Things are hotting up. This weekend sees man and machinery embarking on the long trip to Australia. Everyone is on tenterhooks in anticipation of the first trial of strength in 2008 between the Formula One teams due to take place the following weekend, 14th – 16th March, in Melbourne’s Albert Park.
For the BMW Sauber F1 Team, 80 people – from top brass to hostesses – will be flying down under. Around 32 tonnes of air freight will also be sent on its way from Munich. Among other items, this includes three chassis, the engines, several sets of spares, 160 alloy wheels, 100 radio sets, headphones, tools, computers and pit lane equipment. Everything is packed onto three ten-foot pallets and into five “igloos”, or walk-in packing containers.
Standardised electronics and extended-life gearboxes were the technology issues over the winter, as dictated by the regulations. Striking aerodynamic solutions on the BMW Sauber F1.08 were another. During testing in Valencia, Jerez and Barcelona, the team notched up a total distance of 11,233 test kilometres with the first two chassis of the F1.08.
The BMW Sauber F1 Team has ambitious plans for its third season. The young squad, which emerged as the third-strongest team in 2007, is looking to notch up its first win in 2008.
Nick Heidfeld: “I’m really looking forward to the curtain-raiser in Australia – to a couple of free days to acclimatise and then for everything to get going at last! This time round I found it particularly difficult to gauge how the teams measure up against each other. We made progress between the roll-out in Valencia and the final test in Barcelona, but none of us will know where we stand until Melbourne. Autumn in Australia brings the possibility of rain, which would make driving without traction control and engine braking control a real challenge. I did some testing on a wet track and it was great fun. The Albert Park circuit doesn’t provide much grip even in dry conditions, especially at the start of the weekend.”
Robert Kubica: “In Australia all the speculating will finally come to an end. I just can’t wait for the season to start in Melbourne. The whole team has been working incredibly hard over the past weeks, the F1.08 has steadily improved and I think there’s even more potential lurking inside it. I like the circuit in Melbourne. If it were up to me, I’d have all the races on street circuits. Overall, precise driving skills have become even more critical in 2008 because there’s no more traction control to help if you stray onto the dirty side of the track. That’s going to cost time because you then have to ease off the throttle to correct yourself. Then there’s the great atmosphere in Melbourne with the fans and the beautiful city, all of which lends a special charm to the season-opener.”
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: “We are pleased that Australia is kicking off the season again in 2008. There’s always a very special atmosphere in Melbourne. The city just throbs, the spectators are all smitten with the Formula One bug, and everyone looks forward to the first test of strength with excited anticipation.
“Last year it turned out that we achieved our best qualifying result of the season at the curtain-raiser in Albert Park. Nick started from third place, Robert from fifth. The first race weekend always brings the moment of truth. That’s when we find out where everyone stands.
“During the winter we consciously opted for a change in concept for the BMW Sauber F1.08. To be able to catch up with the teams ahead of us we had to go for an aggressive approach. The reliability of the new car has been very good from the outset. We have also learnt that a car with a lot of potential is harder to control at the start than a more amenable car that reaches its limits far more quickly. For us it’s now a case of forging ahead with the fine-tuning. Since the roll-out, I believe we are on a good path.
“Our ambitious target for 2008 remains unchanged: this year we want to close the gap to the leaders and win our first race.”
Willy Rampf, Technical Director: “Melbourne is the perfect start to the Formula One season. It’s a fantastic city with a great atmosphere. Naturally we’re all keen to find out where we actually stand when all the teams put their cards on the table for the first time in Saturday’s qualifying.
“The circuit in Albert Park is a stop-go track with a lot of slow corners. With traction control and engine braking control now banned, the drivers will be under pressure when braking into as well as accelerating out of corners. Heavy demands will be made above all on the rear tyres on account of the circuit layout, and that will require the drivers to apply a more sensitive touch to the accelerator.
“In terms of the car’s set-up, the priorities are good traction and high braking stability. Sufficient brake cooling is also important as Melbourne has the highest braking loads after Montreal. The first race of the season also marks the first stage in the gearbox lifecycle. According to the new regulations, gearboxes have to be used for four race weekends, on both Saturday and Sunday.”