2006 Team Review - BMW Sauber 16 Nov 2006
No one knew quite what to expect from the fledgling BMW Sauber squad in 2006. But with BMWs technical and financial might, a team of knowledgeable personnel led by Mario Theissen and Saubers 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 Saubers 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 F1.06s failure to shine could have rocked the teams confidence and given ample ammunition for those sceptical of BMWs decision to buy Sauber, but during the race at Sepang, the package started to come together.
Although a second engine failure ruined Heidfelds 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 Heidfelds fourth and Villeneuves sixth netted the team eight well-deserved points.
But as their closest competitors upped the ante, BMW Saubers 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 Villeneuves Formula One career and boosted BMW Saubers 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 Saubers 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.