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COLUMN - PUBLISHED ON JANUARY 21ST 2009
Steven English Inside the BMW Sauber launch
Steven English reports on the unveiling of BMW's F1.09 challenger in Valencia and considers whether it will live up to the team's high hopes for it

  By Steven English
 
 

"The ambition is always to achieve what the car is capable of. If the car is able to win the championship then I am going to want to be there. We have to be optimistic but we don't know how the car is going to be.

"Maybe we'll arrive in Australia with one of the quickest cars, and that would be excellent, but realistically we will arrive in the top six. If the car is winning then that will be great!"

Can you tell whose pre-season speech that is? Nope? Me neither. Could have been any of them, probably all of them.

The BMW Sauber F1.09 BMW AG

The script on the target for the coming season has been passed from team to team and driver to driver so many times that they all know it by heart. So sitting at home, eagerly awaiting the new season - this biggest shake up for a decade, searching for hints on who has got it right and who is struggling - how is anyone supposed to read into that? They're all going to 'maximise their potential'. Great.

Because everyone has started from scratch, they're actually telling the truth when they say they have no idea how they compare to their rivals. Until the full 2009-spec cars get out on a track with each other, all we can do is look for the little things - those hidden clues that suggest some are quietly confident while others are putting on a calm front with their feet flapping ten to the dozen below the surface.

BMW Sauber's launch at Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit yesterday was a very BMW-like affair. While some teams dragged theirs on all day, or bizarrely put 10 hours between the revealing of the car and the press conferences, BMW's was done and dusted in a little over two hours. Then the car was free to spend most of the day testing - the important bit. If the same level of efficiency has gone into the F1.09's preparation as went into its unveiling, they ought to be well set.

The team have been one of the biggest supporters of the introduction of KERS, the loudest voice trying to ensure that it goes ahead despite the problems along the way. So there we were all thinking that they must have had the most success with it, that they must be quickest. At least until they admitted yesterday that even they might not be ready to use it in Australia - although that's not to say that they aren't still furthest along with it!

Though maybe that revelation just shifts them back to where they prefer to be, underdogs. They never liked being favourites anyway, all that extra unnecessary pressure and expectation. They're falling nicely into their comfort zone again. But even BMW can't escape that this is the big one. Since 2006 this has been the year that they were going to challenge for the championship. With the amount of work they've already done with an interim car, and KERS - when it comes - it's hard to think why they shouldn't take another step closer to McLaren and Ferrari.

Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica XPB

Listening to Robert Kubica talking at the launch, you couldn't help but wonder whether some tension between him and the team remains. Of course he talks of putting 2008 behind them and working together with the same goal now, and that's absolutely true. But he gives the impression that he still doesn't agree that they did the right thing in prioritising the 2009 development so early on, and that it had better pay off.

Nick Heidfeld on the other hand couldn't be happier. He's as good as family at BMW, and all the things he struggled with in driving the car last season have handily been taken away. He's genuinely excited for the coming season - in his own Nick Heidfeld way of course. He's hungry to right the perception of the job he did last year and he is one of the drivers best placed to quickly get to the bottom of what makes these new era cars tick.

By the end of the quickfire launch, no great answers were revealed. They're predictably making the same noises as everyone else, and now we know they've had their struggles too - just like everyone else. So they're probably not going to lap the field at Melbourne, but they probably will be in the hunt somewhere. Very BMW.

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  ABOUT STEVEN ENGLISH
Steven is autosport.com's news editor and AUTOSPORT's World Touring Car correspondent. He joined the magazine during his final year of university in 2005 and was national editor for two years before joining the website in January 2008.

A former winner of the Renault/MSA Young Journalist of the Year award, Steven has been AUTOSPORT's correspondent for Formula BMW, Formula Renault, British F3 and the F3 Euro Series, as well as covering the Le Mans 24 Hours and Formula 1.

His work has appeared in publications including McLaren's F1 magazine Racing Line, American magazine Racer and Australian Auto Action. He lives in Kingston-upon-Thames in south west London.
Contact Steven English
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