Interview with BMW Sauber’s Mario Theissen
BMW Sauber have made a successful start to the 2007 world championship. Nick Heidfeld has recorded three fourth places and Robert Kubica a sixth position, putting the team on 18 points and leaving them lying third in the constructors' standings. BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen looks back on the season so far...
Q: How would you rate the team's progress after three races?
Mario Theissen: For this season we set ourselves the goal of halving our gap to the leading cars once again, having made a similar improvement last year. We have hit this target in the first three races of the season, and in Bahrain we narrowed the margin even further. We have established ourselves firmly as the third-strongest team on the grid, exceeding our expectations. I'm particularly pleased that the gap to the teams in front is smaller than our advantage over the cars behind. We've made it into Q3 with something to spare at each GP, and the 18 world championship points we've collected in the three races is already equal to half our total for the whole of 2006. So, all in all things are looking very positive at this point.
Q: Do you think the team will soon be celebrating its maiden victory?
MT: We made an excellent start to the season, but we need to remain realistic. As things stand, there is still a gap between us and Ferrari and McLaren. Nick's overtaking move on Fernando Alonso in a straight fight during the Bahrain GP was a great moment, and it has surprised us slightly as well that we've been able to put the favorites under this kind of pressure so soon. Needless to say, we will not be resting on our laurels, but it is important to take one step at a time. Our primary aim is to secure some podium finishes, but winning our first race is next on the list.
Q: What can you do now to further close the gap on the leaders?
MT: The teams in Munich and Hinwil are doing some outstanding work in what is our second development year. The workforce in Hinwil is up from 275 previously to just over 400 at the last count. We have a three-shift system in place in the wind tunnel and our new supercomputer Albert2 is up and running. We will have reached our target of 430 employees by the end of the year. And then there is the new factory, which is scheduled for completion in time to have us operating at full power come the start of the 2008 season.
Q: How has the team dealt with the switch to the standard Bridgestone tires?
MT: The switchover has generally required less adjustment than we expected, both for the drivers and for the engineers. Nevertheless, tires continue to play a key role when it comes to delivering maximum performance at all times. We have already significantly expanded our knowledge base with the tires, but we are constantly learning more. There is not much to choose between the cars on the grid, and the smallest details can make the difference between success and failure.
Q: How pleased are you with the two drivers?
MT: Nick is right at the top of his game. He has put in top-class performances in all three races so far and has been rewarded with three fourth places. He has done everything we could ask of him. Robert had some bad luck in Melbourne when he was forced to retire from fourth place, and things didn't go too well for him in Malaysia either. And so it was all the more important that he was able to pick up his first points of the season in Bahrain. He is still struggling slightly with the handling of the car, but I'm sure that we can work together to iron out the difficulties.
Q: Why have you not yet given Nick Heidfeld a contract extension?
MT: Both Nick and the team are currently delivering outstanding performances and are working really well together. So from that angle, there is no reason for either of us to be looking elsewhere for alternatives. At the same time, though, there's no rush to sort things out. We are speaking with Nick, of course, but we won't be giving any progress reports. We will make a decision before the end of the season and then announce that decision in due course.
Q: Have the reliability issues been fully resolved?
MT: We set ourselves exacting targets in the development of the F1.07 which pushed us to the limit of what was technically possible. The complexity of the Quick Shift Gearbox presented us with a particularly tough challenge, but it is one that we have gradually mastered. Robert's retirement in Melbourne was caused by a material defect in a gearshift component. We reacted quickly and introduced a modified part for the test in Sepang, which allowed us to solve the problem. In the meantime, we have also carried out some fine-tuning to the gear-changing under race conditions.