THE MOLE

Noises from Munich

The Mole cannot claim to be a great fan of German poets but now and then he reads a little Goethe (in the original German) to soothe his nerves. This is often necessary after meetings about budgets. Friedrich Von Schiller wrote much but little of value to The Mole except one line which, for some reason, The Mole always remembers.

"Mit der Dummheit kampfen Gotter selbst vergebens". Or, in literal translation: "Even the Gods struggle in vain against stupidity".

Schiller's point was a good one. One cannot stop people doing dumb things, particularly in Formula 1 where any number of lessons from history are ignored. History is treated with contempt. And so mistakes which were made years ago are made again and again.

Success in F1 is such a fragile thing that those who have tasted it are probably the only ones who can appreciate exactly what it is and what it takes to achieve. Others simply dream about it or talk about it. They never achieve it.

The suggestion from Munich that there are people within BMW who think that the firm should do its own Formula 1 programme is one of such breath-taking arrogance that even Schiller would have marvelled at the stupidity of it all.

This is not to say that the people at BMW should be happy with where they are. Far from it. The BMW managers are quite right to feel that the company should be winning in Formula 1. The engine which has been produced by the men at BMW Motorsport is an impressive piece of work and has shown that there is nothing much lacking at BMW in terms of engine designing and building skills. But composite chassis are a completely different world: and one can only "buy in" so much knowledge.

It is the fate of BMW to have arrived in F1 at a time when Ferrari is one of the strongest racing teams to be seen in Formula 1 for the last 20 years. Ferrari is an incredible operation at the moment and The Mole's men on the inside at Maranello say that there will be no let-up next year. Scuderia Ferrari is going burn up more records in 2003. The team has the industrial infrastructure, the budget, the right people and the will to win and it is going to go on winning for a year or two more.

Formula 1's best response would be to pressure Ferrari into agreeing to have two drivers who are a match for one another and who are allowed to race. Jean Todt built a team with which to win the World Championship and it has been so successful that the sport is in a little trouble. Todt must now understand that it is the moment to allow the Ferrari team-mates to turn on one another, if only for the good of the sport.

The Mole would argue that intra-team rivalry is also what Ferrari needs. If Michael Schumacher is allowed to leave the sport in a few years without an heir and successor the team will collapse behind him and the Ferrari company will be poorer for it. Ferrari needs there to be a challenger as much as F1 needs it.

But none of this helps the men in Munich. They hoped that in 2002, 2003 and 2004 they would be challenging for the World Championship. Until this year things seemed to be on track with a year of testing in 1999 and then building years in 2000 and 2001 but the 2002 season has been a big disappointment. BMW is looking at two more years with Williams and the pressure is on for the team to produce a really spectacularly good car next season. At Grove they know that this is a vital moment in the history of the team and huge amounts of effort are being put in in the hope that the team can beat Ferrari. And there is nothing like a little humiliation to motivate a workforce of competitive people.

Despite this there are some in Bavaria who believe that Williams is not up to the task and that the only sensible option is for BMW to take a big jump into the deep end of the sport and try to do the whole thing themselves.

This is an astounding piece of arrogance.

BMW engineering is famously good but Formula 1 is famously difficult. To go down this route would require a huge financial commitment from BMW and a commitment to the sport for at least 10 years. When you own a team you cannot come and go as one does as an engine manufacturer. And there are no guarantess that a BMW team would even get vaguely close to where Williams is at the moment. It is a fact that in 24 years only one team other than Ferrari, Williams or McLaren has won the Constructors' World Championship: Williams has won nine, Ferrari and McLaren have taken seven apiece. The other went to Benetton in 1995 in rather unusual circumstances.

Wiser souls in the Munich hierarchy are warning that BMW doing its own thing is not a good idea and that BMW executives should remember that until recently the company was afflicted by something called "The English Patient", which drained the resources of the company to a frightening level. But the Rover Group was cut loose and now BMW is back as a star of the automotive world, taking on the big guys with some wonderful product lines. The English Patient was a bigger bite than BMW could chew and leaping in Formula 1 could be just as dangerous in image terms.

The Mole believes that to go into F1 with its own start-up operation would be a shocking risk for BMW to take.

A buyout of Williams might be an option if the team was for sale but The Mole does not see Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head selling out.

The other option would be for BMW to buy another team and lead it upwards through the field. The obvious purchase would be Sauber. This is largely owned by a bank and so money is enough. Peter Sauber holds the voting rights but Sauber is not as young as once he was and the team could probably fall into BMW hands for less than $100m. It would be a good place to start as Sauber's good little technical team is headed by a BMW engineer Willy Rampf. The problem with this is that the factory and the new Sauber windtunnel are in Hinwil, 180 miles from where they need to be in Munich.

The Mole's spies in Munich say that no decision has yet been made but that all these options are being considered.

The engineering Gods are, it seems, struggling to decide.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

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