Home - The Official Formula 1 Website Skip to content

2008 Team Review - BMW Sauber: victory at last 01 Dec 2008

Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 celebrates his first pole position in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Saturday, 5 April 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, Saturday, 21 June 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08 crosses the line to win his first GP.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 8 June 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 and Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1 on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 8 June 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 2009 Interim Car. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 17 November 2008.

The grid's 'third power' finally arrives

Very rarely do you get what you wish for. But this season BMW Sauber have achieved just that, finishing third in the constructors’ championship and scoring their maiden pole and race win. It’s a brilliant achievement for a relatively young team, who have finally taken the fight to Ferrari and McLaren and become real title contenders.

Over winter matters hadn’t looked quite so upbeat, with murmurs that their aggressive pre-season development programme had backfired. Drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica certainly looked as though they were struggling with the F1.08’s handling, but the technical team, led by Willy Rampf, remained optimistic. And gradually the true pace of the radically-designed machine became apparent.

At its first race outing in March’s Melbourne season opener, Kubica came within two-tenths of beating McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton to pole. He missed out again in Malaysia, although Heidfeld did take fastest lap at Sepang. Kubica’s qualifying breakthrough finally came in Bahrain, where the Polish driver clinched a superb P1 grid slot, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and Hamilton’s McLaren. BMW Sauber had finally arrived.

The only snag was Heidfeld’s comparative lack of performance on Saturdays. The tyres and the F1.08 seemed to favour Kubica’s belligerent driving style over Heidfeld’s fluidity, especially over a single lap. The German was thoroughly overshadowed by his less-experienced team mate. Indeed his best 2008 qualifying slot was fifth, which he scored on four occasions, while his worst was 16th. Kubica was fifth or higher at two-thirds of 2008’s races.

And although Heidfeld consistently bounced back in races with some thrilling overtaking moves, it was Kubica who led the team’s charge, scooping 32 points from the first six races. A win, however, remained elusive until June’s Canada race, when the Pole capitalised on Hamilton’s pit-lane blunder to score his (and the team’s) maiden victory. Montreal was a superb display of both Kubica’s skill and the car’s pace. And to complete BMW Sauber’s dream weekend Heidfeld made it a one-two, thrusting the team to within three points of the constructors’ championship lead.

Understandably, everyone wanted a slice of their performance and BMW-inspired design details, including their nosecone ‘delta winglets’, sprouted on cars up and down the pit lane. In addition, slowly but surely, Heidfeld managed so solve his qualifying woes and close the gap to his team mate. As he did so, however, the pace of the F1.08 itself seemed to slacken, the team apparently unable to match the late-season development pace of their rivals.

Following a luckless Hungarian Grand Prix, BMW Sauber first lost their second place in the standings, and as the end of season approached they gradually began to lose sight of Ferrari and McLaren. They continued to enjoy podiums, taking five after their Canada win, but generally their later revisions brought little gain to their car’s performance.

Had the team thrown away their best chance to win a championship, in favour of greater glory in 2009? Should they have focused exclusively on maximising the F1.08’s potential, rather than switching resources to its successor? It’s hard to say. Kubica, who was still in contention for drivers’ title, was critical and became increasingly frustrated. He ended the year with a string of (relatively) disappointing results, which saw him miss out on third in the championship to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

His fourth, however, was a personal best and the team (with Heidfeld’s growing help, of course) still netted a comfortable third in the constructors’ championship with an impressive 135 point haul. Plus, having started their 2009 programme so early, they are already looking strong for next season. They raised more than a few eyebrows at the recent Barcelona test, running the most complete looking ’09 hybrid, and their devotion to KERS has been well documented. Indeed, BMW Sauber look well-placed to secure a more permanent footing at the front in 2009.