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Small Teams and Innovation

Good old Mario Theissen is keeping me going with press releases, it seems. Today he is outlining BMW’s approach to F1, insisting that they will take the radical route, in similar fashion to Honda’s.


Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber

That was what I liked about BMW Sauber in 2006 – they were always experimenting (I’m still trying to work out what those vertical wings were supposed to achieve) and unafraid of controversy (as with the flexi-wing saga). In fact, Theissen seems to have discovered the secret of success in F1 – to remain a small team even though owned by a manufacturer.

It’s only an impression but one gets the feeling with McLaren, for instance, that Mercedes looms ever larger over them. The German giant must be getting very impatient for success and I can see the rumors of a takeover proving correct in the future. Toyota and, to a lesser extent, Honda have their company management looking over their shoulders and even Ferrari is becoming more a division of FIAT.

BMW seem to be following the example of Renault; although the French board of directors is happy when their team wins, they do not appear to interfere and the team looks more like Briatore’s than Renault’s. Back-to-back championships show that this is the way to go, allowing the team to make decisions and react to changing situations as quickly as only small teams can.

The odd one out in all this is Red Bull, of course. It seems a strange combination of small team and huge company, involved in F1 for the prestige and marketing value, yet with an investment so massive that one wonders how it can possibly profit from the operation. I suspect that the real reason behind Red Bull’s ownership of two teams is that the boss, Dietrich Mateschitz, loves motor sport. And, when you have as much money as he does, who cares if millions get spent on winning a few races?

Mateschitz isn’t the first to spend a fortune on his passion – Lord Hesketh nearly bankrupted himself in the seventies doing exactly that. And Benetton had a fling before selling out to Renault and going back to knitting sweaters. Running two teams seems a little over the top, however, and I wonder how long such a venture can continue. It remains to be seen whether Adrian Newey can design a car that justifies all that expense.

Returning to BMW, it does seem that they are getting things right. Theissen’s caution in setting goals is the one fly in the ointment, however. Consider this statement:

“The problem is as soon as you achieve something, expectations raise quicker than you can follow,” he said. “And, to be realistic, we have always said that we want to achieve podiums out of our own strength in 2007 – and that hasn’t changed.

“We had one podium out of our own strength in 2006, which was Monza due to a superb job of the aerodynamicists. And this year we need to do that more often. That is our target.

“And then if some cars in front of us fail, then we have to be there and maybe get something more. But it would not be realistic to win a race out of our own strength.”

Realism is a fine thing and there is little enough of that in most teams’ hopes for the future. But it wouldn’t hurt to have a go at winning. BMW had a couple of podium finishes last year – why not try for the top step this time round?

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