Are BMW championship contenders?

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Nick Heidfeld, Heikki Kovalainen, Bahrain, 2008, 470150

When Robert Kubica put his BMW second on the grid at Melbourne I asked just how fast are BMW – and quite a few of you were cautious not to predict big things for them on the strength of one qualifying performance.

Now three races in they’ve had their first pole position and are leading the constructors’ championship – although they haven’t won a race yet. F1’s other two big teams – McLaren and Ferrari – disagree over how much of a threat BWM are.

Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali reckons:

[Robert] Kubica did a very nice, positive race. On the podium he told me he struggled a bit when dealing with the oil in the first corners. But the pace he and BMW have deserves respect. He is a driver who I believe will be in the title fight until the end.

Lewis Hamilton, who’s had his share of run-ins with Kubica, would probably agree with that assessment. But his McLaren boss Ron Dennis is cool on BMW’s prospects:

I think that we respect all competitors and [BMW are] doing a better job than they’ve done at any other time in their involvement in F1.

But it is when we get to Europe that the R&D and speed of manufacture starts to make a difference. We’ll be very strong and I’m not at all unduly worried about the future. It will be a fight right through the season.

That may be the case but BMW clearly beat McLaren in the last two races. At the very least I think they can be a ‘real’ second in the constructors’ championship this year. But I’m not sure they’re quick enough yet to beat Ferrari.

Do you think BMW can win races and challenge for the championship this year?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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56 comments on “Are BMW championship contenders?”

  1. In a word, no.

  2. In another word, yes.

  3. In a third word, maybe. If Ferrari and McLaren keep alternating with each other and alternating their successes with rubbish weekends, then BMW would sail through the middle and become champions. If either Ferrari or McLaren stabilises their bad days though, BMW’s challenge will keel over.

  4. Not enough to beat Ferraris, but maybe enough to fight with Mclaren.

    P.S.  look at the video i have posted three articles before. really interesting

  5. They are edging Mclaren right now, so why Mclaren can and they don’t? The problem is that BMW didn’t won any race yet, so people are playing them down, but if they can… Then they will be there!

  6. I said at the begining of the season that Kubica was my driver for this year, and I still believe he’ll fight for it until the last race. And I think BMW might not have the structure that McLaren and Ferrari have, but the drivers are a perfect pair, much better than the other two pairs. It’s not like Raikkonnen REALLY cares, he’s just having fun, and Massa cares a lot, too much, so he pushes it beyond his limits and always screws up. And both of them seem to be erratic when setting up their cars. They do marvelous races and crappy races. Kovalainen and Hamilton are rookies, and that’s the truth. Good rookies, but rookies. And I insist – Ferrari’s edge was Schumacher, who knew how to set up a darned car. And he was only matched by Alonso, who’s now back on mark zero. That’s why BMW is catching up – no Schumacher or Alonso for Ferrari or McLaren. I really hope Renault and Red Bull and Williams can prove me right and give one step closer to the "big teams" also.

  7. No. 

    I actually quite like BMW, I like the way they’ve gone about quietly building the team and working their way up to the top.  I particularly liked the fact that last year they weren’t really interested in second place, instead feeling that it wasn’t *truly* earned.

    BMW are only where they are now because the other two teams (and this includes both cars and drivers) have been less ‘reliable’.  I don’t feel that they have the raw pace yet (Kubica was light on Sunday) to beat the other two.  Once (and this assumes they can) the other two stop dropping silly points (e.g. Massa spinning off, the McLaren grid place penalties and Hamilton’s rather dozy Bahrain efforts) BMW will fall back a little and we’ll see them taking up their role in (a much improved) third place.  I see this year will be for them as 1996 was for McLaren.  Next year could be very different.

  8. Clive, Clive…  BMW beat McLaren, a definite maybe, and I hope they do. But they have no REALISTIC chance of challenging Ferrari this year. You can dream and believe all you want, but it ain’t gonna happen. 

  9. You can count on Massa spinning off and Kimi sleeping at the wheel, Green Flag.

  10. FLIG – Let’s compare notes on November 3, OK?

  11. Alianora has a point… I just wanna add that, with the current pointscoring system, BMW will be a real contender, even without Ferrari’s or McLaren’s pace, if the leading teams have three or four DNFs during the season, which is unlikely, but not impossible…

    As for BMW matching their pace, or at least McLaren’s, in the long term, only time will tell…

  12. i dont think bmw can challenge both ferrari and mclaren for the championship, as great schumi said they will fade away in midseason.

  13. FLIG, you make some very good points, but I would not exactly classify the McLaren drivers as rookies anymore. Still, I think McLaren and Ferrari do lose a bit from not having the tech feedback provided by Schumi or Fernando. The BMW drivers apparently do get along well and compliment each other on and off the track- I don’t hear much about them in the press, but perhaps that’s a good thing.
    As for those of you who suggest that BMW is simply benifiting from McLaren and Ferrari slipping up, the results speak for themselves. If BMW has performed more consistently than McLaren over these 3 races, then they have the better team at this point. I like McLaren and respect Ferrari, but fans just coming into the sport, such as myself, don’t want to see just two teams at the top of the stadings.
     Perhaps BMW can’t yet match the raw speed of the traditional frontrunners, but they’ve been the most consistent, and that’s why they currently sit in first place. Perhaps the power teams will start to dominate after they make adjustments, but maybe BMW will make adjustments and stay in the fight.
    Will BMW keep it up? I sure hope so.

  14. Green Flag, Green Flag, you assume that because Ferrari has the best car at two races, that will last all season.  Dangerous assumption – just look at last year.  So far this year, BMW have had the second quickest car at all three races and that means they have been better than both McLaren and Ferrari at least once.

    The difference between us is that I expect them to get better still, you expect that the usual top two will maintain whatever their gap is to the rest from now on.  Even ignoring the driver factor that others have brought into the equation, it is extremely unlikely that one team will have the fastest car at all of the remaining races.  BMW have shown that they are there amongst the big boys already – why is it so difficult to see that they are very likely to hit the front on occasion?

    In fact, I think BMW will improve more than the others throughout the year so that, by the second half of the season, they will have the quickest car at most circuits.  That is a guess based on observation and might or might not prove to be true.  But it would be foolish to discount them at this stage.

    Will they win a race?  Definitely.  Will they challenge for the championship?  Well, they’re leading it already…

  15. Clive –  BMW have been very fortunate these first three races, while Ferrari and McLaren have been particularly unfortunate – I include technical problems, accidents, driver errors and penalties under misfortunes.  Don’t be deceived by BMW’s good performances – others’ misfortune is the only reason they’re leading the constructor standings. However, over the course of the year misfortunes tend to even out and BMW will be relegated to third place, or lower.  As I said before, let’s compare notes on November 3.

  16. It’s a date, Green Flag.  :D

  17. As much as I like three teams fighting for the win, I love the fact that Ferrari and McLaren are superior to BMW (right right, we’ll see the bimmers fade into midseason), why?

    Well, because it really sends a message that the traditional teams, the teams that are not (at least fully) owned by a manufacturer (aka BMW, Honda, Toyota, Ford with Jaguar, etc), can kick their butts at ease.

    BMW? BMW who? This is F1, and manufacurers are still not the best kids in town.

    If only Team Willy could do the same :(

  18. Until BMW can master their setups to take advantage of the Bridgestone’s for race conditions they will not win a race or the title.

    It’s one thing to qualify well, but their race pace seems to fade as their tires grain and/or wear.

  19. Are they contenders?  Ask me after Spain, we’ll have a better idea then.

    Haplo, I think you forgot about Renault’s run in 2005 and 2006.  Also, Ferrari IS owned by a manufacturer (Fiat), the only caveat being that are ALWAYS a racing team first BEFORE a manufacturer.  And there’s always that rumor that Mercedes is about to buy out McLaren any time now…

  20. George, I think they DO have good race pace.  Not excellent yet or great, but good.  Most notable example: Heidfeld set the FL at Sepang towards the end of the race (as well as his stint on his tyres).

  21. They may not have car that is quicker than Ferrari. But all they need is car quicker than McLaren (looks like it at this moment) and more reliable than Ferrari. String of 2nd-3rd places for BMW combined with few DNFs for Ferrari is all that is needed. Just look at the table after first 3 races…

    And when it comes to speed, Kubica was able to match the Ferraris for big part of the Bahrain race. Qualifying on pole is possible for them, that we saw in Australia (P2 after mistake) and in Bahrain (P1). Next step is to keep that P1 beyond the Turn 1 and then anything can happen …

  22. Mario Peeters
    8th April 2008, 7:44

    I think they will replace Mclaren at the top in the next few races but won’t be able to challenge Ferrari. Mclaren won’t be able to keep up developing and will start to miss the technical input of Alonso ( remember once Alonso stepped into the Mclaren it suddenly was a winning car) and you can already see that Hamilton and Heiki do not have the experience to steer the development inthe right direction.

    As for BMW this is not their year yet but I think they want to prove to someone like Alonso that they can provide him with a winning car next year….  Alonso is constantly saying that next year he wants to drive in a car that can win the championship and everybody is linking him to Ferrari but in my view, a BMW & Alonso combination has as much championship winning potiential as Ferrari.

  23. Think about it this way. If Kubica finished every race second with Ferrari and Mclaren (let’s say Lewis and Kimi for the sake of it) swapping between first and third at alternating tracks then Kubica would walk it. Throw Massa and Heiki into the mix for the odd few races and he still has a good chance. What really matters then is how poorly the lower of those two teams are at each race, and whether he can beat just one of the team on top.

    I would suggest that it is possible.

  24. Milos: I completely agree with ya
    Andrew: Interesting and very much possible
    Mario Peeters: Well, last year and at the beginning of this year, we heard a lot of people rubbishing Alonso and what he could have contributed to a team. Hmm, i guess Alonso was right.

  25. @ Mario Peeters – the point about next year is, nobody knows what car will be the race and championship winning car. the new rules and new cars may totally mix up the order we know now … In my opinion the best for each driver for 2009 is to stay put where they are now and see (if teams kee them)…

  26. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    8th April 2008, 9:24

    i dont think so i think they are definitley closaer this year but i dont think kubica would have beaten hamilton had he not smashed into the back of alonso. the front row in oz and the pole in bahrain were because of light fuel loads rather than raw pace. although i think they will definitley mix up the order at the top, i said yesterday id like to see hamilton doing what kubica has been, qualifying lighter to get ahead of the rivals because neither bmw or maclaren has got the pace on the ferrari so they are going to have to try different things if they want to beat them and so far its working for bmw, kubica has had 2 good displays and heidfeld as usual picking up points quietly. i hope they win a race this year but if they do i think it will be because of ferrari and maclaren messing up rather than bmw being quicker

  27. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    8th April 2008, 9:45

    Phil B i think you mean this year for bmw will be like 1997 for maclaren assuming you mean that they will become more competitive as sthe season goes on maybe win a couple of races and then next year have the quickest car.

    as for people saying maclaren only had a winning car because alonso was there last year i think are totally wrong, most teams would have finished designing their cars for the next season months before, i dont think alonso would have had any real input on the design of the car, they might have made a few changes to the car in pre season with advice from alonso but you cant say that alosno was the only reason and i think evdience of that is the fact that surley alonso would have been given advice to the team to make the car better for him, and then hamilton out performed him for the majoriuty of the season

  28. Alonso follower
    8th April 2008, 10:10

    Oh, poor MacLaren. Has anyone noticed? Last year they were consistently beating Ferrari. This year they struggle and have started to hear BMW noise behind.
    Alonso’s contributions to MacLaren team last year were clearly undervaluated. Let’s hope that Renault fixes his problems on time.
    I wait to see Kimi and Fernando battle for the title, while Hamilton is still learning to use the buttons of his driving wheel. Let’s not see Dennis creating a "Fisher Price" version with just one button that says "make this go faster".

  29. To say that Alonso was what made McLaren a fast car is an exaggeration. I’m an Alonso fan, but it took him 2 years to work with Renault to the top. When he got to McLaren he found a good team with a good car, which he added some tenths of performance to. He’s good, not a magician, and though I still believe he’ll help improve Renault again, they’re performing very poorly, which shows he’s not "instant improvement". As to Ferrari x McLaren x BMW, I agree with Clive. What makes everyone think Ferrari and McLaren will improve and BMW will just sit tight and see the gap grow back again? You have to have in mind that they were Sauber not long ago, dreaming of a distant podium. They have been evolving MUCH faster than Ferrari and McLaren, and if the pattern continues, they will soon arrive, go by and leave them eating dust.

  30. I think BMW have a had a great opening to the season, and with Ferrari’s reliability issues and McLaren’s ‘issues’ they stand a great chance of being in the title battle throughout the season. I’m also really interested in everyone’s thoughts on Hamilton and Alonso, could public opinion really be changing about the two of them? Either way it’s shaping up to be a fantastic season!

  31. Alonso Follower: Alonso’s contributions to MacLaren team last year were clearly undervaluated. Let’s hope that Renault fixes his problems on time.

    Is that not a contradiction? Alonso tested the Renault extensively before the season commenced, if he had the talent to make it go faster he would have told Renault what exactly the problems with the car were.

  32. By the way – I don’t read ALL threads in the blog because I sometimes don’t have access to the internet for several days, so maybe this is old news, but: Had anyone seen this:  ?

    No more mechanics being run over by japanese drivers, it seems…

  33. Hi Keith,

    Just wanted to throw in my two bits… and probably give you another point to ponder over… I think Jackie Stewart said that the driver of the race for him was Fisichella… that got me thinking… the actual winner of the race… who is the one person who would have felt really proud of this race? Not Domencialli… but Peter Sauber… think of it all the top four drivers have him in common… and as of last Sunday… all four of them could be the world champ this year… what do you think?

  34. It is much as difficult to foresee if the Flying Lobster BMW goes to be winner or not ( the  prettiest car as Enzo Ferrari would say, because it is the first now)

  35. I don’t think BMW can win with this drivers… the cars are OK.

  36. Harkirat, I agree. Peter Sauber (along with Eddie Jordan, and to a certain extent, Flavio Briatore and Paul Stoddart) were very good judges to talent.  These guys have a knack of knowing who will  be truly competitive in F1.  Quite a talent to have.  :)

  37. BMW might very well be contenders this year, but I think they will be WCC contenders not WDC contenders.

    BMW has shown real pace so far in all the races.  But I think Ferrari will still get the better of both Mclaren and BMW. Ferrari knows how to win, in all the races so far both BMW and Mclaren have had some strange strategies for the races. Like BMW where one driver is on pole and the other in 6th place, and both teams have placed their drivers on strange long stints during the races, with which sometimes seems to be with the wrong tyre choices. BMW’s pace on Sunday wasn’t to far off from Ferrari’s pace, Kubica had a definite chance to finish in second place his pace was there. But still Raikkonen managed to pass him, it just seemed like BMW where outsmarted by Ferrari on Sunday. I get the feeling that BMW are going at this very conservatively, they try to cover all their basis and it seems like they are concentrating more on the WCC at this stage. But as the year progresses they will properly gain more experience.

    Interestingly enough both  Domencialli and Raikkonen feels that BMW will definitely be a thread this year, while Ron Dennis has come out and said that BMW will fall back and not challenge for the championships. So is this a case of being overly cautious or misjudging the enemy?

    Another interesting thing is that so far it has seemed like Maclaren are generating some controversies at almost every race, while BMW and even Ferrari have been keeping relatively quiet and to themselves.

    Time will tell, but so far this is shaping up to be an interesting championship battle. 

  38. i think they have- a fair chance.  they’ve been steadily coming up for 2 seasons now so i don’t think resting on dubious laurels is a habit with them. nor is disorganization.  and let’s not forget the great equalizers: chance and error.

    #26 (name is too long to even copy/paste) the point is hamilton did climb the back of alonso.  and kimi has 1 championship under him not 3 because wings fell off, engines blew up and were any of us feeling too comfortable last year, 3 races from the end in predicting kimi would take that one?  actually, was anyone banking on it even after the last race ended?

    i think both kubica and heidfeld have the head and the talent for it.  and bmw may just have a few surprises for mclaren and ferrari.  what could possibly be wrong with a 3 team battle?   and i mean "team; because they all have strong driver pairings capable of taking on their teammates and everyone else’s., too 

  39. I think BMW will have a chance, and Ron saying that they won’t is proof to me that they are and that he thinks so too. Normally anyone would say something like "we’ll have to see" and "you can never discount anyone", but coming out and saying that you don’t think they will challenge sounds to me like some sort of mind-games, especially after just being beaten.
    I agree with the line of thought that they will definetely challenge McLaren and might even beat them, but that Ferrari is too far for them. But, you should never discount anyone and we’ll have to see ;-)

  40. Could you imagen a BMW+Alonso… That’s a winning formula!

  41. #27, yes you’re right, I did mean 1997.

    I’m surprised there are still people who believe Alonso’s ludicrous claim from last year.  For the record: this time last year McLaren were leading the constructors championship.  Now they are 2 points shy of the lead.  Renault, presumably benefiting from the Alonso magic, have gone from 4th this time last year to…… 6th! 

    Fernanndo Alonso, working the magic.

  42. BMW don´t need to complain about drivers. In my opinion, Kubica and Heidfeld are so good as Alonso or the gap between them is not so significant.

  43. Well, who says that Fernando didn’t brought 6 tenths or more to Renault this year? They have a dog of a car this year, so maybe if it wasn’t for him, Renault would be fighting with Fisichella’s Force India…

  44. Scott Joslin
    8th April 2008, 16:37

    I think if we classify BMW as being potential 2nd place finishers in the champion ship, then yes they can be called contenders. But I doubt they have the last bit of speed needed to win races in the pit stop strategies. BMW will be very close to Mclaren this year, but not a continual threat to Ferrari unless something dramatic happens to the red team. One thing BMW have is consistency something the Ferrari and Mclaren are yet to display and that includes the drivers.

  45. Daniel makes a good point about Fernando bringing some good input to whatever team he is on, and indeed Renault could be at the bottom of the pack if not for some of his work. However, he can’t overhaul the entire thing by himself- last year, in a good car, his input may have been just enough to get McLaren into top form.

    Alonso to BMW? A very interesting deal to be sure, but would BMW  be willing to ditch one of their drivers who apparently work well together to bring in one who is very talented, but could obviously cause a disturbance. Kubica is a rising star in my opinion, and Heidfeld is just whate every team would want- a reliable driver who can bring home points 90% of the time.

  46. Maybe BMW will gather up a win this year, but hoping for Ferrari to stumble is a pipe dream. Mclaren may very well trip themselves up (witness Lewis last weekend) but I can’t see either title for BMW this year. NEXT year is a different story, witness their rapid evolution to date.

    This years car seems to have instability and it may be difficult to extract performance on the remaining tracks. Regardless it will be an entertaining year for us all.

  47. As much as I like Alonso AND BMW, I’d hate to see that pairing. Kubica and Heidfeld are a great pair, and with luck, they coud become a modern version of Mansell-Patresi or Senna-Berger (I’d put my chips on an aged Heidfeld giving an excellent help to a brilliant young Kubica). Also, as I said previously, I know Alonso is not a wizard and Renault is sucking so far, but I bet he can make a bad car turn into a good car, so I’ll always hope that he is an arrogant ******* that no top team will want to have. That way, he will always have to be on secondary teams, maybe improving them to a world title or two, with the team working all around him like he likes. Otherwise, he’ll retire 10 years from now with 2 world titles and a lot of bad memories and enemies.

  48. Definitely challenge for wins and maybe even push hard towards the title but in the end, it’ll be Ferrari or McLaren (probably the former).

    They’ve made a fantastic step forward in the previous couple of years though so next year will be a different story – assuming they can get the new development done properly then they’ll definitely be championship challengers on merit.

  49. Hell Yeah, they are..

  50. Something interesting is: why Alonso always deserves “the best car” more than the other guys?   For example Nick Heidfeld. He is a great and talented driver and tracked the hard way since Sauber until here, to the top BMW team.   Why he should leave his sit to Alonso? C’mon, leave the BMW boys alone, they really deserves a fast car as Alonso deserved last year and threw it away…

  51. As a cold hearted approach to winning, the team principal always needs to sign the best available driver out there. I think Ron espoused this just recently. So, when Nick’s contract comes up and Alonso is available Dr. Mario would be foolish not to give it a serious look, unless he writes off his quirky personality as unmanageable.

    I like Fernando, I’d love to see him race for another title with a top team, I just don’t know if he’s trustworthy after his McLaren escapade in attempting to extort Ron with his emails.

  52. Contenders for championship?? NO But they already made the FL and pole this season for the first time so why not their first victory (in an odd day). They may not win the championship but they could decide the winner. Re pilots, they are a good  pair  but somehow lack the  extra mile. KUB has improve a lot tough.

  53. I think that bmw have been brilliant and getting where they are at this moment – but with the teams coming back after the asian /mid east tour – they have some time to put any lessons learned to extract more speed /reliability before the next round – I would then think that the mclarens would get back to being more competitive against the ferrari’s and as for ferrari missing schummie – wasnt he the fastest driver during winter testing – if so he is still inputting info for them??

  54. BMW certainly would be the team to look upon thus season..this team has the potebtial to give compettition to likes of McLaren And Ferrari!!
    also force India is making a good progress.

  55. maybe but maybe not. to early in season for all this.

  56. I believe it is too early for BMW to be classed as title contenders just yet, but I also believe that they are yet to reach their full potential. I would compare them to the Renault team of 2003 at the moment, or 2004. They are snapping at the heels of McLaren, but are just lacking that extra something to get in amongst the fight.
    My comparison to Renault has a second point, and in that I am comparing Robert Kubica a little to Alonso back in 2003. Five years ago, it was obvious that Alonso and Renault were the up and coming driver/team combination. I believe that BMW Sauber/Robert Kubica, maywell be the driver/team combination of the future.
    My money is on Raikkonen this year, Robert Kubica possibly in 2010 or 2011 to be champion. Unless Fernando dons BMW Sauber white overalls!!!!

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