Munich. BMW has claimed its first victory precisely 399 days, or 21 Grands Prix, after its return to Formula 1 on 12 March 2000 in Melbourne (AUS), where the BMW WilliamsF1 Team made its debut. On 15 April 2001 Ralf Schumacher won the San Marino...
Munich. BMW has claimed its first victory precisely 399 days, or 21 Grands Prix, after its return to Formula 1 on 12 March 2000 in Melbourne (AUS), where the BMW WilliamsF1 Team made its debut. On 15 April 2001 Ralf Schumacher won the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola in the FW23 powered by BMW's ten-cylinder unit. "And the great thing about it," said BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen, "Is that he did it in superior style and on his own strength. Achieving this on only our 21st race has clearly exceeded all expectations." Ralf Schumacher had blasted out of third place on the grid to overtake both McLaren-Mercedes, thereby taking the lead and holding firmly on to it.
Said BMW development director Dr Burkhard Goschel, who was at Imola: "Even we didn't think it would happen so quickly, but then speed is a basic tenet of BMW. The speed with which we've won, however, doesn't meant that we're suddenly going to shift our goalposts. We've reached one stage particularly early on and we can be proud of that. But, as before, the world championship title still isn't on the agenda for 2001. This first victory, at any rate, will have a major effect on the company itself: it signifies a tremendous incentive boost for all BMW employees."
BMW Motorsport Directors Mario Theissen and Gerhard Berger wrote a letter of thanks to all BMW employees, honouring the hard work that has been put in particularly at the Formula 1 development centre in Munich, the factory in Landshut and BMW's Research & Development Centre, the so-called FIZ, ever since the company resolved to measure itself against its major rivals again in the top echelon of motor racing. Their message: "BMW Motorsport's victory is a victory for every man and woman working for BMW."
There were other factors behind the success too, as BMW Motorsport Director Gerhard Berger well knows: "All the components were optimal, not just the engine. Ralf drove superbly and was able to rely on a good car, good tyres from Michelin and the first-rate team of Frank Williams and Patrick Head."
Tenth Formula 1 victory for BMW so far
First podium place at Imola was the tenth F1 triumph for BMW in total. Gerhard Berger had gleaned the previous victory for the company fourteen and a half years ago, on 12 October 1986 in Mexico, on Benetton BMW. Prior to that, BMW had already made Formula 1 history in 1983 thanks to Nelson Piquet, who with his Brabham BMW became the first world champion of the turbo era.
For WilliamsF1, Imola 2001 brought the 104th GP win. "It's a great day for us all - for WilliamsF1, for BMW and for Michelin. Everyone has worked very hard and earned this success," beamed team manager Frank Williams, who last celebrated victory in 1997.
BMW's Formula 1 comeback
On 8 September 1997, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW announced its decision that, after an absence of twelve years, it would be returning to Formula 1 in the 2000 season with WilliamsF1.
Paul Rosche built the first BMW V10-cylinder for the F1 venture, which powered the FW 22 in 2000, and oversaw the construction of the new engine factory in Munich in the immediate vicinity of BMW's Research & Development Centre. On 1 October 1998 Gerhard Berger took up his post as Motorsport Director. In December 1998 BMW signed on Jorg Muller as its Formula 1 test driver. In April 1999, engineering expert Dr. Mario Theissen became the second Motorsport Director. On 27 April 1999 at 9.26 am, BMW took the engine out on its first test drive at the company's test circuit in Miramas (F).
By summer 1999 the team had grown to almost 200 members. Paul Rosche, who retired at the end of 1999 aged 65, was showing his successor Dr Werner Laurenz the ropes as new director of F1 development.
In the 2000 season, reliability and a steady development process propelled the BMW WilliamsF1 Team straight into third place in the constructors' rankings of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. They claimed three third places on the podium. Ralf Schumacher had clinched the first of these at the season opener in Melbourne, thus achieving the most successful F1 entry for an engine manufacturer since 1967. He similarly took third place in Spa and in Monza. In total, the German-British venture notched up 14 placings among the first six during the first year, earning it 36 world championship points.
Ralf Schumacher's second place in the qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix on 31 March 2001 had gained the BMW WilliamsF1 Team a place on the front row of the grid for the first time. 15 days later he gave them their first Grand Prix victory.