In its debut year as a fully fledged Formula One team BMW finished fifth overall in the standings and scored two podium finishes, something that motorsport director Mario Theissen had not expected this season. The aim had been to fight for podiums in 2007 but Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica delivered a third place apiece this year, much to BMW's satisfaction.
It was a pretty good result overall for a first season but, naturally, BMW's long-term plans involve a lot more than the occasional visit to the podium. Theissen hopes the team will be fighting to be up there on a regular basis next season and come 2008 the top step is the goal.
"The target is to challenge for victories," he said at the Formula BMW World Final at Valencia. "You need a competitive car to win a race but then you need an experienced team on top of that to win a championship and that's a different matter. But in 2008 we want to be in a position to win races."
Theissen expects the teams that finished ahead of BMW this year -- Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and Honda -- to be the ones to beat again next season. The gap between BMW and fourth placed Honda was 50 points so it's evident that there's a lot more work to be done before BMW can join the fight for the title.
"You see the four teams in front of us, there is quite a big gap in terms of points, so these four will be hard to beat next year," Theissen commented. "They apparently have the resources and the position right now to be the top four again. I would expect these four teams to be the ones who fight for the championship."
One name missing from the list of those that could be title challengers is Williams. The team had a poor 2006 season, to put it politely, and only scored 11 points which left it three places behind previous engine partner BMW in the standings. From their years together Theissen knows Williams well, so can the team bounce back?
"They certainly can come back," he stated. "It was very sad to see what happened this year, I think almost everything went wrong and that will not happen again." He wouldn't speculate on the reasons for Williams' problems but conceded that losing a manufacturer partnership was one factor. "To a certain extent it probably was, but not only that."
BMW's own development for 2007 is something that Theissen is happy with and the new car is coming along nicely. "It's on track. Well, it's on schedule, not actually on track!" He laughed. "We'll only know then how it is but so far the numbers are right, the progress is okay. We're ahead of schedule compared to last year, so I'm confident."
With winter testing under way the previous Michelin teams now have the task of acclimatizing to the Bridgestone rubber. Sauber was formerly a Bridgestone partner but Theissen doesn't think that will give BMW a head start over the other teams.
"No advantage, no," he said about the possibility. "I think, I hope, that everybody has to learn from scratch. I hope the tyres will be significantly different from what Bridgestone had this year and it will be a learning period for everybody. It will certainly be the number one test item in the coming weeks."
BMW Sauber is currently on the test track at Barcelona and Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were fourth and seventh fastest respectively of the 16-car field on the first day out.