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Formula 1

The BMW Sauber Years

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As the engine cover on Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber said “servus” (Bavarian slang for goodbye) to the world of F1 last weekend the team were not only saying their farewells to the Pole. They were departing after four seasons as a works team and a further six campaigns as an engine supplier, making 10 uninterrupted years in F1.

The final chapter in BMW's F1 adventure began (officially) on the January 16 2006, when BMW Sauber's first car designated the F1.06 was unveiled at the Valencia circuit.

While far from a new team, the Munich based manufacturer had simply brought into the Peter Sauber's independent team, supplying the engines while the team remained based in Hinwil Switzerland.

Sauber's team had by no means been a minnow, scoring regular points in its later seasons, and under its new guise the team continued to show form.

It took the team only two to secure their first points, with Jacques Villeneuve finishing seventh. The points tally was then added the following race in Melbourne as Villeneuve scored three more points for sixth, while his teammate Nick Heidfeld grabbed five, for a fourth place finish.

The promising start faded slightly, though the team's two drivers still combined for seven more points finishes in time for the team's (or at least BMW's) home race at Hockenhiem.

He the team's season threatened to take a turn for the ugly. Both drivers retired, Heidfeld with brake problems and Villeneuve after a heavy crash.

The following week in Hungary the Canadian wasn't in the car, officially because of injuries from his crash, though his departure with immediate effect the following week perhaps pointed to something else.

Into the cockpit climbed Robert Kubica, at the time the reigning champion in World Series by Renault, who quickly proved his worth, qualifying tenth, two places higher than his teammate, and though the Pole was disqualified from his seventh position it was clear the team had delivered a talent to F1.

That talent was confirmed two races later when he recorded his first career podium and the second for the team, Heidfeld having finished third in Hungary.

The following season was even better, Heidfeld recording a trio of fourth place finishes behind Ferrari and McLaren drivers as the team cemented itself as F1's third best team. However, once more an accident threatened to derail the team.

As Kubica's destroyed car tumbled its way down towards the hairpin in Montreal, it was easy to fear the worse, happily though he sustained only minor injuries, only having to sit out the following race at Indianapolis.

For a replacement BMW once more turned to the ranks of World Series by Renault to recruit Sebastian Vettel, who finished eighth in his first race, becoming the youngest F1 points scorer. BMW Sauber had introduced another talented young driver to F1, and Vettel was soon snapped up by Toro Rosso.

Despite the accident 2007 saw the team record their best result in the constructors' title, finishing second (though they would have been third without McLaren's disqualification).

2008 saw more success, with the podium count for the team nearly quadrupling as Heidfeld and Kubica scored 11 podiums. These included a 1-2 finish as Kubica scored his first (and what would ultimately be the squad's only) win in Canada, the track he crashed so badly in the previous years.

Once more squarely established as the sport's third best team Kubica was actually mathematically in contention for the title until the closing round of the year until a drop off in form and a change in focus to developing the 2009 race car.

2009, arguably, was the year the BMW dream turned to a nightmare. Faced with a world in recession Credit Suisse, who had sponsored the team since the Sauber years were forced to withdraw their sponsorship, and a surprisingly disappointing car, though Heidfeld finished second in the aquatic Malaysian Grand Prix, had the team looking for answers.

None came, and on July 29 came the announcement everyone had feared – BMW were pulling out of F1, and would look for a buyer to keep the Hinwil staff in F1, a buyer who would turn out to be Qadbak Investments who appear to headed to the 2010 grid given Toyota's exit.

By the time the chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi on BMW Sauber's 70th and final Grand Prix (in poetic symmetry they ended 2009 with 36 points, the same total as their 2006 debut) the team had scored 308 points including 16 podiums.

Adding the statistics from their six years in the back of the Williams cars the manufacturer has scored 774 points, 61 podiums and 11 wins.

But as BMW say “servus” to F1, consider this is not the first time the marque has left the sport, having previously supplied engines to teams such as a Brabham, Benetton and Arrows between 1982 and 86.

So, one day we could see BMW back in F1, and we'll have to find out what the Bavarian slang for “welcome back” is.

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