In 2006, Dr. Mario Theissen convinced the BMW Board of Directors to end BMW's partnership with the Williams F1 Team and to enter F1 as a manufacturer team, by buying out what was then Peter Sauber's Sauber Petronas.
From 2006 onwards, Theissen and his team have been on a steady upward curve of progress. He has been instrumental in systematically and thoughtfully integrating the team in Hinwil, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany.
He left 'Sauber' on the team's name, which I think mattered a lot to the guys back in Hinwil who had been loyal to Peter Sauber since 1970. It gave them a feeling of being a part of the new team and not just an entity that was bought out.
Peter Sauber remained with the team as a consultant. This is something that stands out when compared to the way other team takeovers have happened in F1 like Spyker buying out Jordan; B.A.R. (now Honda) buying out Tyrell; and Jaguar buying out Stewart Grand Prix.
This has resulted in the smooth integration of the team in Hinwil and Munich, which has been the key to the success they enjoy now.
BMW took on board Nick Heidfeld as the lead driver and Jacques Villeneuve who had an existing contract with Sauber Petronas. Robert Kubica was signed in as the third driver.
Nick is one of the most underrated drivers with immense talent, and his not so outspoken character perfectly suited the team. Jacques was a clear mismatch, and that resulted in him being ousted from the team in Hungary.
A strong technical team headed by Willy Rampf has been one step ahead of the game. Instead of investing in multiple wind tunnels, he has been sensible and has gone ahead and invested in Albert 2, the fastest industrial supercomputer in Europe, to simulate CFD models. This has been another key to the team's progress.
Unlike other team principals in F1, Theissen had set very realistic and sensible targets for the team to achieve every year.
2006 - Integrate the team in Hinwil and Munich -> Achieved their first podium
2007 - Get on the podium regularly -> Second in the Constructors
2008 - Win a Grand Prix Race -> Kubica wins in Canada
They have quite comfortably hit their targets year after year. No other Formula 1 team has made quite as much progress as BMW Sauber have made in the past three years. Another point worth noting is that the team's budget has been under control, unlike extravagant spenders like Toyota, Honda, and Ferrari.
The team's driver lineup for 2009 hasn't been confirmed. There are speculations that Alonso might move to BMW, but I really don't think Alonso is a match for the team's character and is better off staying with Flavio and Renault.
BMW Sauber have set their sights on the Drivers and Constructors championship in 2009. Can they win it? Looking back at their achievements to date, they certainly look destined to win the championship next year.
Can the spate of rule changes for next year knock them off track? I think Theissen has got it covered...
However, only time can tell, so enjoy the competitive drivers championship this year!