The teams: BMW (F1 2008)

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Robert Kubica's championship charge came to an end in Shanghai

BMW has marched closer to the front of the F1 field in clear, measurable steps since it took over Sauber at the end of 2005.

They continued that progress in 2008 with their first pole position and first victory. But did they sacrifice performance – and potentially the championships – by prioritising their 2009 car earlier than McLaren or Ferrari did?

On paper, BMW slipped from second in the 2007 constructors’ championship to third in 2008. In reality, their position last year was partly thanks to McLaren’s expulsion. This year they were a solid third, frequently took points off Ferrari and McLaren, and were still in the hunt for the constructors’ championship with two rounds to go.

The year began with some uncertainty over their prospects. BMW’s F1.08 was one of the most aerodynamically complex cars ‘out of the box’, with innovative nose-mounted fins the team dubbed ‘Tomcats’. But it proved troublesome in testing, and it wasn’t until close to the season opener at Melbourne that they really got it dialled in.

Had Robert Kubica not twitched wide onto the dirt during his qualifying lap at Melbourne the team would have started the year with pole position. He started second and ran there for much of the race before being taken out by Kazuki Nakajima.

Two races later, in Bahrain, Kubica delivered the team’s (and his) first pole position. In the race he was overwhelmed by the Ferraris, but BMW had demonstrated its potential to seize any points dropped by the Big Two.

At Montreal an early safety car period played into their hands beautifully. The leading McLaren and Ferrari of Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen collided, and their team mates were out of the picture having had to queue up in the pits. On a track that became more treacherous with every lap, the BMW duo kept their cool and Kubica led Heidfeld to a one-two.

Though BMW’s drivers largely steered clear of the kind of headline-grabbing mistakes many of their rivals made, it became clear as the season progressed that Heidfeld’s qualifying performance was lagging. The team gave him an extra couple of test sessions to work on the problem, and by the end of the season he was even beating Kubica on Saturdays.

Did BMW at this point squander resources on Heidfeld which, had they been expended on Kubica, might have helped him win the drivers’ championship? Kubica’s exhortations after Montreal that the team needed to develop the car more quickly seemed to suggest this was the case.

BMW were also keen to switch focus early to its 2009 challenger. But given how close it came to the two championships this year, could more have been achieved with its 2008 car? This is an easy thing for an ‘armchair expert’ to say, without detailed knowledge of the F1.08’s development process. Plus, BMW could not have known in the middle part of the year that McLaren and Ferrari would throw away so many points at the end of the season.

The consistency of BMW’s progress in recent years has been extremely impressive. Yes, they have excellent resources at Hinwil and no shortage of cash, but you can say they same of the conspicuously less successful Honda and Toyota teams as well.

If they’ve done their sums right, BMW could be season-long title contenders in 2009.

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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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11 comments on “The teams: BMW (F1 2008)”

  1. Wonderful summary; Keith.

    I think the reason why BMW F1.08 wasn’t developed as quickly as its peers were due to the complexity of its aerodynamics. At its launch itself; you could see it was far more intricately developed than any other cars. I think this resulted in the car having a very narrow sweet spot in term of setup (something similar to F2007).

    About switching resources to Heidfeld; I think you cannot leave a senior driver high and dry.. and that move will definitely pay dividends in 2009.

    BMW switched their focus to 2008 fairly early in 2007; and it was a very wise move. They shifted focus to 2009 fairly early as well; I have no doubts that they will get many more wins next year.

  2. In my view, the F1.08 was such an intricate machine right from launch, and maybe possibly, it was reaching the end of its development. And given that BMW had already succeeded in getting their first pole and victory, they moved onto 2009 early.

    I don’t think this decision was a bad idea, BMW have been steadily progressing since the team was taken over. I expect that 2009 will be the same. Helping Heidfeld along will have certainly help too, since Kubica was doing just fine in the car, it allowed Heidfeld to catch up.

  3. Good summary. Problems in pre-season testing looked to signal a difficult season for BMW Sauber, but their CFD supercomputer saved the day in time for Melbourne.

    There were still problems in consistently fielding two competitive cars, with Heidfeld struggling with getting the tyres working in qualifying just as Kubica had in 2007. But BMW wasn’t the only team to struggle in setting up its cars to suit both drivers.

    That Kubica and the team were in contention for both titles for so long was an amazing achievement, albeit one helped by mistakes made by McLaren and Ferrari. That shouldn’t take anything away from the team or Kubica, who can lay claim to being the very best driver over the course of the season. Heidfeld struggled in qualifying but was, as ever, a canny racer who wasn’t that far off his team mate’s points total by the year end.

    Will the decision to focus on 2009 early pay off? There’s no guarantee it will but I think it should do. Cutting your losses to get ahead has worked in the past.

    There will be a very different set of regulations in place next year and that could make BMW’s decision even smarter. History shows that significant changes to the technical rules benefit the bigger teams, who can direct more resources to better understanding how to exploit the new rules in a shorter time. Any head start BMW can get could therefore be more significant than if the rules were staying largely the same. But time will tell whether that was worth giving up the chance of a title in 2008.

    We’ll never know for sure, but my gut reaction was that there was only ever a very small chance of glory in 2008 and so BMW have made the right decision. Whether they can fully exploit that opportunity is another matter altogether.

  4. I think they did the smart thing by not having a big ego and moving to 2009 car development once they had achieved their goal for this season. After seeing what they have been capable of this season, I don’t doubt one bit that they will be at the front next year, taking away wins from McLaren and Ferrari and any other team who has a dream off-season. Plus their drivers are probably the calmest of the bunch, which should hopefully put some sense into the likes of Hamilton, Massa and Raikkonen.

  5. Too many rule changes next year make it difficult to predict that BMW will be even better than this year , but having set themselves clear goals which so far they have not only attained but bettered , indicates they are a team run in a manner which will result in success sooner rather than later. As far as Heidfeld goes , being German I think he will always have slightly better treatment than Rob K , same as Hamilton gets from McLaren . Would not be too surprised to see Heidfeld the leading driver when BMW reach the point when they are challenging for a world championship.

  6. BMW did the right thing. They achieved their objectives early on and after a while decided to switch their focus to next season. The reason this was a sensible decision was because, Kubica was in competition with 2 other rivals in a slightly faster car. Had Kubica a sole rival for the championship, I can guarantee you BMW would have pushed till the very end. Chasing a possibility that was dependent on the faster cars making mistakes and wasting precious resources hoping for such a mistake, is not good business sense.

    BMW are still learning the art of F1 and I salute their disciplined approach. Its much better to have a solid foundation that can reliably produce the needed performance, than have an occasional victory followed by a massive fall.

  7. BMW’s approach will pay off next season I think,it almost paid off this season.Their cars and drivers are the most reliable in the field.I have alot of respect for Mario and team,I am glad they are keeping Nick and Robert for 2009.I have never had a racing team that I backed as my favs before but,these guys made my choice easy.

  8. “BMW’s approach will pay off next season I think,it almost paid off this season.Their cars and drivers are the most reliable in the field.I have alot of respect for Mario and team,I am glad they are keeping Nick and Robert for 2009.I have never had a racing team that I backed as my favs before but,these guys made my choice easy.”


  9. Unfortunately Kubica was testing only 2 days (!!!) in second part of the season compare to 9 days of Heidfeld testing, and 3 days of Klien. It’s really strange

  10. aa: Heidfeld needed the extra seat time to catch up.

    I think BMW made a mistake. This is racing and you bite harder when you taste blood. If they want to be no. 1 they have to think that way. When they had a driver with a descent shot at WDC they should have gone for it. Maybe next season BMW will be nonexistent. You can’t let go of what you have in hopes of a better future season. The chance may not come again. They weren’t expecting Kubica having a chance, but they should have readjusted their strategy.

  11. hoobi-RallyTeam
    10th February 2010, 14:33

    Now we know, that was very BIG misstake ! They lost chances for 1st place for driver or other place, but still on podium. They show us how to become from hero to zero.

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