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Q & A with Mario Theissen

BMW Sauber boss Mario Theissen has always been adamant that 2009 will be the season when his team become fully-fledged, season-long title contenders, but at his press briefing during the launch of the F1.09 today, the main interest was in his opinion on Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems and the current state of Formula One.

He revealed that even staunch KERS advocates BMW might not be ready to run the system in Melbourne, and defended his team's support for the controversial device.

Q. Will you be ready to run KERS in Melbourne?

Mario TheissenMario Theissen: Internally we say we have to be ready. It's natural with innovative projects that you cannot really plan when you reach your target, if you fully reach it or if you exceed it. This is the nature of innovation. We have a very tight time schedule and it's not about being there at the first race, it's about being there to take advantage.

Q. Will teams use KERS in Friday practice then decide whether to use it in the race?

MT: It might be possible to switch backward and forward from the system. It could happen.

Q. What is your position on the decision to press ahead with KERS amid all the cost cuts?

MT: We have had numerous discussions on KERS over the course of the last year, it's not new. Some teams have always been opposed to it, others have been in favour of it. We probably have been the strongest supporter.

In the past month we have discussed KERS within FOTA and we have a clear agreement on how to proceed with the regulations and how to come to a unanimous decision. This discussion was quite open and we came to the conclusion that based on mainly our request - but not only our request - that we would stick to KERS.

Our position in the discussions has been that KERS is important for Formula One because it will put F1 into the role of a new technology pioneer. Obviously, we think KERS is important to BMW because we have put a lot of effort on it. We agreed that the cost of KERS was quite significant but the real thing is that when we discussed it a month ago the money had been spent already on development, so it would be the worst thing to spend money on something you don't use.

Even if you delay the introduction, no development project has become cheaper by delaying the introduction. In effect, all the teams would have developed KERS for another year before making use of it and that, in our view, doesn't make sense.

Q. What is your opinion on the proposed standard KERS?

MT: This discussion is still on the table and I think we should wait a few months and see where we are, until the teams have gained the first experience, then look at the issue. At the moment the teams are in favour of a standard system for 2010.

Q. How confident are you in BMW's commitment to F1?

MT: Our board has made a clear statement that we are fully committed and this (the withdrawal of other manufacturers) does not affect in any way our involvement in Formula One.

Q. Is your operation the same size as last year?

MT: It is very similar to last year and it is secured for the season so everything is set.

Q. Is there any pressure on Nick Heidfeld to win his first race this year?

MT: I can't take away the pressure from a driver and definitely we want to win ourselves. I think he should have a good chance to win a race this year, he is experienced, he is very capable of dealing with technical issues and understanding the new car, and that could help him.

Q. Once KERS is ready, is it possible to switch from one race to the next?

MT: It is very much possible to decide on a race by race basis if it makes sense or not depending on the expected laptime gain. It's very track dependant on how much you get a laptime benefit.

Q. What is your position on the proposed budget caps?

MT: We have had very extensive discussions on budget cuts last year. In principle we have always supported the budget cap instead of individual technical restrictions because very simply if you want to save money you should limit money and not something else.

So in our view this is a very valid approach, you can always argue about the figure then, but the principle of going to a budget cut and allowing the teams to spend the money in areas they think will make them competitive, is something we would approve.

Q. Would a budget cap be difficult to police?

MT: I think it wouldn't be that difficult. If you police a budget cap it's just one figure you have to police. In my view it's much more difficult if you don't achieve a budget cap and come up with individual restrictions like wind tunnel use or, simulator use, or whatever.

Q. Are you spending more or less than last year?

MT: For our team I can say we have shrunk our budget by 30 per cent from 2005 to 2008 already. So with our own team in 2008, BMW spent 30 per cent less than in 2005 as an engine supplier to Williams. For 2009 we expect a further cut back of our budget, and again for 2010.

Q. Have you had to make staff cuts?

MT: Yes, in the medium term it doesn't make sense to keep a separate test team because pre-season and post-season tests can be done by the race team. We had a few people from the race team as well, but that's how we cope with it.

Q. will you have to dedicate so many resources to the next new car that there will be a repeat of last year?

MT: Now we have to come back to business as usual because we won't have such dramatic changes to the regulations for 2010, the car concept will be like this year. With the restrictions on development, with aero especially, it doesn't make sense to have more resources than we have currently. We are perfectly set up for the current situation.

Q. With regard to overtaking, the drivers say the new rules won't make a difference, has the idea failed?

MT: I would not say it was a failure. Definitely the target is right and definitely the technical directors came up with what they expected to be useful, and I would be cautious to judge on that based on the experience we have. Our drivers have been driving an interim car so far but when they followed another car it always was a 2008, so we need to wait for the pre-season tests to really see where we are.

Q. Is Robert Kubica happier now than he was at the end of 2008?

MT: First I have to say that I was as disappointed as Robert. The main reason for the lack of progress was not that we put too much effort on the F109, it was that we made several developments which didn't live up to the expectations. We had some problems to understand the reasons for that, but I think we have identified the reasons now and learned from that, so I am confident.

Q. What is your opinion on the medals system?

MT: I think there has to be some more thought on it. I think it wouldn't change much in the race, but there would be a lesser chance for the midfield teams or the teams at the back to achieve something and for me that is not a good prospect.

Q. Do you think F1 needs to improve its show?

MT: The response from the fan survey was that they want to see spectacular action on the track, but they also want to see Formula One to be the pinnacle of technology, so in my view that is a clear request to achieve both.

We have three targets at the moment. The most urgent one has been cost cutting. Number two is to maintain F1 as the technologically most advanced racing category, and now, as soon as we have an agreement on the technical and sporting regulations, the next thing to talk about is the show.

We know that we could and should do much better. We can do much more for the fans. There are a lot of ideas on the table. This is the next big task of FOTA and we are in cooperation with the FIA, and Bernie and people at his end, and we will make progress here as well.

Q. Is it right for FOTA to push for a greater share of the sport's commercial revenues?

MT: Yes, I absolutely agree because we think firstly the revenues can be further increased, and secondly that the teams put in so much effort - the independent teams as well as the manufacturers - should definitely have a bigger share of the revenues.

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