BMW-Sauber suffered arguably the most miserable weekend in its Formula 1 history in the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, with Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica trailing in respectively last and last-but one in the desert kingdom, as the team's world championship challenge lies in tatters.
The Bavarian outfit has endured a torrid start to the 2009 campaign – its fourth in the top flight as a manufacturer in its own right – with the only bright spots to-date Heidfeld's opportunistic if somewhat fortuitous runner-up position in the rain-lashed Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, and Kubica's victory-threatening pace in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Bahrain, however, would mark a new low.
Having qualified just 13th (Kubica) and 14th (Heidfeld) around a circuit where this time twelve months ago the Pole had swept to pole position, hopes for race day were slim – and they became rather slimmer still when the two drivers found themselves forced into each other in the frantic first corner moments after the starting lights had gone out. Both required new noses and both would rejoin at the back of the pack – and that is precisely where both would remain.
“My race was destroyed after corner one,” reflected Kubica. “I was between Nick and another car, we touched each other and I destroyed my front wing. Then after the crash there was a miscommunication with the pit crew. I asked to come in straight away, but was only able to pit after the second lap.
“Then the race was very difficult, as for a long time I was in a heavy car on prime tyres. We were really nowhere with our pace. I hope we make a big step forward in Barcelona.”
“The result is a disaster,” agreed his German team-mate, who took little joy in breaking countryman Michael Schumacher's record for the most consecutive grand prix finishes, “although we were unlucky with the collision in the first corner. At first I thought the suspension was broken, but I only had to have a new nose fitted in the pits and then continued. The first half of the race with the harder tyres was difficult, but the softer compound made it a little bit easier. However, it is another race to forget and we all hope for improvements in Barcelona.”
Those improvements, indeed, cannot come soon enough, as BMW languishes a distant sixth in the constructors' standings, with chief rivals McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault unquestionably now making progress – whilst the Munich and Hinwil-based concern appears to be standing still, if not in fact going backwards. For a team that was targeting title glory back at the beginning of the season, these are undeniably desperate times.
“We knew it would be another difficult race weekend for us,” acknowledged BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen, “and it was also clear the danger of a collision would be higher the further down the grid we were. As we feared, both our drivers had early collisions and as a result the race was practically over.
“During the pit-stops we gave them a lot of fuel and sent them out with hard tyres, because the only chance of getting back into the race would have been during a safety-car period – but even if this had happened, scoring a point would have been impossible. We are now concentrating on the next race in Barcelona, where we will compete with a new aero package.”
“Our starting positions were not good at all,” concurred head of engineering Willy Rampf, “and then our race was practically over just after the start. After the collisions and the necessary repairs neither driver had a chance to really get back into the race. Now we have to look forward, and in Barcelona we will have an improved car.”