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BMW officially entered Formula One in its own right yesterday with the unveiling of the BMW Sauber F1.06 before more than 500 journalists and guests in the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (CAC) in Valencia (Spain). BMW purchased a majority shareholding in the Sauber Formula One team which became official on January 1. Without doubt the most interesting aspects of the F1 launch season is not the champagne and parties, but the information released by the various camps on their technical development. This year in particular, the reduction of engines from 3.0 litre V10 to 2.4 litre V8 will pose some interesting technical challenges, as explained by BMW at the launch.
The new V8 engines are heavier, shorter and, due to a 600 cc reduction in capacity, have lower output and fuel consumption. ''Lap times,'' estimates BMW Motorsport Director, Professor Theissen, ''will go up by around two to three seconds, though spectators will hardly be aware of it. The drivers, on the other hand, need to adapt their driving style. To put it simply, they will have to attack corners less sharply to get the most out of the power available.''
The different firing sequences and intervals compared to the V10 have led to a completely different vibration patterns. With a speed range that exceeded 19,000 rpm, the V10 hit a critical zone between 12,000 and 14,000 rpm. However, the engine spent very little time in this problematic band and smoothed itself out again as the revs were stepped up. But it is precisely here that the V8 encounters problems. Its vibration curve enters challenging territory later than the V10, starting at around 16,000 rpm and becoming more critical from there, which can impact on the stability of vehicle components. And, like its predecessor with two extra cylinders, the BMW P86 V8 engine also has to last for two grand prix weekends.
The BMW Sauber F1.06 is an all-new concept. The shorter and more fuel-efficient V8 powerplants exert a decisive influence on the architecture of the car. Due to the minimum dimensions for the design of the chassis as decreed by the FIA, the overall dimensions of the car remain almost unchanged. ''For the designers this means more scope in the design of the car thanks to the more compact engine,'' explains Willy Rampf, Technical Director Chassis at the BMW Sauber F1 Team. The lower tank capacity of the BMW Sauber F1.06 impacted on both the design of the monocoque and the position of the engine. The shorter powerplant, moreover, allowed the engineers to extend the titanium casing of the 7-speed transmission, which favoured the construction of a decidedly slimline rear end.
The engineers turned their focus primarily on aerodynamics, where it was not only a question of optimum downforce but enhanced efficiency as well. The construction, arrangement and design of all sub-assemblies and components followed this premise.
The front section of the new car came in for some striking treatment. The chassis has been significantly lowered at the front, which means the lower wishbones are no longer attached below the monocoque but directly to the side of the chassis. The nose of the car has also been lowered further to the ground and features an underside that curves slightly upwards. The front wing has been adjusted to the other changes through numerous optimisation measures. The aim of all these measures has been to improve the air flow to the underbody and the sidepods.
The reduced cooling requirement of the V8 engine allows not only for more compact radiators but for smaller apertures in the sidepods as well, which also benefits the car's aerodynamics. The same goes for the rollover bar with its integral air intake, which has been reduced in size as a result of the engine's lower air throughput. Complex finite-element calculations, furthermore, have enabled a significant reduction in the weight of the rollover bar while at the same time complying with stringent safety requirements.
A completely new feature on the BMW Sauber F1.06 is the design of the front and rear suspension. On the front axle, the layout is significantly determined by the higher attachement points of the lower wishbones, as dictated by efficient aerodynamics. The rear axle is similarly a new construction. At the heart of the deliberations here, however, were modified kinematics to match the demands of the Michelin tyres. Lowering the front section, moreover, has made for a corresponding drop in the position of the pedals and the inboard front-axle components, along with a lower position for the driver's legs. All these factors help to bring down the car's centre of gravity.
The drivers for the BMW Sauber F1 team's maiden season in the FIA Formula One World Championship are Nick Heidfeld (28, Germany), Jacques Villeneuve (34, Canada) and newcomer Robert Kubica (21, Poland), who takes on the mantle of test and substitute driver.
Test drives on the Valencia circuit will continue up to and including 19th January, during which time the track is reserved for the exclusive use of the BMW Sauber F1 Team. Between 23rd and 26th January the team will rub shoulders with the competition during testing in Barcelona.
BMW team for the first time
Dawn was just breaking on 22nd June 2005 when it was confirmed that BMW would be sending its own team into Formula One for the first time in 2006. A three-year contract with Nick Heidfeld was announced on 16th September and the team name was revealed on 14th November. Jacques Villeneuve was confirmed as the second driver on 1st December, and on the 20th Robert Kubica had been signed up as the team's test driver.
Alongside this, the first test drives with an interim Sauber chassis and the BMW P86 engine were launched on 28th November. Since January 1st 2006, BMW has owned a majority stake in the Swiss Sauber Holding AG.
In his function as BMW Motorsport Director, Professor Mario Theissen also directs the BMW Sauber F1 Team. In Valencia he commented: ''We have worked hard over the last seven months. We've driven forward the integration of the two locations, got an interim car up and running, signed up the drivers, concluded contracts with our major partners Petronas, Intel, Credit Suisse and O2 along with other sponsors, and negotiated 90 work contracts for new staff. That's not bad as an interim progress report. But we are not under any illusions: we have a long road ahead of us. 2006 is a year of transition, and so would be premature to declare any sporting objectives. The main thing is that everything is pointing in the right direction.''
According to Theissen, success can only be achieved with a fully integrated team and all-encompassing procedures: ''In our first season we will mainly be gathering experience. In 2005, Sauber came eighth in the Constructors' World Championship. That is our starting point. From there we aim to work our way up as quickly as possible. You can't do that overnight, needless to say. It requires patience and endurance. We have both.'' He goes on: ''For the BMW Group, Formula One acts as a high-tech lab and a technology accelerator. With its dynamism, premium image, sporting challenges and demand for technical innovations, Formula One chimes in perfectly with BMW's brand values ? including driving pleasure. And there's no other sporting event that generates so much attention worldwide on such a regular basis.''
The plans for expansion include boosting the workforce in Hinwil by more than 100 new staff, many of whom will be reinforcing the aerodynamics department. Theissen: ''The wind tunnel is outstanding and we want to run it on a multiple-shift basis as soon as possible.'' As for the expansion plans for new offices and development and production facilities, planning permission is expected in spring of 2006. In parallel with this, the networking of the two locations ? Munich (responsible for powertrain and electronics) and Hinwil (chassis and race deployment) ? is being driven forward along with an intensive development programme for 2007. By the end of that year all these measures will be fully implemented.
After 13 years in his role as Formula One team principal, Peter Sauber has retired from the operational side of the business. In Valencia he appeared for the first time in his new role as a consultant to the team.
Two adoptive Swiss in the cockpit.
They've known each other for a long time, they have both driven for Sauber before, they both live in Switzerland ? but never before have they been team-mates. Together, drivers Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve have a combined experience of 250 grands prix.
Heidfeld made his Formula One debut at the start of the 2000 season. From 2001 to 2003, he drove for the Swiss racing team. Two second places, which he gained for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team in season 2005, are his best results so far. At another grand prix in 2005 he took pole position. The man from M?nchengladbach, who became father to a daughter in July 2005, looks back on 98 F1 races. ''I'm really looking forward to the new season and the new team. I know most of the members from past years, of course,'' says Heidfeld. ''Besides, I can get to Hinwil by car in quarter of an hour, which is also an advantage. As a racing driver one is naturally impatient when it comes to seeing success. But we have to stay realistic. For me the most important thing is for us to work hard and make steady progress.''
No other driver to date has been as quick to seize the World Championship title as Jacques Villeneuve. In 1996, his debut year, the Canadian made it into the runner-up slot in the World Championship behind his Williams-Renault team-mate of the time, Damon Hill. The following year, 1997, he beat Michael Schumacher to the title for Williams-Renault. In a total of 152 grand prix races, he has claimed eleven wins and 13 poles. After five years with the BAR team, Villeneuve's F1 career appeared to be over in 2003. But then he was given the chance to contest the last three races of the 2004 season for Renault. For season 2005, the son of the famous Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve was signed up by Sauber.
''Setting up a new team is a very complex task,'' says Villeneuve looking ahead to the 2006 race season. ''I've been through it before. But I believe that the prerequisites that have come together here are good. I want to do my best to help the BMW Sauber F1 Team achieve success.''
Youngster on board
With Robert Kubica from Krakow, BMW has taken on a highly promising young driving talent as a test and replacement driver. The Pole will also be driving the third BMW Sauber F1.06 deployed during the Friday free practice sessions. Kubica drew attention to himself with a commanding title win in the 2005 World Series by Renault formula class. Theissen: ''He has worked hard to achieve his successes without major backing, and that is worthy of respect.'' Kubica also reaped plaudits in 2003 when he debuted in the Formula 3 Euro Series and won his very first race in this class, held at the Norisring in Nuremberg.