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Theissen on Small Teams

Mario Theissen has returned to the theme of “small is beautiful”, repeating his intention that the BMW team will not grow into a huge operation, as so many of the successful teams do. Historically in F1, this is the way to go, smaller teams being more flexible and able to react to change faster than the big ones.

Theissen

Mario Theissen

This may be at the heart of the problems confronting teams like Honda and Toyota, their overabundance of funding meaning that they can invest in so many facilities that confusion rather than focused development is the result. There is also that old theme of mine to be considered: passion. It is easier to inspire a few people with a single vision than a big operation with many departments and localities.

BMW seem to be getting everything right at the moment. Even though they remain very realistic, as is clear from Nick Heidfeld’s recent interview, they are clearly the team with the best chance of competing with the front runners, Ferrari and McLaren. If anyone is capable of beating those two this year, it must be BMW.

It has to be said that the reason for the effectiveness of the BMW team is Theissen himself. He is a model of the successful F1 team manager, being able to direct his personnel in a common direction, provide vision without straying into fantasy and dealing with the press without drama. Compare the turmoil and personnel changes in a crisis of Nick Fry’s Honda team with the steady, unflappable improvement at BMW Sauber. Any team becomes a reflection of its leader and the Honda management should make Ross Brawn an offer he can’t refuse if they want to get their team moving forward.

It’s a philosophy that all the manufacturers should consider. The corporate direction of an F1 team just doesn’t work, as has been demonstrated so often. Mercedes have had it right, although I detect a move towards greater involvement of management in McLaren’s affairs, and FIAT have had the sense to let Ferrari get on with it, until recently, at least. If Toyota and Honda finally get the idea, watch out!

This year has seen some big changes in the teams, with established stars departing and new faces appearing in many places. Looking further ahead, we may actually be witnessing one of those changes of era that come along perhaps once a decade. If BMW continue their drive to the front and McLaren and Ferrari suffer a decline caused by greater interference from their attached manufacturers, the whole shape of the grid could alter over the next few years. Is it possible that the battles of the “two thousand and something teens” will be between BMW and Williams-Toyota? And McLaren seriously embarrassed by the greater success of their B team, Prodrive; perhaps Ferrari in another period of chaos and internal conflict?

There is one thing for sure: change will always happen – it’s the only thing you can depend upon.

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Nick Heidfeld on the Nordschleife

On Friday, Nick Heidfeld took the BMW Sauber F1.06 around the Nordschleife circuit at Nurburgring, as promised. You can see the video on the BMW Sauber website or (naturally) on YouTube.

Nick 2

The car was shod with demonstration Bridgestones, which are slower than racing tires, and Nick had strict orders to take it easy but, even so, he looked to be trying pretty hard at some points. Not at the Karousel, however – he rounded that very carefully, understandably since it is very bumpy by modern F1 standards and the car would bottom out even with the ride height jacked up as far as it would go, as it was.

But there was a story a few days ago that he would not be allowed to take the Karousel at all so we should be grateful that he went round it at all. In the end, it was a fantastic sight and gave us a glimpse of how things might have been had F1 continued racing at the track through the intervening years.

Safety reasons have been the excuse for dropping so many circuits off the calendar but, in the Nordschleife’s case, there is no doubt that this was true. Even with the amount of money floating around in the sport today, it would be impossible to provide adequate marshaling and emergency coverage for the full 14 miles of the track. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream.

Perhaps there should be an annual event of this type at the circuit, one to include the other teams as well; just demonstration runs by each car on its own, so that we could be reminded once again of the great circuit and its famous history combined with the sound and speed of modern F1.

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But, whatever happens, thank you to BMW for making this happen and for the video – a wonderful sight.

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BMW Sauber and the Nordschliefe

There is some irony in the fact that Sauber arrived in F1 after having achieved success in sportscar racing with Mercedes yet now are BMW’s effort in the sport. From the first, the team looked effective and produced some pretty good cars over the years; in BMW’s hands, however, they begin to look like winners.

Nick

Nick Heidfeld in Bahrain

The progress made last year was excellent and it has continued this season with Nick Heidfeld surely ready to bring them their first victory soon. Robert Kubica has had some bad luck so far but will be in there punching with Nick before long. At the very least, BMW should achieve third in the constructor’s championship this year.

I have not had a favorite team since the sad demise of Brabham several years ago, but I think BMW can claim that spot now. Everything about the team is so darn impressive. Progress has been steady and unrelenting, without drama or fanfare, the cars are beautifully finished and perform beyond expectations, the drivers excel, with quick Nick proving me completely wrong in thinking his motivation lacking. What more could one ask for?

Yet there is more; have a look at the team’s website – it is as slick, professional and effective as their cars. And you will see that, on April 28, Nick Heidfeld will be driving the BMW F1.07 around the Nordschliefe at Nurburgring – the first time an F1 car has lapped the circuit in 31 years.

That alone is enough to make an F1 fan grateful to BMW, surely. Yes, it’s an exercise in public relations but what an effective one! To see how a modern F1 car handles the greatest of all circuits is the stuff of dreams.

Everything looks good at BMW now – they are almost certain to join Ferrari and McLaren as the leaders in 2007 and, if the champion does not emerge from one of those two teams, he will be driving a BMW. Here’s hoping that the team exceed Mario Theissen’s careful expectations and win many more than one GP this year.

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Flexible Floors – The Plot Thickens

I see that BMW are also under suspicion of having a flexible floor on the F1.07. Which makes it harder to believe the dismissive “Oh, Ferrari always gets accused of cheating when they’re fast” statement from the red brigade. Let’s wait and see what the FIA have to say on the matter, shall we?

BMW F1.07

BMW F1.07

It is interesting that it is BMW who are accused along with Ferrari; they were also suspects in the flexi-wing saga of last year and I begin to wonder if they have a mole in the Ferrari camp who passes along all the latest tweaks. Industrial espionage in F1 – who would have guessed it?

But mention of moles reminds me that I have been meaning for some time to point at a rather entertaining occasional column on GrandPrix dot com. It is called simply The Mole and is well worth a read, especially if you’re British (some of the humor is very English).

To return to The Amazing Moving Floor Scandal, however, it strikes me that the idea might be related to Ferrari’s much-questioned longer wheelbase this year. All the other teams have gone for shorter wheelbases (although I seem to remember reading somewhere that Honda are another exception – hmmm, could that be an explanation of their poor performance so far?). It is just possible that Ferrari discovered that the flexi-floor worked really well with a long wheelbase and so went against standard theory on the Bridgestone tires. Which would argue against BMW adopting the system since they have a short wheelbase – except that they could have found that it still gives them a measurable performance advantage.

All conjecture, of course, and I am no engineer – I just like to look at possible motives behind all these upsets in F1. And, as long as I’m doing that, we could consider what would happen if the FIA decide that the floors are illegal and must be changed. That could really mess with Ferrari’s performance, as we saw with the Renault handicapped by the banning of mass dampers in 1976 – design your car around a certain tweak and you’re in big trouble if it is suddenly made illegal.

But I suppose the fuss will die down and be forgotten in due course. And, whatever Ferrari and BMW are doing, you can bet that everyone else will be by the end of the season.

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