After months of speculation, BMW and Sauber confirmed on June 22nd that the German manufacturer has acquired a majority interest in the Swiss team and will enter the 2006 championship as a BMW managed squad. Peter Sauber will continue to hold some shares and act as an advisor to BMW, but will no longer have an operational responsibility.
For some time it's been public knowledge that BMW was in talks with Sauber in regard to an engine supply for 2006 but both parties refused to comment on the rumours of a takeover. However, the news that BMW has bought a majority stake is no big surprise as the manufacturer has long been interested in running its own team.
BMW described the move as a "realignment" of its F1 interests, based on two insights. "Firstly, the influence of the engine on the winning potential of the overall package has diminished; the car, tyres and drivers play a greater role than they used to," said motorsport director Mario Theissen.
"Secondly, from our point of view, an optimal overall package can only be achieved with a fully integrated team and coherent processes throughout."
"In restructuring we are taking account of these insights. At Sauber we have found a solid foundation for vehicle development and production, along with the requisite know-how and one of the most modern wind tunnels. The results achieved there so far are worthy of respect in the light of the team's limited budget."
Peter Sauber, who founded Sauber Motorsport AG in 1970, admitted the financial demands of running a privateer outfit have become increasingly difficult with the presence of the big manufacturers in F1. Sauber claims the BMW takeover is a good opportunity to have his ambitions for the team fulfilled.
"For Sauber, the partnership with BMW is an ideal solution as it supports the two goals which have always been paramount for me: firstly, to offer the team the possibility of improving their sporting performance, and secondly, to safeguard the site at Hinwil and the jobs of today's 300-strong workforce," said the 61 year-old.
"The partnership with BMW guarantees continuity. For that reason, too, it represents an ideal solution, because I know it will give the workforce a very good outlook. Over more than 35 years, I have guided this company through often stormy seas, which is why it is so important for me to know that it will be in good hands in future as well."
Professor Burkhard G?schel, BMW Board Member for Development and Purchasing, said the move was a long term affirmation of BMW's commitment to F1. The sport may be going through some difficult times but G?schel believes it will continue as the "top echelon" of motor sports in the future, which is where BMW wants to be.
"Success in Formula One increasingly depends on the perfect interplay of all factors," G?schel commented. "That is why we have resolved to extend our involvement beyond our present role of engine partner. With a team managed by BMW we will, as of next year, take on responsibility for the entire package, which will include the key factors of the chassis, tyres and drivers."
The new structure of the team, including managerial and key positions, along with the name and driver line up is expected to be finalised by the official takeover date of January 1st 2006. The team will function as a "fully integrated project from two locations" -- its current base in Hinwil, Switzerland, which is to be expanded, and BMW headquarters in Munich.
How this new direction for BMW will impact upon its relationship with current engine partner Williams remains to be seen. It's possible BMW may continue to supply the Grove squad with engines after this year and Theissen said the manufacturer would be happy to do so. However, the partnership has been strained of late and Williams is known to be talking to other possible suppliers.
Sauber entered F1 in 1993 and has been home to the likes of JJ Lehto, Johnny Herbert, Jean Alesi, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nick Heidfeld, Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella. Its best finish in the Constructors' Championship was in 2001 with drivers Heidfeld and Raikkonen. Currently, rising star Felipe Massa and former champion Jacques Villeneuve race for the team.