The big day is fast approaching: the Formula One World Championship season is about to take off – and with it the new BMW Sauber F1 Team. Drivers Nick Heidfeld, Jacques Villeneuve and Robert Kubica, who as test and reserve driver will be at the wheel of the third BMW Sauber F1.06 in free practice on Fridays, are all poised in the starting blocks.
BMW had announced a major shift in its Formula One involvement on 22 June 2005. 262 days later, on Sunday, 12 March 2006, the first BMW-run Formula One team will celebrate its premiere. 17 January saw the roll-out in Valencia of the first BMW Sauber F1.06 powered by a BMW P86 V8 engine. Since 8 February, the second new chassis has been undergoing testing. The BMW Sauber F1.06 has completed 20 days of testing in Barcelona, Imola, Jerez and Valencia. All three drivers have piloted the new car, clocking a total of 9,950 test kilometres.
“Bahrain is hosting the curtain-raiser for the first time. That’s something very special, and I think it will be reflected in the atmosphere of the event. They say ticket sales are high. What’s special about the circuit is quite simply that it’s in the desert. It means the track surface is always very sandy and dirty at the start, which results in very little grip. Lap times only improve gradually. Record temperatures such as the 42 Celsius we had last year are probably not on the cards for 2006, so the race won’t be quite such a strain.”
“The Bahrain circuit is an average to high-speed track. It demands high aerodynamic efficiency and a good engine for the long straight. We did a lot of testing over the winter and I feel pretty confident. I’m desperately looking forward to my first race after a long gap and I can’t wait to see what the competition is like. It’s hard to make any predictions, but my guess is that Renault and Honda will be in the lead to start with, possibly followed by McLaren and Ferrari, and then a group of closely bunched teams. We will probably be in with that group.”
“Bahrain is one of the hottest races of the year, and on top of that the first race is always the hardest one physically. So for sure it will be tough for the drivers and for the cars. Some teams have been testing on the Bahrain track recently, which means that they will have a big advantage. The track itself is fun and not too physical muscularly. We will cope with the heat, we are ready for that. We have done a lot of winter testing, much more than one year ago, which is very positive. However, it’s time to start. I’m really looking forward to the first race, because this is what it’s all about.”
“I’m looking forward to a very, very interesting weekend. It will certainly be a steep learning curve for me, but it also means attending a race for the first time since 1995 without actually taking part. I know ten of the 18 grand prix circuits – all the European ones plus Sao Paulo. That means I’ve got three new circuits lined up right from the start. So far I’ve always managed to learn the circuits easily. I only know the Bahrain track from television and computer games, which I really enjoy, although they hardly teach you more than the track layout.”
“I’m really looking forward to my new task and will do everything I can to provide the team with valuable information. I’ll be learning a lot, not just in terms of the car and driving: I will also experience how the team operates on a GP weekend.”
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director
“Since the starting shot was fired for the new BMW Sauber F1 Team, eight months have passed. In this short development time we have been working very efficiently. We have integrated the Munich and Hinwil sites, got the expansion project under way, signed up our drivers, found strong partners and sponsors, got an interim vehicle up and running and then the BMW Sauber F1.06. After an intensive winter testing programme, our drivers have given the car the thumbs up. The engineers are also convinced that a major leap has been made compared to the previous year. We can say that things are looking good at this stage of development. What our achievements so far will look like on the race track we don’t yet know. We aren’t expecting any miracles to happen; we just want to make the most of our possibilities and advance step by step.”
“In terms of the technical regulations, the switch from V10 to V8 engines is the biggest change. Along with all the other engine manufacturers, that is going to keep us on our toes beyond the start of the season. In the first grand prix races in particular, reliability will play a crucial role. From a commercial point of view, Formula One’s move to the Middle East is a welcome one in particular for BMW as a premium manufacturer. In 2005, BMW recorded a growth in sales of around 25 percent in Bahrain. The whole team is looking forward to Bahrain and being able to take first stock.”
Willy Rampf, Technical Director Chassis
“During our winter test drives, we notched up almost 10,000 kilometres with the BMW Sauber F1.06. Now things are getting quite exciting because we all want to know how we measure up to the competition. On the Saturday after qualifying in Bahrain we will have a first important indicator. The new regulations, which allow for tyre changes again, will place a far greater focus on preparations for qualifying. Last year it was tyre consistency over the entire race distance that was crucially important; now performance in qualifying has returned to the forefront.”
“Robert Kubica will play an important role as our number three driver. On Friday morning he will already be able to make the first comparisons and feed us valuable information with regard to tyre choice. In Bahrain we will be driving the car in hot temperatures for the first time, which will put the hardware under considerable strain. With the return of tyre changing, the race will once more present a bigger challenge for the team as a whole. That includes the strategists, who will again have far more freedom in plotting the race tactics thanks to the rule changes. Whereas in 2005 lap times speeded up towards the end of each stint, we will now be seeing the best lap times immediately after the pit stops to pick up fresh tyres. That opens up new possibilities which will inject the races with an extra dose of excitement.”