Posted on January 21, 2009
Can BMW do it this year? | James Allen on F1 – The official James Allen website on F1

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited launch this January was the BMW Sauber team’s new car. This is because the team has been making a steady march towards the front of the grid in the last three seasons and now it needs to make the last and most difficult step of all, to champion status.

A few teams have come along in the last twenty years or so and threatened the McLaren/Williams/Ferrari elite, including Jordan, which won a few races. But really only Benetton/Renault has been able to elbow the big boys aside and make a permanent space for itself at top table.

BMW quickly got into the winning groove as an engine builder with Williams, but broke up with them in 2005 because the progress stopped and they had in mind to do their own thing anyway, based on the old Sauber team. After three years of delivering on their goals, they now have to fight for the championship. Anything less would be a disappointment. You could argue that they fought for the championship this season, after all Robert Kubica led the points table after Montreal and was still in the title race at the penultimate round.

But I think BMW know that they have to be right in there from the first race and at every race, fighting for pole, the win and the podium. And not only that, they have to match the development rate of Ferrari and McLaren across the whole season. In many ways this is the toughest aspect of the challenge. With new rules, its possible that anyone might have lucked into the right aerodynamic package and start with a strong position, but you know that as the races grind on, Ferrari and McLaren will be developing faster than most and it will take a special effort for a BMW or even a Renault to stay in front.

Having watched the Ferraris and McLarens steadily driving away from him in the second half of 2008, Kubica realises this better than anyone and it was interesting that at the launch he highlighted failed developments last season, ones which did not deliver the expected performance gain. The message is clear – ‘Don’t do that again’. He’s keeping the team honest, keeping the pressure on. You’ve got to love his hunger and his honesty. He’s already shown he has what it takes to race Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen and Alonso and he will be strong in Melbourne as he always is. HIs potential downside is his size. He lost some weight last year, but he’s still a big guy and the boffins are all saying that’s a penalty this year with the extra weight of KERS making weight and weight balance critical.

The first test day went well for them, over 70 laps of Valencia on day one is quite impressive and now they get down to some serious work. It looks like the weather has been kinder to them than to Ferrari over in Italy and McLaren and the rest in Portugal.

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Can BMW do it this year?
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  1.   1. Posted By: Finn
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 9:13 am 

    So much really depends on the relative performance of the other teams …. if BMW are well ahead, Kubica could pinch a title. But if several teams are well matched to BMW, then other drivers will bring home more points than Kubica.

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  2.   2. Posted By: Raz
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 9:24 am 

    Thanks for the post James, I’ve gotta admit, I was one of those “Antis”.. but only for going OTT with Lewis.. However, you Friday Form Guides, and post race analysis were truly great.. hopefully we’ll get more of them on here this year.

    Back to BMW mounting a serious Title challenge.. as a Ferrari(Schumi) fan.. BMW have got all the right ingredients.. a solid team, nice work ethic.. and 2 very technical drivers.

    It will be refreshing to see BMW vs Ferrari this year.

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  3.   3. Posted By: Alex M
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 10:04 am 

    Has everybody forgotten what Kubica did to Hamilton in Brazil ? Lucky for Robert it ended the right way, and with such great drama that his behaviour and the probable loss of Lewis’ WDC seems to have been forgotten.

    He should be banned for half of the season, you can be sure that if a McLaren had done that, Max’s “Stewards” and banana republic FIA would have been dishing out penalites all day long.

    If BMW do well in 2009, let us hope Quick Nick is the pilot doing it.

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  4.   4. Posted By: Raz
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 11:13 am 

    Alex.. that’s known as Racing.. why ban someone for fighting ON track – even though he’s Unlapping himself.. beside.. more to the point, did u see what vettel did to Lewis, in effectively what was a MINARDI.. VETTEL OWNED HIM.. and if anything.. if you’re gonna be talking about penalties..SPYGATE? 780 dossiers? no BAN.

    please just cos Robert is going to give lewser a really hard time on track, because Robert CAN race, unlike a certain driver who cuts the same chichane 2 years in a row and fails to spot a red light, and pre-emtively turns left.. and quite litterally smashes kimi’s title hopes.

    please.. stop being so defensive of lewis. and also i’ve heard the new regs makes the cars more over-steery.. which will play nicely into Kimi and Robert’s Driving styles, on that note, will bridgestone have to “advice” lewis’ strategists to make an extra stop?

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  5.   5. Posted By: Craig
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 11:23 am 

    Do you know what the significance of the number 38 is, on the Williams winter liveried car?

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  6.   6. Posted By: Raz
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 11:33 am 

    Craig, the 38 is for Nico Hulkenburg.. test drivers have the numbers from 30+

    mind you Valentino Rossi had his famous ’46′ on the nose of the f2008 when he did his test.

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  7.   7. Posted By: Finn
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 1:23 pm 

    Alex M … OMG, do you want the track cleared for Hamilton and to let him go as slow as he wants with no one overtaking him?

    And as for bad driving, Lewis was lucky not to have been suspended for his terrible driving in Canada when he drove into the back of Kimi in the pit lane and at XXXX (the track where he drove like a rank amateur on the first corner – China or Japan, perhaps… I can’t remember).

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  8.   8. Posted By: Alex M
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 1:58 pm 

    “Raz”

    Kubica was not fighting anybody, but his aggressive pass on Hamilton caused the wobble that let Vettel through … hardly “Owning” him.

    Vettel’s car was very far from a Minardi, as any F1 fan knows, it had the most powerful engine [Ferrari] and a Newey chassis blessed with the unique luxury of having 4 identical cars to develop.

    If a driver should have been banned from Spygate, it is Alonso, he deliberately cheated and tried to keep the info for his own use, then blackmailed the team when he did not get preferential treatment.

    Renault [08] and Toyota’s [a couple of years before] own cheating far outweighed McLarens 4 rogue employees.

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  9.   9. Posted By: gareth price
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 2:20 pm 

    Judging by the size of the front wings next season, is someone expecting an invasion of cows at each track ;)

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  10.   10. Posted By: RockingCopseCorner
        Date: January 21st, 2009 @ 4:29 pm 

    In my heart of hearts I don’t think BMW will do it this year, it’s one thing stealing a lucky win (Canada 08) but they have to step up massively to compete evenly with the big boys. BMW have been very awkward about KERS and it’d be fitting justice if they’re are the ones who can’t get it working for Melbourne. I’m a big fan of Nick Heidfeld and was thrilled to see him take 2nd at Silverstone when I was there in 2008. As James points out, they may have the initial pace but come mid season the big boys will be hammering at them, the in season testing ban may help but they’ll struggle I feel.

    Kubica impressed me alot last year but i found myself going off him a little towards the back end of the year due to some of his comments. He’s starting to come across like he’s already won a WDC yet he’s yet to properly win a race. I don’t like drivers that are too big for their boots, Kubica is rapidly filling that category much to my chagrin. I want them to do well albeit give Nick some of the limelight too!!

    Raz: Hamilton wasn’t ‘owned’ by the STR, it’s a mile away from the old Minardi days, it’s a good car in a good drivers hands. So what Vettel passed him, he’s a racing driver, surely that’s his job??? Should he get a medal for passing a particular car?? Lewis came 1st in the championship, where did either of the STR cars finish? It’d be fair to say then that Mclaren ‘owned’ STR that season going by your precedent? As for Kubica trying to get in the way at the end, that’s just racing for you. Galling to know that if it had been Macca holding someone up or Renault etc they’d of been hauled before the FIA.

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  11.   11. Posted By: John
        Date: January 22nd, 2009 @ 9:06 am 

    Strange isn’t it how some people have tunnel vision and only see their hero doing right? If all you want is for a spoilt little brat to win every race, then you’re not really an F1 fan, just a Hamilton fan. Admittedly, he’s good, but not as good as the British press make him out to be. There’s more talent on the grid than Hamilton, and some I think would be running rings around him if they’d had the same opportunities! Anyway good luck to BMW! It can only be good for the sport to have another competitive team.

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  12.   12. Posted By: Phil
        Date: January 22nd, 2009 @ 9:30 am 

    Vettel was faster than Lewis in wet conditions in Brazil because Mclaren had opted for a low downforce set-up to save the engine. That caused problems in the wet.

    One thing that everybody seems to have forgotten is Kubica driving into Lewis in Japan 2007 – something that would have seen a massive pentalty for a Mclaren driver.

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  13.   13. Posted By: speedmerchants
        Date: January 22nd, 2009 @ 12:22 pm 

    JA writes: Wow! The old enmity towards Hamilton is certainly still there despite his championship win last season. I’m fascinated by this, it’s a story in itself: why do people hate Hamilton so much?

    This is another reason why I’m developing a well regulated forum to handle this strand and others.

    I took a lot of heavy fire on ITV the last two seasons because it was perceived by anti-Hamiltonistas that I had a bias towards him and that I talked him up too much. The build up shows certainly were very Hamilton-heavy, but we always tried to share it out a bit in the commentary.

    He rubs people up the wrong way, as Schuey did. John above calls him a ‘spoilt brat’ – indicating the resentment many feel about the sense of ‘entitlement’ around him. But that does not mean he isn’t extremely gifted as a driver and it isn’t true that there are ‘lots’ of drivers in the field with equal or greater talent.

    How can we know this? If you took two engineers from each team and asked them to rate the drivers based on what they see from the data they collect at every test, every practice and every race, I guarantee you that they would all put Hamilton in the top three and many of them would put him number one. (I might do this at one of the early races, asking engineers anonymously to contribute…)

    Drivers’ ability is often confused with how much they are liked – everyone does it, public, journalists, team insiders. I’ve seen it my whole career and try very hard not to do the same. That’s why I like dealing with engineers so much – the data doesn’t lie and all the teams’ engineers have access to it. They know how good drivers are. So if you speak to the engineers (yes even Ferrari) they will all tell you that he is exceptional.

    That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his faults as a driver, that some of his moves are questionable or that people have to like him of course….nor does it mean that there aren’t one or two other ‘exceptional’ drivers in F1 at the moment.

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  14.   14. Posted By: Darren
        Date: January 22nd, 2009 @ 2:53 pm 

    The fact that an article about BMW has turned into a debate about Hamilton says it all to me. Love him or hate him, F1 simply would not be nearly as interesting without Lewis Hamilton.

    I personally don’t understand why he is so unpopular. I think he can be a bit arrogant, especially in his regular comparisons between himself and Senna, and some of his driving moves can be a bit erratic- notably behind the safety car at Japan 07 and defending from Mark Webber at Monza last year. But overall he seems like a nice guy, and for all the criticsm he recieves, the one thing you couldn’t call him is slow.

    I’m no psychologist but I think that one of the main reasons that so many people dislike Hamilton is because they are sick of all the praise he gets. That is certainly why a lot of F1 fans were frustrated at ITV’s pro Hamilton coverage last year. But, for me, by winning the title Hamilton has actually justified his hype.

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  15.   15. Posted By: john g
        Date: January 22nd, 2009 @ 7:47 pm 

    BMW have a very good chance this year – although Kubica was leading after canada in ’08, the BMW was never quicker than either the mclaren or ferrari.

    now with the most significant rule changes we’ve seen for a long time, with very little chance for development over the year, if they are lucky enough to have a jump on the rest of the field, they can hold it for several races as there is no more testing – and their preparation for the year has argueably been the best.

    plus, they have two great drivers. kubica is simply naturally very quick, and in the right car is clearly a challenge for anyway. and in nick, BMW have probably one of the most underated drivers in F1, especially in terms of developing a car

    (on that note james, have you ever had the chance to listen to radio conversations between him and his engineer? ITV did it once or twice in ’08, conversations during FP1 & 2, analysis of handling, suggestions of what to do. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with nick since he was a williams driver, and in terms of technical understanding and feedback, he was untouchable compared to *every* team mate he had, he was like 3 engineers put together!)

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  16.   16. Posted By: john g
        Date: January 22nd, 2009 @ 7:51 pm 

    as for the hamilton thing. he’s clearly a very skilled driver, there’s no doubt about that as his achievements (and wet weather performance in particular) show.

    however, he’s never had to drive a bad car. every press conference, his car handled like a dream. kubica and alonso have had very challenging cars to drive. if they get a better car, they go quicker. can hamilton deal with it if mclaren lose their way a bit? with vettel now in the mix, it’s very exciting between these young drivers anyway! :)

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  17.   17. Posted By: George
        Date: February 1st, 2009 @ 10:32 am 

    On BMW’s chances this year, I’m not convinced they can move forward on the grid, what am I basing that on? Well the old analogy of the car that looks fastest, goes the fastest :) on that basis the new beemer is a brick when you put it along side the Ferrari and McLaren, my own thoughts for surprise of the season… Williams. The car looks as fast as the top 2 and with the different direction on KERS I think they have a good chance of stepping up.

    [ This comment was shortened. Please keep to the subject of the discussion thread. - Moderator ]

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  18.   18. Posted By: vonspeex
        Date: February 22nd, 2009 @ 9:53 pm 

    Put kubica in a ferrari this year and i would bet my mortgage on him for the drivers title,without a dought….your not going to see him make the mistakes like lewis in canada,kimi in monaco and massa when he span in the wet 5 times(omg)nicks supposed to be good and robert made him look like a novice plus ferrari isnt been affected by the cred crunch henc the rest wouldnt stand a chance…..what u waitng for ferrari?sign him for 2010/2011

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