Gerhard Berger, for 25 years one of the most popular figures in the Formula One paddock, has finally confirmed that this weekend's Italian Grand Prix will be his last as a driver or team member.

The Austrian competed in 210 races as a driver in the top flight, before going on to accept a role with BMW that oversaw its Le Mans, Sebring and ALMS triumphs as well as the return to Formula One with WilliamsF1.

Q:
In the light of the current performance of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team, it can hardly be said that you are abandoning a sinking ship. So why are you leaving your post as ship's pilot?

Gerhard Berger:
Don't they say you should go while the going's good? Seriously, though, I spent a long time struggling with this decision. But, in the end, I just felt that, for me personally, now is the right time to stop. I just don't want to carry on leading this hectic lifestyle. I want to be able to sit back and find out what is still important to me beyond a job in motorsport, whatever shape that may take.

I had a wonderful time as a driver, and I've had five great years with BMW. I'm grateful that the company showed enough confidence in me to back me on the entrepreneurial side as well. Working with everyone, first and foremost Mario Theissen, has been an extremely harmonious experience. Whatever I might decide to do professionally, I'm unlikely to find a partner like Mario again. We complement each other so perfectly and I have so much trust in him. We got a lot of things off the ground and had a lot of successes.

Q:
If BMW were to win the world championship again one day, you would no longer be a part of it. Would that cause you any regret?

GB:
No, not at all. I would be proud of it. After all, I was involved in setting up the team that is now vying for the championship. I'm convinced the team is ready for the title and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them.

Q:
How difficult was it making the switch from driver to director?

GB:
The most important aspects were developing a team and company mentality. As a driver, you have to be self-centred, but, as a team captain, that is counter-productive. Mario naturally helped me a great deal in getting used to the down-to-earth corporate way of thinking and the way a major car manufacturer such as BMW is structured. He knows the company and all its workings back to front. I learnt to deal with countless details and parameters which a driver wouldn't give two hoots about.

Q:
What were the goals you set yourself as a BMW motorsport director, and what have you achieved?

GB:
These have been five successful motor racing years for BMW. Victory at Le Mans in 1999, a great start to Formula One, our first wins, second place in last year's world championship, plus triumphs in the European Touring Car Championship - and Formula BMW is also shaping up very well. Of course, I can't stick all these feathers in my hat alone, but I'd like to think that the task that BMW's then chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, gave me in 1998 has been optimally fulfilled.

We have set up strong teams for the various areas and have organised them well. Our concern was always to position BMW on both the sporting and the representational front in a way that was appropriate and beneficial to the company. The five-year contract with WilliamsF1, which involved some hard negotiating, is
just the right way to wind up my term of duty.

Q:
Which success in those five years has meant the most to you?

GB:
Normally, Formula One is the measure of all things for me, but one of the greatest moments was winning Le Mans in 1999. We were competing against an extremely strong field, and we were certainly not the favourites. I can still recall journalists explaining to me all the things the competition had going for them and how we had next to no chance.

But I believed in our concept. We had a really good chassis, coupled with the indestructible BMW V12, and had already won the Sebring 12 Hour Race. The BMW technicians working together with the Schnitzer crew made for a first-rate team and, for me, Charly Lamm is without doubt the best strategist of all. Plus we had signed on really fast drivers. This 24-hour event was an unforgettable experience, and it was undoubtedly important for my standing in the eyes of BMW as well. I had made a few decisions that hadn't exactly made me popular.

Q:
Were you initially sceptical because BMW wanted to build the F1 engine and everything it entailed by themselves?

GB:
After I had been shown what was possible in Munich, specifically in the FIZ [BMW Research and Innovation Centre], I had not a moment's doubt. I'm sure that BMW, with all its resources, could also build a good Formula One chassis. But, yes, in the beginning people thought this was verging on megalomania. And it was a bit of a risk, for example, to develop and manufacture the engine management independently from the start. But, ultimately, it proved absolutely the right move for us to build our own factory and other facilities such as the F1 foundry and to employ our own people. Just how good the BMW technicians and engineers are can also be seen in the fact that the competition are trying to woo them.

Q:
Can you sit still on the sofa when watching a GP race on television?

GB:
That depends. If it's a fairly uneventful race, yes. But these days the races are so exciting that I never get bored watching them from home. And, because I know exactly what our strengths and weaknesses are, there are times when I do get a bit nervous.

Q:
Which grands prix will you miss and what are the destinations you'll be glad not to have to revisit?

GB:
My absolute favourite places used to be Rio and Adelaide - fantastic cities. I also always enjoyed going to Montreal and Budapest. But I was never in a great hurry to get to Magny-Cours.

Q:
What have you missed over the last five years?

GB:
The same thing that I began missing during my career as a racing driver - time. My life was always completely booked up - every week, every day. And when the prospect of a holiday would eventually come up, I found I'd be thinking about a thousand things to do in that time. I just can't manage to live for the day.

Q:
What role did your family play in your decision not to extend your BMW contract?

GB:
No active role in the sense that Ana or the children might have said I should give up the job. They know full well that I won't be tied on a leash. But I just want to have more of them. I've missed an awful lot. Over the last few months, we've had more time for one another and I can sense what's developing out of that. Even so, it's not enough time.

Q:
How much time do you devote to your parents' haulage business in Tyrol?

GB:
I saw my parents making a success of the company and, at the moment, the whole sector is going through a difficult patch. There are jobs at stake, including those of people I grew up with. From that point of view, I'm heavily involved with the haulage company. I see that as a perfectly normal responsibility. But I'm assuming I won't always be needed there. I'm sure I'll never turn into a full-time, thoroughbred haulier.

Q:
As you're not one for being idle either, what will you do?

GB:
I don't know yet. First, I want to see whether or how much I'm going to miss working in motorsport. If I can't cope without Formula One, I'll look around for a suitable task. But there are a number of things beyond the sport that interest me from a business point of view - real estate, for example. I don't need to rush into anything just yet, though. I'm nowhere near feeling anything remotely like sweet boredom.