The BMW Sauber team bosses are generally happy with the 2008 season. They are also happy with the overall progress of the team since the purchase of Sauber by BMW after 2005 season. Mario Theissen:
“BMW kept its schedule that was set in 2005 after acquiring Sauber: to be in the points in 2006, to be on the podium in 2007, to be on the top podium 2008. We made the two-way title campaign a three-way battle in the first half of the season. We did not have the fastest car in 2008, but the overall package counts. Reliability was an issue in 2007 and our focus on this in 2008 paid off as we had no single retirement because of a technical failure.”
It is all good and according to the long term plan. But it does not really reveal the full story. Although they never had the fastest car early on in the season BMW Saubers were often quicker than one of the top two teams. But by the Canadian GP BMW Sauber already felt behind Ferrari and McLaren. They may have won their first race and even in 1-2 fashion but it is clear to everybody that they have only Hamilton to thank for that win. Should Hamilton pay attention to the traffic lights or should he choose Kubica instead of Raikkonen as his target at that Montreal pit lane exit, there would be no win.
Despite this they still managed to keep the team and both drivers in contention for the titles for quite a while. With 2 races to go Kubica still had mathematical chance. And this is what clearly hurts the Polish star. The opportunity was there but the team did not do enough to make the most out of it.
“In the last two or three months, I had the feeling that the team and I were no longer pursuing the same goal.”
Earlier Kubica said that he felt like he was the only one who believed he could actually win the title. He also expressed his unhappiness about the team focusing on Heidfeld’s qualifying issues while he himself was there with a shot at the title.
But still, with at best the 3rd best car on the grid he won his first F1 race, he finished on podium 7 times, he scored points in 14 out 16 races he finished and only the end of season slump cost him the 3rd place in drivers championship (finished 4th equal on points with Kimi Raikkonen). Still, he does not sound too happy.
It is hard to say if these are Kubica’s real feelings or only some quotes taken out of context by media. But if I were in his position, I would also consider the 2008 season as an opportunity lost.
BMW Sauber may well build better and stronger car for 2009 season. But as I said on Stew’s BMW F1 blog in Formula 1 it is not only about how good car you build. It also also about where your competition stands.
This year both front running teams – Ferrari and McLaren – did exceptionally good job in trying to throw away the titles. This is a scenario that does not happen every year. BMW may build a car that equals the Ferrari or McLaren in the future. But that does not mean they will win the titles. Look at McLaren. In recent years, perhaps with the exception of 2004, they always had a top car. But Hamilton’s 2008 title is their first since Mika Hakkinen in 1999 ! They came very very close with Kimi Raikkonen in 2003 when only 2 points separated him from Michael Schumacher. But it took 5 more season before the title made it back to Woking and only just …
The 2009 season is a big unknown. The brand new technical regulations result in fresh start for everybody. It may mean nothing and we may see the same team rule the field. But we may also see more teams entering the title game. Ferrari and McLaren (if they manage to stay in the front of the grid) may well be joined not only be BMW Sauber but also by Renault (sounding very confident), Honda (said to be quite far in their 2009 car development), Toyota and Vettel powered Red Bull. The top may get very crowded. Or not … Someone may get much better grasp on the new rules and charge ahead of the field … And there is no guarantee that someone will be BMW Sauber.
It is nice to have long term vision, long term plan and go ahead in line with that. But that all went according to BMW Sauber’s plans between 2006 – 2008 does not mean that it will continue that way. They are not the only team dreaming about winning titles. The future may still prove BMW Sauber long term strategy right. But if opportunity presents itself earlier than expected, one should go and take it. It may never come back and Robert Kubica is probably well aware of that …
Photo: BMW Motorsports, F1Wolf