Exclusive Q & A - Mario Theissen 02 Aug 2005
BMWs acquisition of Sauber will change the face of the Formula One paddock next season when the German carmaker joins Ferrari, Renault and Toyota as the sports fourth manufacturer team. Competing against them will be four private teams - Williams, Red Bull, Jordan, and Minardi - plus the McLaren-Mercedes and BAR-Honda partnerships.
We spoke to BMW Motorsport Director Dr. Mario Theissen to find out the reasons behind the Sauber purchase and what he hopes the new venture will bring that the companys Williams alliance couldn't.
Q: The purchase of Sauber is a bold statement for Formula One. What was the motivation behind this move at BMW?
Mario Theissen: The realignment of our Formula One strategy is based on two insights. Firstly the influence of the engine on the winning potential of the overall package has diminished. The car, tyres and drivers play a greater role than they used to. Secondly, an optimal overall package can only be achieved with a fully integrated team and coherent processes throughout. For the past five years we pushed with Williams but never felt that we fully accomplished. That was when we started to evaluate the option to create our own team - to have full control of all success factors.
Q: How about the cultural synergy between a large organisation like BMW and a much smaller one like Sauber?
MT: BMW Motorsport is a special operation within the company. There are close links to the road car side regarding access to know how and technology exchange but it has F1 measures. It will not be implementing Sauber into a huge corporation structure but rather a meltdown of two almost similar outfits.
Q: It is no secret that the Williams relationship has deteriorated. Do you think that can improve over the remainder of the season and that you can have an amicable farewell?
MT: There is still one third of the season to go and Frank (Williams) and myself are pushing very hard to close the gap to the frontrunners. Success is the best way when it comes to a goodbye. We want to finish the partnership on a high, not on a low. And we are all working very hard to achieve this.
Q: Will BMW install its own people at Sauber and how will BMW integrate Sauber into the BMW organization?
MT: The excellent workforce at Sauber was one of the arguments to go together. We sure will recruit inside BMW to support the F1 team - we are looking for aerodynamicists to be able to run the state-of-the-art wind tunnel in three shifts - but we sure will not wave huge paycheques in the paddock to hire from other teams. I would estimate that we will grow in the months to come but it will be an organic growth. The factory in Hinwil will continue to be operated as a legally independent Swiss company linked to BMW Motorsport.
Q: What role will you play in the new outfit?
MT: This is not the time to speculate about positions. First we have to take up the work - then establish structures and then we can start to think about individual tasks. This goes for management as well as for drivers.
Q: Why did this deal take so long to consummate. There were already rumours in February that the deal had been done?
MT: These were all rumours. At the end of last season we started to look into options for our strategy in Formula one. But it was not until the first quarter of this year that the idea of a BMW-managed team came on the table. In the second quarter we evaluated the situation. The announcement was made 10 hours after the ink on the contract was dry.
Q: What will be the name of the team?
MT: We are in the middle of a process to create the team's new corporate identity. We have some ideas under what entity the team will run - but so far these are only ideas. At the beginning of next year we will present the new team with its drivers, the name and the new livery of the car.
Q: There were suggestions that leading Williams sponsors might try to jump ship and join the new BMW team. How is the sponsor situation and what will the financial structure be?
MT: When the decision for the acquisition was made it was clear that BMW would be prepared to put up the team with its own financial resources. But I am telling no secret that sponsors are warmly welcomed - but that is a fact with every team in F1.