BMW Sauber have now wrapped up their winter testing schedule and are going home for final preparations for the 2009 F1 season starter March 28 in Melbourne Australia. Winter testing is also the only testing available to the teams for the entire season as the new F1 regulations ban all in season testing.

I have paid close attention to BMW Sauber’s winter testing and have a few thoughts. First, gathering any real and specific information on the team’s progress is almost impossible, but we are able to see what’s happening on track and come up with our own opinions. Reliability, speed, and handling are of course subjective when questions posed to the team are answered with a lot of political savvy rather than specific information. None the less, BMW Sauber seem to be on the right track for a title challenge.

BMW Sauber Jerez testing

Reliability has always been a boasting point for the team especially after completing the entire 2008 season without a DNF due to the car itself. Testing this winter started off of course with a brand new style of car to comply with the new regulations and straight out of the box reliability didn’t seem to be a big issue. Certainly problems did pop up, but they were minor in nature and corrected quickly with no recurrences of the same issues again. BMW Sauber`s final test session in Barcelona this week saw hundreds of kilometers put on the car including full race distance testing, starts, and pit work with not a reliability issue in sight.

KERS has been tested extensively this winter and after a few initial problems including safety, not much was reported and no problems were evident. This leads me to believe that the team`s KERS system is working well, but Dr. Mario Theissen (team principal) remains on the fence when asked if it will be used for the first race in Melbourne.

BMW Sauber Jerez testing 003

The speed of the F1.09 seems to be there and when asked for hot laps, both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were able to top the time charts, but more importantly this years times were the same or better than posted this time last year with the F1.08. I often say that testing times are fairly irrelevant, but when looking at times and paying particular attention to consistency, it isn`t hard to see that the F1.09 is a fast car. At this time, I put it up there with Ferrari, but don`t hold me to that in Melbourne. Anything can happen by then.

BMW Sauber Jerez testing 001

The new F1 regulations dramatically changed the aerodynamics of the car leaving the engineers to find new and more basic but innovative ways of generating the down-force and grip they enjoyed in previous years. Slicks returned and added front end grip on braking and slow speed corners, but a lot of work still had to be done to create that overall lost down-force. So far it appears the team has been very successful and both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld seem fairly happy with grip. Actually, drivers are never happy with the grip and always want more.

Handling comes from balance and grip which comes from down-force etc., and by the end of the day yesterday Robert Kubica was echoing what Nick Heidfeld has said, that the car handles well. I can`t say much more on that other than neither Nick or Robert had a trip into the gravel all winter.

BMW Sauber Jerez testing 002

Melbourne is just a few weeks away and from my standpoint, the team seems in pretty good shape to compete for wins and the drivers championship with either one of their drivers. The immediate competition for the front may have changed a little at this point with Ferrari, BMW Sauber, and Toyota being touted as the best cars through testing. Toyota is a bit of a surprise, but they have put together a great package and look strong. The other team of note is McLaren who have had a dismal winter with reliability problems, a couple of crashes, and generally a car that remains off the pace. That said, it is early and all teams still have a few tricks up their sleeves for Melbourne. I look for BMW Sauber to be right up there as a serious challenger this season.

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[Source: BMW AG photos ]