Two of the present three world championship title contenders started their Formula 1 careers with BMW power behind them before moving on to other teams: Jenson Button (BMW.Williams F1 Team in 2000) and Sebastian Vettel (BMW Sauber F1 Team in 2006).
BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen is thus ideally placed to comment on the differences in their approaches and characters ahead of Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, which could see Button be crowned champion, or Vettel force a final round showdown.
Q. Would Jenson Button be a worthy champion, or would he merely have "lucked" into it?
Mario Theissen: Absolutely a worthy champion! Whoever becomes champion after the sort of season we have had, deserves it. That applies to all three championship contenders, no question.
Q. He dominated the first half of the season. What is your opinion of his second half performance, has he performed sufficiently?
MT: A championship runs over a season to the end. If he was good enough in the first half to be able to carry sufficient margin into the second half despite having a weak phase, then he deserves the title.
Q. Both Jenson and Sebastian Vettel made their Formula 1 debuts with BMW power and both subsequently became the youngest ever-points scorers at those respective times, so you are well placed to judge them. Do you see differences between them?
MT: Sure I see differences in their characters. It is interesting that both drivers started their F1 careers with us. Both were very young -- if I remember correctly Jenson was also 19 years old when he first tested for us. Sebastian drove his first (Formula 1) race at 19. Despite that they are totally different characters. But it is great to see two drivers with whom we had a relationship fighting for the title.
Q. Is it not ironic that the showdown occurs on the eve of BMW's withdrawal from F1?
MT: No, I don't see it that way, I see it as pure coincidence. To me Jenson was a driver who sort of stumbled into F1 in an easygoing fashion. The opportunity (of moving into F1) arose unexpectedly. He grasped it -- and contested his first season in the same care-free fashion. I have known Sebastian for five years longer. He was 14 when he first tugged at my shirt and said that he would be driving for us the following season, in Formula BMW. In him I see an extraordinary mixture of talent, intelligence and professionalism. He proved that very early in his career, and has been able to convert that into results.
In his second Formula BMW season he won 18 races, and placed second and third once each out of 20 rounds, a hit-rate that will probably never be beaten -- an unbelievable achievement. Effectively he has continued in Formula 1 in the same way: he established himself immediately, and at age 21 is now fighting for the world championship. Regardless of the outcome, that is a superb achievement. In Sebastian I see very early maturity. He knows exactly which factors need to come together in order to be successful, and he makes every attempt to ensure that they come together. Despite that he has not lost his sense of humor and laid-back approach.
Q. Do you believe that he is able to win with an inferior car, as he did last year in Monza?
Q. Jenson has not really proven that. Do you believe he will still be a front-runner in 2010, or could he be a one-hit wonder?
MT: That is pure speculation. So much depends on the car, but I believe both (drivers) will be competitive in 2010.
Q. It sounds as though you detect a slight lack of professionalism in Jenson...
MT: In those early days, yes, because although he knew what it was about, he was not as well prepared as Sebastian when he came into Formula 1. However, if you examine his conduct today -- whether from a sporting perspective, fitness etc. - then he (Jenson) has certainly caught up.
Q. It is clear that Jenson's dip in performance since Istanbul has been influenced by his car, but is it not the task of driver to give the correct information to the engineers in order for corrective action to be taken?
MT: A variety of factors come into play in this regard, some of which a driver cannot influence. Obviously the driver is a key figure -- and not only when he is sitting in the car. Naturally it is his task to get the optimum out of the car.
Q. Has Jenson got the optimum out of his car?
Theissen: You better ask him that, I am not part of his team.