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BMW and Young Drivers

At the Friday Press Conference for the Shanghai Grand Prix, some of the team managers were in the spotlight. Amongst these was Mario Theissen of BMW Sauber and he gave some interesting insights into BMW’s policy on selecting young drivers.


BMW Sauber’s Mario Theissen

Q: Mario, we’ve seen you use young drivers this year to remarkable effect: obviously Robert Kubica but also latterly Sebastian Vettel as well. What is BMW’s policy regarding young drivers? You have a staircase of talent with Formula BMW, tell us your policy.

Mario THEISSEN: Well, the general policy with our entire Formula One project is to groom the team in-house rather than take on people from the outside. Obviously, if you want to ramp up (your personnel) by 150 people in one and a half years you have to take on people from the outside, but wherever possible, we take young people on the engineering side as well as on the driving side and develop them on our own. On the drivers’ side, there is a particular resource with Formula BMW. Guys go there at the age of 15 or 16 so we have quite a close relationship, get a very good idea of what they are capable of, and then we have them on our screen as they go up through the other formulae, so I think it’s quite a successful approach to watch young drivers and to evaluate them. That led us to taking on Sebastian Vettel which certainly is extraordinary for a 19-year old guy. Generally, I’m not proposing to take on younger and younger drivers into Formula One but in the case of Sebastian, we thought he’s there, he’s ready to take the job and apparently he’s proved that. If you are successful doing so, I think it’s the best approach you can take. You have to be careful to pick the right guys.

It is true that, in both Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel, BMW seem to have chosen two exceptionally talented new drivers. Remembering that Michael Schumacher first came to fame through the Mercedes program for young drivers in the sportscar formula, the wisdom of F1 constructors being involved in lesser formulae is apparent.

This is just a part of my increasing respect for BMW’s efforts in F1. They look like a team that is going places. Their professionalism and design strength is very apparent, they have set realistic goals (and do not become over-excited when they exceed those goals) and their car is the best-looking on the grid (well, it’s important to me – why do you think I supported Minardi from very early on?).

Much of this must be due to Theissen’s organizational skills. I particularly like his realism in admitting quite openly that one of their two podium finishes this year had a lot of luck involved. He is being cautious about the team’s chances in China, too, pointing out that it is a very different type of track from Monza, where they did so well. It’s such a sensible attitude – if they do particularly well, he can give a sly wink as if to say, “Well, you didn’t expect me to tell you we had something special awaiting, did you?” And, if the cars finish out of the points, he can always say that he told us so.

Elsewhere, Friday practice in Shanghai proved very little, as usual. The test drivers were quick, Alex Wurz (Williams) and Sebastian Vettel battling it out for quickest time. Ferrari look to be in a strong position with Renault holding their cards close to their chests. We shall see the true position tomorrow in the qualifying sessions.

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