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Mario Theissen Q&A: Singapore to be season highlight 25 Sep 2008

Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008 BMW Sauber garages.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 after the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 13 September 2008

BMW Sauber might have endured a bit of a tough time lately, but with strong performances at the Belgian and Italian races, all seems back on track for this season’s third-fastest team. BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen looks ahead to this weekend’s Singapore event, considers the possible effects of the economic slump on Formula One racing, and refuses to reveal his '09 driver line-up…

Q: Mario, we have all been looking forward to this Singapore race and now we are here. Is it living up to the anticipation?
Mario Theissen:
Yes, it is a spectacular setting with the skyscrapers and the high rise parts. I walked the track yesterday and it is really different from anything we have seen before. In terms of the track characteristics it’s a bit different from what I expected. When I was here in March I walked the track as well and it looked much quicker in certain areas because you could go straight. And there were some quite difficult areas, especially if you approached the bridge at an angle and then corrected the car - that has been modified significantly. Now it looks like there are quite a few narrow corners. Safety has definitely improved - maybe at the expense of overtaking opportunities. Or definitely at the expense of overtaking opportunities! So that’s a bit different. But all together, and if you go beyond the track, you can feel the hype here in Singapore and really see what they have done. Big companies have been engaged for the weekend, so there is no doubt in my mind that this race will be the highlight of the season.

Q: So Formula One racing made the right decision to come here?
MT:
Absolutely! It is a fantastic event for Formula One. The question mark for me is about the overtaking - just as it was in Valencia. I expected much more in Valencia than actually happened and Valencia is definitely a quicker track than this one.

Q: From what you have seen whilst you walked the track, could the F1.08 perform well?
MT:
I hope I can answer the question on Sunday night. I expect the weather to play a decisive role again this weekend. In this respect I think pit work and race strategy will become more important than the sheer performance of the car.

Q: Renault and Red Bull have called for teams to equalize engine performance. Is this something that should - or can - be done?
MT:
The downside is, if you unfreeze the engines the cost rises will resume immediately. And that would be done on engines which will be used for the next three or four years, so I would be in favour of not spending any money on developing these engines any more - just to keep them in place as they are and in terms or R&D focus on next generation engines. The gap between individual engines is not that big but the topic has been exaggerated lately. I don’t think this is a decisive factor in terms of performance.

Q: Engines were frozen to reduce costs, but the teams just spend money in other areas…
MT:
Well, there is a big difference. If you look at the money we spend on the traditional combustion engine, that has gone down massively. Some of the money saved we are spending now on future projects like KERS. That, in my opinion, makes a lot of sense. We are doing KERS on top of the combustion engine and we are still significantly below the budget we used to have in 2003 or 2004 when we developed the engine, and we raised the Friday, Saturday and Sunday engine. So lots of the budget has come down sharply and only a part - and not a big part - is used on KERS.

Q: What about the calls to develop KERS together in an effort to control the costs?
MT:
We had this discussion early on when the KERS regulation came out - at the end of ’06 I believe. At that point, we advocated to have just one KERS system - one principle that is - either electric or mechanical for all teams. At that time, the FIA preferred an approach of more diverse concepts in order to make as much progress as possible. Then the next discussion was that if it wasn’t to be regulated by the FIA, we should we get together and develop the system jointly. At that point in time we supported that, but there was no majority and no agreement. And now it is too late, because everybody is pushing hard to get their own system on the track. So for 2009 it is not an issue anymore. We have discussed to sit down altogether when we have had our first experiences with our own systems, and then discuss what could be the next step.

Q: Are you worried about the global financial situation?
MT:
This effects the entire world, all branches, all people. Formula One is part of that so it will definitely affect Formula One as well.

Q: Is the team’s budget for next year already secure? When will you start to feel the repercussions of the slowdown?
MT:
I would say that it is different within every individual team. Some have their sponsor budget for next year set already, others are still looking for sponsors. Our budget for next year is defined.

Q: You sat down with Robert Kubica in Monza to talk about his hope that the team continues to push harder…
MT:
I am happy that he wants more and wants to push harder, otherwise he would definitely not win the championship. The question is what can we do, and in what areas can we improve. In my view that is very constructive.

Q: So do you share his concerns?
MT:
Yes. From what we have seen over the past months, we have had a slower development pace - or less of a performance increase - than some of our competitors. But that is not down to us having stopped the program - it’s just what happens in R&D all the time in that sometimes you make a big step forward and sometimes you have some projects which don’t match expectations. Then you sit down again, rethink, try to understand what goes on and redirect the next projects and then you will make the next big step. We are constantly learning, mainly in the area of aerodynamics, and that will be applied to either the final improvements of this car or definitely for next year’s car.

Q: Will the approach to next year’s car be different because of the lessons you have learnt?
MT:
No, the approach has been basically the same, but then apparently everything goes on as you learn it.

Q: And what about the second cockpit for 2009? There have been so many rumours…
MT:
If I were to announce next year’s driver line-up now, the issue would be gone and you would not have anything to write about. But we hope to announce it before - or at - the end of the season.

Q: But Robert’s assertion that he would welcome Fernando Alonso to the team was quite a step forward in that direction…
MT:
I think his assertion was down to the way he was asked. The way the question was put forward…