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2006 Team Review - BMW Sauber 16 Nov 2006

Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, 30 September 2006 Third place Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1 and Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Motorsport Technical Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Preparations, Indianapolis, USA, 29 June 2006 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BMW Sauber F1.06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, 19 March 2006 Third place Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1 on the podium. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006

No one knew quite what to expect from the fledgling BMW Sauber squad in 2006. But with BMW’s technical and financial might, a team of knowledgeable personnel led by Mario Theissen and Sauber’s 13 years of racing experience on their side, on paper at least, the team had the potential for podiums.

The F1.06 was certainly a worthy car for a debut team. Although in essence, a tweaked version of Sauber’s 2005 C24 design, it displayed both speed and reliability in pre-season testing. And after poaching Nick Heidfeld from Williams and re-signing experienced Sauber driver Jacques Villeneuve, the team were confident.

But an unfortunate debut in Bahrain, in which Villeneuve suffered an engine failure and Heidfeld finished 12th, was followed by an even more disappointing performance in qualifying in Malaysia. The F1.06’s failure to shine could have rocked the team’s confidence and given ample ammunition for those sceptical of BMW’s decision to buy Sauber, but during the race at Sepang, the package started to come together.

Although a second engine failure ruined Heidfeld’s afternoon, Villeneuve looked competitive and finished seventh. Spurred on after scoring their first points of the season, BMW Sauber decided drastic measures were needed to solve their engine reliability issues and began to hand select individual components for their V8. In Melbourne, the new policy paid off where Heidfeld’s fourth and Villeneuve’s sixth netted the team eight well-deserved points.

But as their closest competitors upped the ante, BMW Sauber’s performance faltered. Over the next nine races, the team only managed to score a further ten points. As a result, Toyota moved ahead into fifth place in the constructors’ championship standings, while Honda accumulated an insurmountable points’ advantage in fourth.

Things got worse in Germany. Heidfeld and Villeneuve collided at the first corner and a few laps later the Canadian crashed heavily. Although Villeneuve walked away, it would be his last Formula One race and he was replaced by third driver Robert Kubica for the next round in Hungary - a Grand Prix that would prove to be a turning point for the team. Heidfeld battled his way to third to take their first podium, while Kubica enjoyed a strong debut to take seventh. Although the young polish driver would eventually be disqualified for competing in an underweight car, his performance effectively ended Villeneuve’s Formula One career and boosted BMW Sauber’s fortunes.

After struggling in Istanbul with their choice of Michelin tyres, the team put in a fantastic performance in Italy with Kubica claiming his first podium finish in third and Heidfeld finishing in seventh, despite receiving a pit-lane speeding penalty. Boasting half the number of retirements of closest rival Toyota, BMW Sauber eventually took a well-deserved fifth place in the constructors’ championship. That position matched the placing they had achieved as engine partners to Williams the previous year and comfortably bettered Sauber’s eighth place in 2005. A pretty good start for a ‘new’ team.

More 2006 team reviews - Renault, Ferrari, McLaren, Honda, Toyota, Red Bull, Williams, Toro Rosso, Spyker MF1 and Super Aguri.