Interview with BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen.
"Things are shaping up nicely at the first assessment."
Today, 22nd December, marks exactly six months since BMW announced its takeover of the majority shareholding in Sauber. How has the integration between Munich and Hinwil progressed so far?
Mario Theissen: "Naturally, integrating both companies is a very complex process. But thanks to the commitment and resolve of all those involved, we have completed that phase successfully and are now focused on the tasks before us. We have set up structures, allocated responsibilities and defined our resources and work procedures. Now the implementation phase is underway."
Q: You intend to take on more than 100 new staff at Hinwil. How is that side coming on?
Mario Theissen: "That is a very demanding task. It's time-consuming and painstaking work, but we're making good progress. We already have more than 50 employment contracts signed. As to when the new employees will take up their posts, that of course depends on the periods of notice involved. But the workforce has been steadily expanding since November, and on January 3rd we will see as many as 20 people turning up for their first day's work with the BMW Sauber F1 Team."
Q: What about the expansion plans for the Hinwil facility?
Mario Theissen: "We're also making rapid headway there. We'll be adding an annexe to the main building, and the plans for that are already in place. We're currently in close consultation with the authorities and will shortly be submitting our planning application. If everything goes as smoothly as it has done so far, we'll be able to start building in June."
Q: Last week you announced that Intel was to be another partner. What is the overall sponsoring situation for the team?
Mario Theissen: "We're very happy with the situation. Intel is a global brand, and the cooperation between the BMW Group and Intel extends well beyond our Formula One involvement. The new team will have a clear-cut, upscale presence. We have deliberately limited the number of sponsors, and the sponsor space on our car is now largely accounted for. In Petronas, Intel and Credit Suisse the team has three strong partners - one could say the best partners we could have wished for."
Q: You took quite a lot of time signing up the drivers.
Mario Theissen: "That's right, but there was no rush, after all. Nick Heidfeld was our favoured driver. We got to know him at Williams this year as a fast driver with a strong analytical approach. He shows the necessary aggression on the race track when the situation calls for it, and he is able to provide the engineers with sound, detailed feedback.
When it came to Jacques Villeneuve, we took our time in making a careful assessment of his performance. The start of season 2005 was difficult for him for a number of reasons, but then as the year went on he made significant progress. He made a good impression during his first test in the Sauber C24B with the BMW V8 engine. We believe he's going to improve further.
In Robert Kubica we have signed a talented young man as a test and substitute driver. In 2005 he ran away with the World Series by Renault title and also made a strong impression during his first test in a Formula One car."
Q: On the subject of test drives, how happy are you with the first tests of the Sauber C24B with BMW's P86 V8 engine?
Mario Theissen: "There were several reasons why it was important to us to build an provisional car. On the one hand we wanted to test our P86 engine out on the race track, and on the other it was a matter of fine-tuning the entire engine environment - e.g. cooling, hydraulics and electronics.
As expected, not everything ran entirely to order during our three tests in Spain, but there was nothing our engineers can't rectify in the time available. We are satisfied with the initial results - and I feel very positive about the way the people from Munich and Hinwil are working together. Everything's happening in an atmosphere that encourages efficient, target-led work.
The new car will be rolled out on 17th January during the presentation of the new BMW Sauber F1 Team in Valencia. I am confident that we will have a technically well-functioning package."
Q: Taking stock six months on, what's your verdict?
Mario Theissen: "We have worked hard. We have driven the integration process forward, got an interim car up and running, signed up the drivers, signed contracts with three major partners and concluded over 50 work contracts for new employees. Things are shaping up nicely at the first stage of assessment. But that doesn't mean we harbour any illusions. There's a long road ahead and we will negotiate it with perseverance and circumspection."