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Berger bids a fond farewell

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
 
Motorsport 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.

Gerhard Berger"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)
Nationality: Austria
Residence: Monaco
Marital status: married to Ana, daughters Christina (23), Sara (7), Heidi (5)

Professional career:
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.


Gerhard BergerInterview 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 successes.

Q: If BMW were to win the World Championship again one day, you would no longer be a part of it. Would that cause you any regret?

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.

Q: How difficult was it making the switch from driver to director?

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.

Q: What were the goals you set yourself as a BMW Motorsport Director and what have you achieved?

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 duty.

Q: Which success in those five years has meant the most to you?

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.

Q: Were you initially sceptical because BMW wanted to build the F1 engine and everything it entailed by themselves?

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.

Q: Can you sit still on the sofa when watching a GP race on television?

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 nervous.

Q: Which Grands Prix will you miss and what are the destinations you'll be glad not to have to revisit?

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 Magny-Cours.

Q: What have you missed over the last five years?

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.

Gerhard & his wifeQ: What role did your family play in your decision not to extend your BMW contract?

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.

Q: How much time do you devote to your parents' haulage business in Tyrol?

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.

Q: As you're not one for being idle either, what will you do?

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.

What his associates say:

Dr Burkhard Göschel, BMW Board Member for Development and Purchasing:

"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."

Dr Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director:

"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!"

Frank Williams, WilliamsF1 Team Principal:

"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!"

Patrick Head, WilliamsF1 Technical Director:

"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 open relationship."

Ralf Schumacher:

"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."

Juan Pablo Montoya:

"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."

Bernie Ecclestone:

"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 as well."

Sid Watkins, FIA Medical Delegate:

"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."

Charly Lamm, Schnitzer Motorsport, Team Manager:

"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."

 
 
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