Mario Theissen was born on August 17th 1952 in Monschau, Germany. The city lies halfway between two of the world’s great motor racing venues: the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Outings to these circuits ensured the young Theissen grew up with a taste for motor sport.
His first car was a Fiat 500, which he purchased for DM100 at the age of 13. His interest in engineering took him to Aachen University of Technology where he gained a diploma in engineering. Theissen joined BMW in 1977, and has been there ever since. In 1989 he received a doctorate from the Ruhr University.
In 1999 Theissen became the company’s motorsport director. BMW had formed an alliance with Williams to develop a Le Mans 24 Hour sports car, which won the French classic that year. The next project was an assault on the F1 world championship, which began at Melbourne in 2000, with Ralf Schumacher taking the Williams-BMW to the podium on its first outing.
But the rate of progress with Williams failed to match that earlier promise. Their first win came in 2001, again courtesy of Schumacher. But while BMW’s engine were reputed to be the most powerful on the grid, the Williams cars failed to mount a sustained challenge to the all-conquering Ferraris. A dissatisfied Theissen began looking elsewhere.
By the end of 2003 Theissen was BMW’s sole motorsport director with Gerhard Berger having moved on. Theissen persuaded BMW to take charge of the Sauber team and run it as its own F1 entry. Despite the challenge of running an outfit split across two locations – engine building in Munich, Germany and chassis development in Hinwil, Switzerland – the team’s performance has been on a consistent upward trajectory.
Theissen’s determination for success showed through when he ousted driver Jacques Villeneuve in 2007 in favour of test driver Robert Kubica. Promoting Kubica quickly paid off, as the Pole scored a podium in only his third start. In 2007, aided by McLaren’s disqualification, the team finished as runners-up in the constructors’ championship. But 2008 looked to be their breakthough year: although they finished third in the championship, Kubica and team mate Nick Heidfeld scored a one-two and the team’s first win at Montreal.
Theissen has taken on other projects besides the creation of an F1 team. BMW enjoyed prolonged success in the World Touring Car Championship (previously the European Touring Car Championship) with Andy Priaulx winning four consecutive titles. The Formula BMW junior single-seater series was established, with branches around the world. The European, Pacific and American championships now support many rounds of the F1 championship.
He received an honourary professorship for innovative vehicle development in the Mechanical Engineering/Process Engineering faculty of the University of Applied Sciences in Dresden in 2005.
BMW ended its F1 programme in 2009.
Images (C) BMW ag