Mario Theissen, BMW’s Motorsport Director, has been talking of his decision to swap Villeneuve for Kubica earlier this year. He is unrepentant, saying that his job is to ensure the success of the team and, if he has the chance to put a faster driver into one of his cars, it only makes sense to do so.
Which is true but overlooks the matters of contracts. As it happens, Villeneuve did not sue for the contractual violation involved, presumably because Theissen asked him only to step down from a few races so they could try out Kubica – Villeneuve was not prepared to do that so it could be said that his departure was a mutual decision.
Which is fine as long as the team boss can come up with a request that his contracted driver cannot or will not accede to. It might be interesting to find out what happens when a driver is prepared to do anything to hang on to his seat; does the boss sack him anyway and take the financial consequences? And how good is it for the team to be paying out money in legal fees and damages, money that would be better employed in development of the car?
I suppose it does not matter too much when you have millions to throw around. But not that I am criticizing Theissen – I think his attitude is correct from a team perspective. I’m just pondering on what effect this might have on team and driver morale.
Also amongst Mario’s statements was the news that Heidfeld was asked to let Kubica through when the Pole came up behind him in the Japanese GP but the German driver refused to do so, in exactly similar manner to the Trulli/Schumacher situation in the same race. As I pointed out in my article on the Toyota incident, this cannot be good for the functioning of the team. Once a driver has denied a request intended to help the team, there is always a suspicion that he will do the same again.
It’s a difficult area. Naturally, you want drivers who are determined to experience success and who will drive to the best of their ability. No driver is going to enjoy letting his teammate through – the reflection on their respective talents is obvious, whether fair or not. But, when that personal ambition gets in the way of the team’s success, it becomes counter-productive.
Probably the best way to go about it is to soothe the injured pride of the driver being passed by making it clear that he has a problem with the car. Worn or blistered tires are an understandable reason for being slow, after all. And no-one gets hurt in the process.
Although I think Mario Theissen does an excellent job, this nagging doubt about the handling of his drivers is yet another reason why I favor Honda for the championship next year, rather than BMW. The Japanese manufacturer also has two drivers who are competing fiercely with each other but we hear no rumors of squabbles or disagreements emanating from that camp. And that makes them seem more focused on the job in hand.