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The story so far - BMW Sauber's mid-season report 30 Jun 2009

Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.09. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday 19 June 2009. Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.09.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.09.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009

BMW Sauber’s fall from grace this season has been well documented. Having finished ‘best of the rest’ behind Ferrari and McLaren in 2008, the German-Swiss team were hoping to take another step forward in ’09 and fight for the title.

However, they have been sorely disappointed and with few signs of imminent improvement currently languish near the foot of the table with eight points. Here’s the story of their campaign so far…

BMW Sauber
World championship points: 8
Best qualifying result: 4th (x1)
Best race result: 2nd (x1)

2009 was meant to be BMW Sauber’s year. In 2006 they wanted points and got them, in 2007 the goal was podium finishes and they got two, and in 2008 their hopes for a maiden victory was satisfied by Robert Kubica in Canada. This season was to be their best chance yet to fight for the world championship, but instead of tasting glory they’ve plummeted down the order, with an average of just one point per race leaving them eighth in the standings.

During pre-season testing the F1.09 had looked quick and reliable, with drivers Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld publically extolling its virtues. There were even mutters that the team were playing down their performance to take the frontrunners by surprise in Melbourne. As the season got underway, however, the car’s inadequacies became clear for all to see.

The best they could muster in Australia was tenth and 14th, while the Brawns and Toyotas stole the headlines. And aside from Heidfeld’s lucky podium in Malaysia, the team have clocked up just three other top-ten finishes. It’s all a far cry from where they were this time last year, when they had 74 points after eight races.

BMW Sauber have since admitted that they missed a trick by focusing on KERS (which they have now abandoned) over aerodynamics. They were slow coming up with their own version of the Brawn/Toyota/Williams double diffuser and were hit hard when the FIA declared the device legal. To their credit, the team have taken considerable steps to halt the decline, and BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen has stridently refused to write-off their 2009 campaign.

At the recent Turkish Grand Prix, where they ran their first version of the two-tier diffuser, there were some signs of a change for the better, with Kubica scoring his first points of the season. But the intensive and ongoing development has so far failed to make enough of a difference. The drivers’ confidence in their steed has steadily waned and at the last race at Silverstone they both finished a lap down. Kubica and Heidfeld want more pace and they want it now.

Battle of the team mates - Robert Kubica v Nick Heidfeld
Qualifying: Kubica (6-2)
Race: Heidfeld (5-3) Kubica retired in Malaysia and Monaco
Points: Heidfeld 6, Kubica 2

Last year Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were competing for points and podiums - in 2009 the duo has struggled to make it into the top ten. In light of his storming performance in 2008, many expected Kubica to upstage Heidfeld again. But the reality has played out very differently. Kubica’s larger frame left him at a disadvantage in a car designed around KERS and while he has enjoyed more qualifying success, it’s Heidfeld who has performed better on Sundays, clinching the team’s only podium and two further top-ten finishes to the Pole’s one. But with the car struggling so much, it is hard to determine who really holds the advantage. Rather than beating their team mate, by far the biggest challenge both face over the coming races will be to eek more out of the F1.09.

In summary - with a world of work left to make the F1.09 even half the car its predecessor was, should BMW Sauber shelve their 2009 campaign and focus on 2010?