BMW’s adventure as a full-fledged team in Formula 1 was short, marked by three years of steady rise and a painful fall when new technical regulations came into force. From 2007 to 2009, Nick Heidefeld and Robert Kubica were linked within the structure of Hinwil, accumulating 15 podiums in that time (eight for Kubica, seven for Heidfeld) and taking the team to the top of the table. However, the statement by the German pilot points to a paranoia-ridden relationship with his team-mate.
“[Kubica] is the longest team-mate I’ve had in Formula 1.”comments Heidfeld on the podcast Beyond The Grid. “It’s been almost three seasons. And I would say he was the most complete of all the teammates I had. He wasn’t as fast as Kimi [Räikkönen] in the race and he wasn’t as fast as [Mark] Weber in qualifying. That is of course my opinion. But overall, at the overall package level, he was definitely among the best.”
“What I didn’t like about him and maybe didn’t really help him is that most of the time he thought the team was giving me an advantage. Because BMW was a German team, I was a German driver and… I didn’t like that because he said that a lot in the press and I think it’s just not true, the team chose me over them, that I was better was treated etc. It was not true .”
However, Heidfeld does not remember whether he raised the issue with his partner. “Maybe, but it wasn’t that important. I don’t think he would have changed his mind.”
In any case, BMW’s progress in Formula 1 was marked by the double pack at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008 with Robert Kubica in front of Nick Heidfeld. A unique victory for the brand in Formula 1, which had catapulted the Pole to the top of the world championship four points ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa (at the time of the victory by ten units).
However, the introduction of new technical regulations in 2009 prompted BMW to focus its resources on this new challenge and abandon the development of its F1.08. Kubica has scored just 33 points in the last 12 grands prix of the year, which has put him sixth in the hierarchy during that time, and the propeller-driven manufacturer already has that corner of the 2009 season in which it finished sixth fared poorly in the championship, having registered just eight units in the first ten races.
When asked if he agreed with Kubica that BMW Sauber relaxed development during the 2008 season, Heidfeld was annoyed: “Partially. I don’t think they’ve slowed down. Not at all. But they didn’t accelerate either. And that didn’t happen at BMW.”
“But to be honest, I don’t think we had a chance to be successful. If you look at the performance… Even though he won in Canada and was ahead in the championship, the car wasn’t as quick as others. But when you’re a driver, you’re there, you see a small chance and you hope that the team gives everything. They haven’t.”
The necessary ingredients to achieve good results were nevertheless met. “I think the bond that had [BMW] with Sauber was very fruitful”continues Heidfeld. “I think at Hinwil all the instruments were equal, I don’t think it would have been better at Williams where I think there were a lot more problems between the two sides than at Sauber.”
“I think there were sometimes problems that you always see and hear about big companies that are a bit too corporate. Corporate brands like Toyota, Mercedes or BMW that come with a very different approach. And bringing the best of both worlds together, is difficult .It’s something they’ve still been working on, I think they haven’t unleashed their full potential yet.
However, BMW decided to leave Formula 1 at the end of 2009, at the end of that unsuccessful season, in the context of the global economic crisis. Heidfeld inevitably sees this as a waste. “I think one of the most important facts is that they just retired too early. Too early in my opinion, as a racer of course. Overall, given the financial crisis we were in then, it was probably right.” Decision… I don’t know.”
“If you look at their results, they did it really, really well. They came with a relatively small team, Sauber, they worked their way up, they had good and even better results and then suddenly we suffered a bit and our rise was interrupted, but I think that’s normal… If you finish fifth, fourth, third, second, then you become world champion, so it’s normal to go back at some point.
“They just stopped too early, I think. Of course there are things that could have gone better, but that can be said of any team. It’s a bit like the grass, which is always greener elsewhere. When you change teams , you find some better, some worse.”
Peter Sauber was still able to buy the team he founded from BMW, albeit with downsizing to keep costs down. The Swiss team had a successful 2012 season with four podium finishes, but mostly played in midfield. Owned by Longbow Finance since 2016, Peter Sauber no longer plays an active role there but represents Alfa Romeo’s interests in Formula 1, racing under the Italian manufacturer’s name.
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