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Exclusive Theissen Q&A: Heidfeld will run KERS, Kubica won’t 26 Mar 2009

Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009 BMW Sauber F1.09 in scrutineering. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009 Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, 31 October 2008

When an unexpected challenger appears on the scene it always triggers suspicion, and during the final tests of the winter break, Brawn’s BGP001 has certainly been making waves. As a result, in Melbourne four teams, including BMW Sauber, have protested the legality of the car. But team principal of the German-Swiss squad, Mario Theissen, has more on his hands this weekend. With driver Robert Kubica opting to run without KERS because of the minimum weight regulations, while team mate Nick Heidfeld races with the new technology, Theissen has another cause to champion…

Q: BMW Sauber has been criticized over the winter for its determination to run KERS this season. Why have you been so steadfast?
MT:
Our position regarding KERS is unchanged. We think basically the approach of the FIA to limit technical development in areas which are not relevant for future road cars, and on the other hand to spend money on true innovations, is the right attitude and approach. We supported that approach from the very first day and KERS is really the first area which really positions Formula One as a technology pioneer. There’s already been a real technology transfer from Formula One to future road cars at BMW so we think it is good for BMW. But we also think that it is good for the sport because it repositions Formula One and will send a strong message to the outside that we are doing something meaningful in these times. That is why I think it is a bit short sighted to only look at the cost side. Apparently KERS development has cost some money but not as much as I read in some publications and definitely not as much as we have previously saved on the engine side.

Q: Half of the teams said that they will not run it at the first fly-away races because of either technical problems or because they think that they are faster without it. What will BMW Sauber do in Melbourne?
MT:
It is a really tricky situation. Our KERS is ready to race but we have to look at the performance of the entire package. Due to the regulations, which require a minimum weight, a big driver is penalized, which is not a KERS issue. We have seen many drivers trying to lose weight over the winter, which is something that we don’t really like. We’d rather support the increase of the minimum car weight. In our team it has led to the situation that here in Melbourne Nick will drive with KERS and Robert will not. In the future we will decide on a race-by-race basis based on the track characteristics.

Q: Robert is not too happy about KERS. He feels handicapped due to his weight. As a consequence of that, have you proposed the overall weight allowance be raised...
MT:
This is something that would not cure the problem of taller and heavier drivers because the problem was not caused by KERS, but it got worse due to KERS. If you have 50 kilos of ballast with a light driver and 40 with a heavy driver you can live with that situation. But if you have 10 kilos with a light driver and zero with a heavier one then he has no chance to balance the car.

Q: Any regulations change to do with the overall weight of the car could only be introduced for 2010. Does that mean someone like Robert will be penalized this season?
MT:
I don’t think for the entire season. There will be tracks where even for Robert it will make sense to run KERS. But it is correct, and it was true before KERS, that a big driver is penalized, as a small driver always has more ballast to play with - with or without KERS.

Q: The Formula One teams have proposed far-reaching measures to reduce costs, and now the FIA has launched their £30 million per year budget-cap initiative. Is this now a contest to see who can come out with the lowest figure?
MT:
Not from our side. I think we are taking a responsible approach to really cut costs in a significant way but also in a sustainable way, as you will always need a transition period. We could even imagine a budget cap, although the cap size has to be agreed between the teams and the FIA. But what we absolutely do not like is the thought of a 'League A' and a 'League B' in Formula One. I would not come up with any figure right now, but should we really get a budget cap I would prefer to discuss it within FOTA because apparently the teams are all in a different position. So far we have achieved unity between all the teams on all issues, but this would be a tricky one. But I am confident that we would come to a conclusion which would be feasible.

Q: Do you think it possible to run a team on £30 million per year?
MT:
It is definitely possible. But such a team would look very different from what we have today, and the question is: would that still be Formula One?

Q: This FIA initiative is in part a response to worries that, if costs remain the same, more of the manufacturer teams would be disbanded. How do you see that fear?
MT:
It might be, yes. But I have to say, to split Formula One in two different categories would definitely not help a manufacturer justify their engagement.

Q: Everybody in Formula One racing is here to win. So it should be logical that the driver with the most wins should win the championship. Why are the teams so resistant to that idea?
MT:
We think that the incentive to win races should be increased, so we are in line with that. This is why we made the proposal to give the winner more points. This would make it easier to understand for everybody, because you still have only one criterion - the points - but you make sure that winning is rewarded in the right way.

Q: Now let’s come back to what this is all about - racing. Melbourne has always been a somewhat turbulent race. In the past Nick has done quite well here, while Robert has been dogged by bad luck. What will it be this time?
MT:
Well, we were on the podium last year, so we want to be there again. Of course!