By BMW Motorsport
September 8 2003
BMW Motorsport Director Gerhard Berger will end his involvement in Formula One at the Italian Grand Prix. Berger has been both a driver and manager during his career in Formula one and in recent times he has played a major role in BMW's successful return to Formula One.
|Berger bids a fond farewell|
Director Gerhard Berger bids a fond farewell. The coming race weekend, 12th
to 14th September, marks his final Formula One involvement for BMW at the
Italian Grand Prix. It was announced at the start of the season that the
44-year-old Austrian will not be extending his contract for this post when
it runs out at the end of the month.
"It was a tough decision," says Berger. "It has been great doing the job and working together with BMW, but after almost 25 years of leading the life of a vagabond, I just want to take things a bit easier."
After 14 years and 210 Grands Prix as a Formula One driver, the motor sportsman from Austrian Tyrol took up his post as BMW Motorsport Director in October 1998. His new job at the top in tandem with Mario Theissen turned into a similar success story. In 1999 BMW won both the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Sebring 12 Hour race with the BMW V12 LMR against the toughest of competition.
In the debut race marking BMW's Formula One comeback in March 2000 in Melbourne, BMW went straight into third place. By the end of the season the BMW WilliamsF1 Team had taken third place in the FIA Formula One Constructors' World Championship, as it would do in 2001 as well. In 2002, the BMW and WilliamsF1 partnership forged ahead into second place in the Constructors' Championship. Now, in 2003, the team is already competing for the title.
Alongside its Formula One involvement, BMW also triumphed in the 2001 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) with the M3 GTR, winning the manufacturers', team and drivers' championships. Between 1999 and 2002 BMW collected a total of 38 touring car titles.
In the field of junior talent promotion, 2002 saw the debut of the Formula BMW, an ultra-modern single-seater employed as the standard vehicle in the German Formula BMW ADAC Championship. An Asian counterpart series was also launched in 2003.
"This string of successes is down to the fact that we have managed to create a truly first-rate team that has shown tremendous enthusiasm and commitment. I will be staying in touch with the BMW brand and the entire team at BMW Motorsport beyond 2003 as well," says Berger.
Curriculum Vitae Gerhard Berger
Date/Place of birth: 27th August 1959 / Wörgl (Austria)
Marital status: married to Ana, daughters Christina (23), Sara (7), Heidi (5)
1979-1984: Formula Ford, Group 5 touring cars, Alfa Sud Cup, German and European Formula 3 Championship
1984-1986: European Touring Car Championship with BMW Team Schnitzer in a BMW 635 CSi Coupé, victory in the 1985 Spa 24 Hours (BEL) inter alia
1984-1997: FIA Formula One World Championship:
1984: ATS BMW
1985: Arrows BMW
1986: Benetton BMW (first GP win in Mexico)
1987-1989: Ferrari (four wins)
1990-1992: McLaren Honda (three wins)
1993-1995: Ferrari (one win)
1996-1997: Benetton Renault (one win)
1998-2003: BMW Motorsport Director
In his touring car days Berger had already forged a close relationship with BMW, and his F1 debut was accompanied by the BMW 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine. In 1984 he contested his first Grand Prix in an ATS BMW, going on to celebrate his first Formula One victory in a Benetton BMW in 1986.
The Austrian ended his career as a racing driver after the final of the 1997 World Championship. In 210 Grand Prix events he achieved ten victories, 17 second places and 21 third places, as well as twelve pole positions and 21 fastest laps.
14 years in motor racing's leading event made Berger one of the most senior Formula One drivers around. He continued to pursue his entrepreneurial interests during that time, looking after the managerial side of his profession as well as his parents' haulage company in Wörgl.
Interview with Gerhard Berger
Q: In the light of the current performance of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team, it can hardly be said that you are abandoning a sinking ship. So why are you leaving your post as ship's pilot?
Gerhard Berger: Don't they say
you should go while the going's good? Seriously, though, I spent a long time
struggling with this decision. But in the end I just felt that, for me
personally, now is the right time to stop. I just don't want to carry on
leading this hectic lifestyle. I want to be able to sit back and find out
what is still important to me beyond a job in motorsport, whatever shape
that may take. I had a wonderful time as a driver and I've had five great
years with BMW. I'm grateful that the company showed enough confidence in me
to back me on the entrepreneurial side as well. Working with everyone, first
and foremost Mario Theissen, has been an extremely harmonious experience.
Whatever I might decide to do professionally, I'm unlikely to find a partner
like Mario again. We complement each other so perfectly and I have so much
trust in him. We got a lot of things off the ground and had a lot of
Berger: No, not at all. I
would be proud of it. After all, I was involved in setting up the team that
is now vying for the championship. I'm convinced the team is ready for the
title and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them.
Berger: The most important
aspects were developing a team and company mentality. As a driver you have
to be self-centred, but as a team captain that is counter-productive. Mario
naturally helped me a great deal in getting used to the down-to-earth
corporate way of thinking and the way a major car manufacturer such as BMW
is structured. He knows the company and all its workings back to front. I
learnt to deal with countless details and parameters which a driver wouldn't
give two hoots about.
Berger: These have been five
successful motor racing years for BMW. Victory at Le Mans in 1999, a great
start to Formula One, our first wins, second place in last year's World
Championship, plus triumphs in the European Touring Car Championship - and
Formula BMW is also shaping up very well. Of course I can't stick all these
feathers in my hat alone, but I'd like to think that the task that BMW's
then chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, gave me in 1998 has been optimally
fulfilled. We have set up strong teams for the various areas and have
organized them well. Our concern was always to position BMW on both the
sporting and the representational front in a way that was appropriate and
beneficial to the company. The five-year contract with WilliamsF1, which
involved some hard negotiating, is just the right way to wind up my term of
Berger: Normally Formula One
is the measure of all things for me, but one of the greatest moments was
winning Le Mans in 1999. We were competing against an extremely strong
field, and we were certainly not the favourites. I can still recall
journalists explaining to me all the things the competition had going for
them and how we had next to no chance. But I believed in our concept. We had
a really good chassis coupled with the indestructible BMW V12-cylinder and
had already won the Sebring 12 Hour Race. The BMW technicians working
together with the Schnitzer crew made for a first-rate team, and for me
Charly Lamm is without doubt the best strategist of all. Plus we had signed
on really fast drivers. This 24-hour event was an unforgettable experience,
and it was undoubtedly important for my standing in the eyes of BMW as well.
I had made a few decisions that hadn't exactly made me popular.
Berger: After I had been
shown what was possible in Munich, specifically in the FIZ [BMW Research and
Innovation Centre], I had not a moment's doubt. I'm sure that BMW with all
its resources could also build a good Formula One chassis. But, yes, in the
beginning people thought this was verging on megalomania. And it was a bit
of a risk, for example, to develop and manufacture the engine management
independently from the start. But ultimately it proved absolutely the right
move for us to build our own factory and other facilities such as the F1
foundry and to employ our own people. Just how good the BMW technicians and
engineers are can also be seen in the fact that the competition are trying
to woo them.
Berger: That depends. If it's
a fairly uneventful race, yes. But these days the races are so exciting that
I never get bored watching them from home. And because I know exactly what
our strengths and weaknesses are, there are times when I do get a bit
Berger: My absolute favourite
places used to be Rio and Adelaide. Fantastic cities. I also always enjoyed
going to Montreal and Budapest. But I was never in a great hurry to get to
Berger: The same thing that I
began missing during my career as a racing driver: time. My life was always
completely booked up - every week, every day. And when the prospect of a
holiday would eventually come up, I found I'd be thinking about a thousand
things to do in that time. I just can't manage to live for the day.
Berger: No active role in the
sense that Ana or the children might have said I should give up the job.
They know full well that I won't be tied on a leash. But I just want to have
more of them. I've missed an awful lot. Over the last few months we've had
more time for one another and I can sense what's developing out of that.
Even so, it's not enough time.
Berger: I saw my parents
making a success of the company, and at the moment the whole sector is going
through a difficult patch. There are jobs at stake, including those of
people I grew up with. From that point of view I'm heavily involved with the
haulage company. I see that as a perfectly normal responsibility. But I'm
assuming I won't always be needed there. I'm sure I'll never turn into a
full-time, thoroughbred haulier.
Berger: I don't know yet.
First I want to see whether or how much I'm going to miss working in
motorsport. If I can't cope without Formula One, I'll look around for a
suitable task. But there are a number of things beyond the sport that
interest me from a business point of view - real estate, for example. I
don't need to rush into anything just yet, though. I'm nowhere near feeling
anything remotely like sweet boredom.
"Gerhard Berger came on board
in 1998 during the preparatory phase of our F1 project. He brought with him
his longstanding association with BMW as a racing driver, his wealth of
experience from Formula One and his winning personality. He played a key
role in ensuring that our young team established itself so quickly and
seamlessly in Formula One and is already contesting the World Championship
title this year. The team has made it and it's a case of mission
accomplished, as it were. Gerhard Berger is retiring from his post as
Motorsport Director but will not be severing his associations with BMW. He
will not be replaced, and his tasks will be taken over by Mario Theissen."
"The oft-cited twin
leadership with Gerhard has been a very special experience for me. At the
outset we were both sceptical, but looking back one can say that the
experiment has been more than successful. In terms of expertise and personal
chemistry, we were virtually always on the same track, and thanks to a
carefully divided two-shift operation we managed to do justice to the
diverse demands of motor racing. From victory at Le Mans to our return to
Formula One to today's powerful performance, a lot of successes have come
about during our shared time. Just as memorable have been the fun and
practical jokes along the way, though it will take some time for the dust to
settle on that. So long, Gerhard!"
"When he was a driver we were
in negotiations several times. Basically it always broke down because he
wanted too much money. I have to admit I enjoyed having him for a couple of
years now - for free!"
"Gerhard was always a tough
negotiator in any negotiations we had. He is a very straightforward person,
he says what he thinks. It is well known that there was some tough talking
about the team's performance. But it remained to be straightforward, and
personally I do not have a problem with that. I think we had a very good and
"It's almost tragic. First of
all you have no excuses for years because Mr Director is a former racing
driver and sees right through them, and then when you're finally in with a
title chance he leaves! Joking aside, though, I really appreciated Gerhard
as a driver, as a rival and as a 'boss'. I will miss him."
"Working with Gerhard has
been really great. He gave me lots of tips especially in my first year in F1
and made his experience available whenever I needed it. It is a true shame
that he has left the team."
"I have known Gerhard for 20
years. In the early days we had a lot of fun thanks to Gerhard and his mad
sense of humour. Now we are a little more sensible, but it is good to
remember all those wonderful practical jokes Gerhard played on all of us. A
hell of a good driver too, by the way, bright enough not to need a manager
"I used to like it when
Gerhard had accidents. He always loved to lie down in the back seat of the
car when we drove to the medical centre. I remember one accident he had with
Michael Andretti. Gerhard came into our car first and lay down as usual.
Then Michael came in and just sat on his head. I hope Gerhard will have as
much fun in the future as he had in the past."
"Gerhard drove races for us in the European Touring Car Championship from 1984 to 1986. He was a wild young thing out of Formula 3 - courageous, committed, taking every chance. With Roberto Ravaglia and Marc Surer at Spa in 1985, he secured the first BMW Schnitzer win in a 24-hour event. We've never lost touch since then. When he became BMW Motorsport Director he was never a boss on grounds of authority but of competence. He put his faith in us for the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, where we created another milestone together."