMW Sauber F1.08: “This car was something very special. It was not purely a further development; we opted for a very aggressive approach for the F1.08. This was very important given the goals for the season we had set ourselves, but clearly not without risk. Indeed, at the roll-out the car was still far from its full potential. What followed was a very tough, but also incredibly productive time for us and by the start of the season we had the car very much on track. In Melbourne Robert was only a hair s breadth away from taking pole position.â€
What was your reaction to the one-two finish in Canada?
Rampf: “You just can t put it into words. When no other car and no other drivers are better than your two, you have reached your goal. And that applies not only to me, but to the whole team. You mustn t forget that many of the people in the team gave everything over a number of years for the independent Sauber team without any prospect of getting right to the top on their own merits and have been part of the BMW Sauber F1 Team from its launch. The one-two in Montreal had a big impact on us all, and not only on the Sunday it had a sustained effect.â€
Was it not possible to build on this success and step up another gear over the remainder of the season?
Rampf: “Of course, this success raised expectations both within the team and from the outside. We developed several new parts which produced good results in the wind tunnel. When it came to their performance on the track, however, they did not deliver what they promised. Added to which, the optimum set-up window of the F1.08 was very small. It was not easy to adjust the individual parameters to stay within this window all the time. This was a learning experience, which we will utilise again for the 2009 season.â€
As for 2009: how will technical responsibility be apportioned?
Rampf: “I have responsibility for the F1.09 concept and, as Technical Coordinator, will also be at the helm for the team s race activities in 2009. The development process and construction of the new car is overseen by Managing Director Walter Riedl, who will continue to head up operations at the Hinwil plant and project management across both locations in 2009. It was important for me to cut down on my workload this was a personal decision following a long time working flat-out.â€
Robert Kubica, how would you assess your second full season in F1?
Kubica: “The 2008 season was very long and extremely hard probably the toughest of my career. Unfortunately, we didn t manage to sustain our pace of development through the second half of the season. But we have made a big leap forward over 2007. We had no technical retirements and were in there fighting for the title almost until the end of the season. The team have done a wonderful job and we can be proud of our season, I don t like to give myself too much praise, but I think I drove really well. I was almost always fast and able to show my potential. However, I m a person who always wants to win and for me second place is the first loser.â€
What were the highs and lows of 2008?
Kubica: “I can think of various great moments, especially over the first half of the season my podium in Malaysia, pole position in Bahrain and, of course, my first race victory in Canada. I m also very proud of my performance at Fuji. That was probably my strongest race of the year. The most frustrating weekend, on the other hand, was the first of the season in Melbourne: I d had a very disappointing season in 2007 and my race was going really well until Kazuki Nakajima ran into me.â€
Nick Heidfeld, how would you sum up the 2008 season?
Heidfeld: “So-so, with an upwards curve towards the end of the season. It is always my aim to get the maximum from the car and I didn t manage to do that through the middle part of the season in qualifying in particular. The positive thing is that I came through this difficult period by analysing the situation, rather than stubbornly ploughing on. Highlights included the race at Spa when my decision to change onto wet-weather tyres two laps from the finish paid off and five passing manoeuvres over the course of the season in which I overtook two cars in the same move. And, of course, four second places aren t bad going either.â€
How do you expect the reintroduction of slick tyres will affect the racing in 2009? Will they help you to exploit the full potential of the tyres in qualifying?
Heidfeld: “We ll find out in due course if slicks suit my driving style specifically, but I believe they will do and I definitely think it s important that we get them back in Formula One! Slicks are simply part of F1, both for the sport as a spectacle and as far as driveability is concerned. Anything else is just a joke. In combination with the significant reduction in the cars downforce levels, slicks will hopefully also result in more overtaking.â€
The 2008 season in brief.
The innovative looks of the F1.08 made quite an impression at its presentation in the new BMW Welt in Munich on 14th January. The subsequent testing in Valencia was disappointing, but the team pulled out all the stops to turn things around before the opening race of the season in Melbourne. Their calm but intensive work resulted in second place for Heidfeld, while Kubica lying fifth was the innocent victim of a collision at the restart after a Safety Car phase and left Australia with no points to show for his efforts.
In Malaysia it was Kubica s turn to take second place, while Heidfeld finished sixth. Their total of 11 points represented a record haul for the young team. To add the icing on the cake, Heidfeld also recorded the team s first fastest race lap.
Next up was Bahrain: another race, another milestone. Kubica earned the BMW Sauber F1 Team its first pole position, before finishing third in the race to give him back-to-back podiums. Heidfeld crossed the line in fourth. The team topped the constructors standings as the F1 circus moved on to Europe. Bahrain offered the first signs that Heidfeld was having difficulties bringing his tyres up to temperature in qualifying.
The start of the European season saw Ferrari in dominant mood. Kubica finished fourth at Barcelona, while Heidfeld fell foul of Safety Car rules. The German was forced to pit for fuel while the pit lane was closed, landing him with the inevitable ten-second stop-and-go penalty and meaning he could do no better than ninth.
After a modest performance in qualifying at Istanbul, the BMW Sauber F1 Team salvaged fourth and fifth places in the race, allowing them to defend their second place in the Constructors World Championship behind Ferrari.
Kubica finished second in a damp race in Monaco to earn a spot in the famous royal box. Heidfeld had qualified a lowly 12th as his tyre problems persisted. In the race itself the German had battled up to fifth position when Renault s Fernando Alonso (Spain) drove into the side of him. Heidfeld nursed his battered F1.08 across the line in 14th, a dispiriting four laps behind the winner.
Round seven of the season yielded unbridled celebration for the team. Kubica and Heidfeld raced to a one-two finish, earning the BMW Sauber F1 Team its maiden race victory in only its third season on the grid. Kubica s win allowed him to take over the lead in the Drivers World Championship and the team leapt back into second place in the constructors standings, just three points adrift of Ferrari.
Qualifying for the French GP did not go well for the team, but Kubica at least pulled in four points for his fifth-place finish in the race. The hop across the English Channel brought an improved showing at the British Grand Prix, although this time the Pole was left empty-handed after a rare mistake saw him aquaplane off the track. Heidfeld celebrated an impressive second place at a sodden Silverstone.
In the team s home race at Hockenheim, Heidfeld recovered from further qualifying strife and a grid position of 12th to set his second fastest race lap on the way to a fourth-position finish. While Heidfeld benefited from his race strategy and a Safety Car phase, Kubica came off rather worse and finished in his starting position of seventh.
The final race before the short summer break was a chastening experience for the team. The F1.08 was clearly short of speed in Hungary and a single point for Kubica was all it could muster. Second place in the Constructors Championship was lost to McLaren Mercedes, and Kubica and Heidfeld were now fourth and fifth in the drivers standings.
The first F1 race on the portside circuit in Valencia was one of mixed fortunes for the BMW Sauber F1 Team. Kubica secured the team its eighth podium finish in 12 races with third place in the Grand Prix of Europe, but his team-mate could manage only ninth. Heidfeld struggled with the harder tyre compound and admitted his race had been a disaster.
All of which made Heidfeld even happier with his podium finish at Spa, the key to which was his brave decision to change onto wet-weather tyres two laps from the finish. Kubica s chances of a top-three finish were scuppered by a sticking fuel tank nozzle. It was a rare mishap for the BMW Sauber F1 Team, which topped the fastest pit stop statistics. Kubica went on to finish sixth.
The final race of the European season at Monza was also hit by rain. Kubica missed the cut for the top ten qualifying shoot-out at GP number 14, but a strong race performance on a one-stop strategy and a perfectly timed switch from wet-weather tyres to intermediates took him onto the third step of the podium. Heidfeld secured fifth place after starting from 10th.
The BMW Sauber F1 Team went away from Formula One s magnificent debut night race in Singapore with just three points (Heidfeld/6th position). Starting from fourth on the grid, Kubica was a victim of the Safety Car rules and crossed the line 11th. The BMW Sauber F1 Team remained third in the Constructors World Championship, with McLaren now leading the way albeit only briefly.
Kubica took centre stage at Fuji as the chief protagonists in the World Championship race shunted each other down the field. After 17 laps in the lead the Pole was forced to settle for second place behind Alonso, but had put himself back in contention for the driver s title. Heidfeld finished a nondescript ninth after an errant tyre strategy in qualifying. Ferrari climbed back to the top of the constructors standings.
Heidfeld was slightly faster than Kubica over the whole weekend in Shanghai, and the two drivers finished the penultimate race of the season in fifth and sixth positions respectively. The result put an end to both Kubica and the team s outside chances of World Championship glory. The drivers crown had come down to a straight fight between Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) and Felipe Massa (Ferrari).
The season finale in Brazilian was as tense and exciting as they come, although the BMW Sauber F1 Team now had little more than a minor role in proceedings. Hamilton clinched the title on the last lap of 2008 and Ferrari wrapped up the Constructors Championship.
Kubica had struggled with the balance of his F1.08 in qualifying and could do no better than 13th. Given his modest grid position, the team took the risk of starting him on dry tyres on what was a drying track. However, on the formation lap the Pole decided to change onto intermediates after all. The trip to the pits relegated him to the back of the field and ultimately cost him third place in the Drivers Championship. Kubica finished level on points with 2007 World Champion Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen (Ferrari) but had to settle for fourth. Heidfeld started the race from eighth, but excessive wheel spin meant he lost ground off the line and he crossed the line 10th ahead of Kubica. Drawing a blank at Interlagos also cost the German driver a place in the final table he slipped down to sixth, one point behind Alonso. The BMW Sauber F1 Team remained third in the constructors standings.
Source: BMW Sauber