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Mario Theissen Q&A - BMW evaluating potential team buyers 20 Aug 2009

Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 24 April 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.09.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 25 July 2009 (L to R): Peter Sauber (SUI) BMW Sauber F1 Team Adviser with Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1; Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal and Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 3 April 2009 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.09.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 25 July 2009 Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 28 March 2009

There had been speculation about BMW’s withdrawal from Formula One racing for some time, but when it became reality two days after the Hungarian Grand Prix it still came as quite a shock. Now the quest to secure the future of the team and its employees is paramount - and some good results at the remaining seven races would definitely help things along. Team principal Mario Theissen says that everybody is one hundred percent committed to completing 2009 with their heads held high...

Q: Mario, how do you imagine the rest of the season will develop for the team? And what about the 2010 car? Obviously you have already started working on it…
Mario Theissen:
We will keep on working on this year’s car as planned, as results are the best argument for a possible buyer. And in regards of next year’s car, as long as we are looking for a solution for the team we will be continuing with the development work.

Q: How painful was the decision to withdraw from Formula One racing for you personally?
MT:
If this is painful for me or not is not up for debate this very moment. We have the decision and we now have to focus on the team - the people in Munich and especially those working in Hinwil - to find the best scenario possible for them.

Q: What options for the future of the team are on the table at the moment?
MT:
Priority has been the search for a partner who will invest in the team and keep it up and running. Another possible scenario is to use the Hinwil department as a development base for BMW, but also for external use.

Q: Development base for what?
MT:
Formula One cars could be developed there, but also other motorsport projects are possible. Also automotive lightweight construction or aerodynamics, as Hinwil is a centre of excellence with outstanding installations and top class engineers.

Q: When you say that you are looking for a buyer, what kind of qualities do you expect from a possible candidate?
MT:
I cannot speak about details but negotiations are taking place. There are many interested parties and the spectrum goes from simply inquiries to very professional approaches on how the team could be run. It is not only the financial issue, but also important is how the team would be structured and how a possible handover could be orchestrated. We are in the middle of an evaluation process.

Q: How difficult is it to keep up the motivation when many staff members probably fear losing their jobs?
MT:
At no point have I had the feeling that motivation was lost after the withdrawal announcement. This was one of the most impressive experiences after the decision was made. We all in the team know that the best argument for a new owner would be to raise our game - but that also goes for the respect that the team seeks in the public eye.

Q: Has the FIA set you a date for an application for the 13th team slot for 2010?
MT:
Not that I’m aware of.

Q: What does BMW’s withdrawal signal for the BMW brand?
MT:
I think we have to separate the sport view from BMW as a car manufacturer. And we have to separate recent occurrences from long-term paradigms and decisions. In the press conference the board said that the long-term strategy of the company was the reason for the decision. But such a decision is never made based upon one parameter only: first we have the new strategy for the company - for sure, not something that will happen overnight, but in the long run was the main reason - then there was the performance issue, the financial subject, and then, as the actual trigger, the need to commit at a fixed date for three years. You could argue that if we were leading the championship right now the decision would not have been made at that time - and should we have won the championship it very likely would have been made then. The new long-term strategy of the company was indeed the main factor for the decision to withdraw.

Q: Is Formula One racing so unimportant for the BMW brand that the board came to such a decision. That must leave all supporters of the team baffled…
MT:
I also come from the sporting side and see that aspect as very important. But if you look at the press coverage of the last three weeks then we naturally have that aspect from the side of the sport but from an economic view the decision was applauded. The share price went up and the commentaries in the economic papers were positive throughout. You always have to look at the whole picture.

Q: But when focusing on the financial issue, the new cost-saving initiatives will allow companies to run a team at a percentage of what it invests now. In a best-case scenario a Formula One team could become a profit centre. Is the decision to quit not taking away a source of income?
MT:
No, I don’t see it that way. I don’t believe that it ever would become a profit centre. True, the costs, which have already decreased substantially over the last couple of years, will decrease even further - Formula One definitely will become more affordable - but a profit centre, no, at least for manufacturers.

Q: A decision like that is not something that comes overnight. Were you personally surprised?
MT:
Yes, I was surprised. True, there have been discussions within the company, but as I said before it was the concurrence of a number of factors that led to that decision at that time. The trigger was the postulation to commit for three years.