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Interview - Berger bids farewell to BMW 08 Sep 2003

Gerhard Berger (AUT) Former Grand Prix driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Imola, Italy, 18 April 2003

At this weekend's Italian Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger, one of the best-loved figures in the Formula One paddock, will make his final appearance as Motorsport Director of Williams engine partners BMW.

It was announced at the start of the season that Berger would not be extending his contract with the German manufacturer and the Monza race will bring to a close another successful chapter in the 44-year-old Austrian's illustrious career.

After 14 years as a Formula One driver, a period which included ten grand prix victories and stints with five different teams, Berger took up his post with BMW in October 1998. Since then the Williams team have gone from strength to strength and head to Monza leading the 2003 constructors' championship.

In an interview for BMW, Berger spoke about his decision to say farewell to the sport (at least for now), the differences between life as a driver and as a director, and his plans for the future. The following is an extract from that interview.

Q: In the light of the current performance of the Williams team, it can hardly be said that you are abandoning a sinking ship. So why are you leaving your post as ship's pilot?
Gerhard Berger: Don't they say you should go while the going's good? Seriously, though, I spent a long time struggling with this decision. But in the end I just felt that, for me personally, now is the right time to stop. I just don't want to carry on leading this hectic lifestyle. I want to be able to sit back and find out what is still important to me beyond a job in motorsport, whatever shape that may take. I had a wonderful time as a driver and I've had five great years with BMW. I'm grateful that the company showed enough confidence in me to back me on the entrepreneurial side as well. Working with everyone, first and foremost Mario Theissen, has been an extremely harmonious experience. Whatever I might decide to do professionally, I'm unlikely to find a partner like Mario again. We complement each other so perfectly and I have so much trust in him. We got a lot of things off the ground and had a lot of successes.

Q: If BMW were to win the World Championship again one day, you would no longer be a part of it. Would that cause you any regret?
GB: No, not at all. I would be proud of it. After all, I was involved in setting up the team that is now vying for the championship. I'm convinced the team is ready for the title and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them.

Q: How difficult was it making the switch from driver to director?
GB: The most important aspects were developing a team and company mentality. As a driver you have to be self-centred, but as a team captain that is counter-productive. Mario naturally helped me a great deal in getting used to the down-to-earth corporate way of thinking and the way a major car manufacturer such as BMW is structured. He knows the company and all its workings back to front. I learnt to deal with countless details and parameters which a driver wouldn't give two hoots about.

Q: Can you sit still on the sofa when watching a GP race on television?
GB: That depends. If it's a fairly uneventful race, yes. But these days the races are so exciting that I never get bored watching them from home. And because I know exactly what our strengths and weaknesses are, there are times when I do get a bit nervous.

Q: Which Grands Prix will you miss and what are the destinations you'll be glad not to have to revisit?
GB: My absolute favourite places used to be Rio and Adelaide. Fantastic cities. I also always enjoyed going to Montreal and Budapest. But I was never in a great hurry to get to Magny-Cours.

Q: What have you missed over the last five years?
GB: The same thing that I began missing during my career as a racing driver: time. My life was always completely booked up - every week, every day. And when the prospect of a holiday would eventually come up, I found I'd be thinking about a thousand things to do in that time. I just can't manage to live for the day.

Q: What role did your family play in your decision not to extend your BMW contract?
GB: No active role in the sense that Ana or the children might have said I should give up the job. They know full well that I won't be tied on a leash. But I just want to have more of them. I've missed an awful lot. Over the last few months we've had more time for one another and I can sense what's developing out of that. Even so, it's not enough time.

Q: How much time do you devote to your parents' haulage business in Tyrol?
GB: I saw my parents making a success of the company, and at the moment the whole sector is going through a difficult patch. There are jobs at stake, including those of people I grew up with. From that point of view I'm heavily involved with the haulage company. I see that as a perfectly normal responsibility. But I'm assuming I won't always be needed there. I'm sure I'll never turn into a full-time, thoroughbred haulier.

Q: As you're not one for being idle either, what will you do?
GB: I don't know yet. First I want to see whether or how much I'm going to miss working in motorsport. If I can't cope without Formula One, I'll look around for a suitable task. But there are a number of things beyond the sport that interest me from a business point of view - real estate, for example. I don't need to rush into anything just yet, though. I'm nowhere near feeling anything remotely like sweet boredom.