BMW Sauber are in dire need of a strong result in Spain and the team are pinning their hopes on “extensive” aerodynamic upgrades.
This time last year the Hinwil and Munich outfit were challenging Ferrari for the championship lead having notched up two podiums and scored points in each of the four opening races.
Robert Kubica went on to challenge for the title but was highly critical of the team’s decision to divert their efforts to the 2009 season.
It was a move that could come back to haunt BMW Sauber. The team are currently languishing in sixth place in the constructors after a disastrous start to the season.
For a brief moment it looked as though Kubica would be right in the mix again as he chased Jenson Button for victory in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix – only to be punted out of contention by Sebastian Vettel. The incident is symbolic of how quickly the pecking order has changed this season. It wasn’t that long ago that BMW Sauber had the legs on Red Bull, the team that went on to dominate the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Since then BMW Sauber have struggled for form. The rain induced chaos in Sepang enabled Nick Heidfeld to collect second place, the team’s sole podium to date, but in the telling dry conditions of qualifying, both drivers have severely unperformed, failing to progress to the top ten on the last two occasions in China and Bahrain.
“We cannot be satisfied at all with the first four races of the season,” team boss Mario Theissen was forced to admit. “After our positive winter testing, all of us envisaged a rather different start to the season. The car is not fast enough and we have recorded only one podium finish.”
“We are approaching this challenge in a positive way and are working intensively in Munich and Hinwil to get back to our old form.”
Unlike McLaren, Renault, and Red Bull Racing who have all made significant upgrades to their cars over the opening four races, BMW Sauber have yet to make any major changes, and this partly explains their drop in performance.
The team are pinning their hopes of a recovery in next week’s Spanish Grand Prix on a significantly upgraded F1.09 featuring a new rear wing and nose section.
“We will be lining up in Barcelona with an extensive aerodynamics-focused development package, and are already working on further upgrades to be introduced later on in the season,” Theissen confirmed.
BMW Sauber’s head of engineering Willy Rampf expects the aerodynamic changes to “significantly reduce lap times”.
“The nose section, more deeply undercut sidepods and the rear wing are all totally new,” he confirmed, “added to which, modifications have also been made to the front wing, engine cover and underbody. We expect these improvements to significantly reduce our lap times.”
It will be interesting to compare BMW Sauber’s position in Spain relative to the likes of McLaren and Renault who have also been struggling this year, but have adopted a more piecemeal approach to development.
Small changes to the McLaren MP4-24 over the opening four races have lifted Lewis Hamilton out of the midfield into the points [see separate story HERE], and BMW Sauber will be hoping their upgrade is enough to vault them into a similar position.
“Of course, we know that the other teams will also have made modifications to their cars for Barcelona,” said Rampf. “However, we expect to be able to close the gap to our rivals. We won t find this out for certain, though, until the race weekend.”
“Up to then we will only have the results from the wind tunnel and simulations to go on and, of course, can no longer test in advance on the track. Seeing the full potential of the car reflected in results on the track will be a big challenge for the engineers.â€
Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld are likewise expecting a tough fight in Barcelona.
“As all Formula One teams have tested in Barcelona, I expect the pack to be very close together even closer than up to now,” said Kubica. “We will bring a new aero package and we hope to improve significantly compared to our recent performance, as it is our goal to close the gap to the top teams.”
Heidfeld adds: “Like everybody in the team, I am also placing my hopes on our new aerodynamic upgrades. The team has put an incredible amount of energy into trying to close the gap to the leaders.”
“I hope we will perform rather better against our rivals in Barcelona, but that s difficult to predict as all the teams will be bringing upgrade packages of varying degrees to the first race of the European season.â€