News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sauber Aligns With GPWC and Seeks BMW

Did Jacques Villeneuve had some inside scoop to this when he signed up for the Hinwil concern? reports both Sauber and Red Bull are courting BMW for engine supply. In addtion to that Sauber has just signed a memorandum of understanding with the GPWC, which brings the total number of supporting teams to 7.

ITV-F1 in their report speculates that with Sauber aligning themselves with the GPWC, the days of their relationship with Ferrari are truly numbered. It is also well known that Sauber's choice of Michelin tyres this season has infuriated the Ferrari team, especially Ross Brawn. Sauber's defection to Michelin has severly reduced Bridgestone's testing resources. I believe it will tell during the course of the season. Having said that though, Ferrari aren't reducing their testing, so it remains to be seen. The manufacturers aligned with the GPWC have promised a supply of cheap engines to the privateers like Sauber. I believe then that Sauber's approach to BMW is simply a part of this.

Well done to Peter Sauber. After years of being in Ferrari's shadow, with many people including Eddie Jordan speculating that they had absolutely no chance to win anything, Peter Sauber can finally move on to take his team further. Some would question whether BMW would really supply his team with units identical to that of the Williams. I think they would, if perhaps a step below the latest evolution. Unlike the situation with Ferrari, where they got second hand units from the previous year. Why would BMW do that? Because no matter who is in front, whether its a Williams or Sauber, it would still be a BMW unit. Williams have not really delivered up to now and I think BMW would want to spread their risks.

PlanetF1 in this editorial, quite rightly notes that with Sauber gone, Ferrari would miss the revenues received from the sale of their power units. This in turn, negates the extra money they receive from Bernie. Ah, there is some small justice in the world after all. Not everything goes the way of cronies.

Despite all my rants against Peter Sauber over the years, I do admire the Hinwil based team for their earlier efforts in the sport. They began in 1993 after spending the whole of year 1992 testing interim chassis. In their maiden season, they ran Ilmor power units and their cars were branded with the "Concept by Mercedes Benz" moniker. Their performance in 1993 convinced Mercedes to launch a full blown effort into Formula 1, continuing on with the Ilmor power units, but rebadged as Mercedes. I suppose Peter did hope that his association with Mercedes would bear fruit in the long run, just as it had in their successful sports car program. Unfortunately, Ron Dennis came a calling and Mercedes decided to go with McLaren instead.

That must have been heartbreaking for Peter Sauber. Added to that, he had another prized asset, Kimi Raikkonen, pinched from him in 2001 by Ron Dennis. So he's taken knocks but he's soldiered on, our Peter. His decision to run Ferrari power units has always been dubious to my eyes but I suppose he had little choice.

Now Sauber has been building up his Hinwil base with new wind tunnels and some powerful computing facilites. All he needs now I suppose is to find the right engine partner. And what better partner than Munich based BMW. I truly hope he gets them. I wonder if he planned this move some time ago and let Jacques Villeneuve in on it. Good old Jacques just might get that other shot at the world title.

What remains to be seen though, is whether BMW power units will be branded as BMW or Petronas. As you may know, the Ferrari engines behind those Saubers are branded as Petronas power units. This has significant marketing impact. You won't believe the number of people, especially in Malaysia, who actually believe that the oil giant actually produces Formula 1 power units. If I were BMW though, and if I am to sell Sauber my latest engines, I'd want them to call it by its rightful name, that is BMW. Where would Sauber position the Petronas sponsorship then in that case?

No comments: