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Exclusive interview - BMW Sauber’s Mario Theissen 15 Apr 2008

Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Qualifying Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 22 March 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 14 April 2008. World © Hartley/Sutton (L to R): Willi Rampf (SUI) BMW Sauber Technical Director with first time pole sitter Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 and Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Saturday, 5 April 2008 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2008 and Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Sunday, 6 April 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1 celebrates his second position on the podium.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008

So far this season BMW Sauber are in the pink. After experiencing rosy times at each of the opening three races, the German-Swiss team have already enjoyed a trio of podium finishes, a fastest lap honour in Malaysia and a maiden pole position in Bahrain.

The squad’s progress - and lead in the constructors’ standings - has certainly given BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen more than enough to smile about. And if, as the saying goes, the meek really do inherit the earth, then Ferrari and McLaren should be on their guard….

Q: The first three races are over and BMW Sauber have an astounding balance sheet, with the team currently leading the constructors’ championship. Would you say it is a well-deserved position?
Mario Theissen:
The fact is we have been on the podium at all three races, for the first time Nick (Heidfeld) clocked the fastest race lap in Malaysia, Robert (Kubica) was on pole position in Bahrain - the first ever for the BMW Sauber F1 Team - and as a consequence we have 30 points in the constructors’ championship. This was not a free ride - we worked very hard for it. But the fact is also that this standing is nothing more than a snapshot. Ferrari still run the fastest cars, but we are on a promising track.

Q: Robert’s pole in Bahrain made history for the team. Did you expect your qualifying pace to be so competitive so early in the season?
MT:
This was not foreseeable, especially when you consider our roll-out woes in Valencia in mid-January. The aftermath was the first major test for our still young team. But we kept our eyes on our goal and consequently proceeded with our plan. Performance data and driver statements were synchronised, causes analysed and a package of measures adopted. It proved successful. This pole in Bahrain indicates another cornerstone in our efforts and that it happened at such an early stage in the season was the icing on the cake. Since the launch of the F1.08 we have not only added pace to the car, but in those eight weeks since the launch to the season opener in Australia, we have learned more than in a whole season. Looking back it was a very prolific and highly motivating period. My compliments go to (technical director) Willy Rampf and the whole team as, even though they were under pressure, they never caved in.

Q: Assuming Ferrari are still the preeminent force on the grid, do you believe there has been a change for second position? Has BMW Sauber outrun McLaren?
MT:
The race in Australia was a debacle for Ferrari but since then they recovered their dominance and are the ultimate benchmark at the moment. Behind them, the situation is tight. Let me put it this way - last year we were the third power after the two top teams Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes. Now, after three races, we are one of the three top teams - this is a significant difference.

Q: Will it be a three-horse race for the championship?
MT:
This is our goal, but for a substantiated prognosis, it’s still too early. The race in Barcelona will see all the teams operating with a modified aero package and this can lead to a change in the pecking order.

Q: You have said that the unconventional approach BMW Sauber has taken with the design of the F1.08 has paid off, but that the gamble could have backfired. When did you know you had chosen the right road for success?
MT:
It is not possible to pinpoint that to a specific date as it is a continuous process. The F1.08 is a major step forward compared to our car last year. We pushed the edge in aerodynamics especially, leaving familiar terrain behind us. This holds chance and risk - and in our case, it did not work at first. The data gained from the first tests helped us to identify weaknesses in our concept and to eliminate them step by step. As a side effect, it sharpened our development process.

Q: Both your drivers have come close to the first step of the podium and you have said that you still have something up your sleeve. When will we hear either the German or Polish national anthem playing after the chequered flag?
MT:
If one could predict that, Formula One would be bland, wouldn’t it? In any case, we will do our utmost to have the respective anthem played as soon as possible.

Q: Will some of the aces up your sleeve be introduced at next week’s Barcelona test?
MT:
As I said before, at the start of the European season in Barcelona all teams will have undergone a development process - so will we. We are confident that our actions will prove successful.

Q: Based on the data you have gained from the first three races, what areas of the car need to be improved?
MT:
It always has to be an improvement of the whole package, but naturally the emphasis will be on the aerodynamics as there lies the biggest potential for enhancement. But we will also focus on the precise tuning of mechanical components.

Q: Another result of this profitable season is that Robert and Nick are no longer considered ‘lucky’ to be in the points. Has this made any difference to the way BMW’s management views their investment in Formula One racing?
MT:
BMW’s Formula One commitment was always planned long term. So it wouldn’t go astray in good or bad times. What is important is the attitude to stay realistic at all times. Our board of directors not only stands out due to its immense competence, but also due to its passionate sportsmanship. And it goes without saying that we all get pleasure from looking at our present balance sheet!