Felipe Nasr, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016

Sauber face challenging season after late start

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It’s easy to forget that just four years ago Sauber was the plucky upstart team which nearly scored a shock victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Life has got tough for them since then. The team’s start to last season was overshadowed by an undignified episode involving Giedo van der Garde which threw light on the team’s financial situation. Ahead of the opening round in Australia their former reserve driver successfully brought a court action against the team for a contractual breach, pointing out he had paid money for a race seat and not received one.

Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016
The C35 wasn’t ready for the first test
Yesterday’s news that the team’s staff has not yet been paid in full for last month underlined the depth of their financial plight.

Sauber claims it has been politically and financially disadvantaged by Formula One Management. This has led it and another of F1’s few independent outfits, Force India, to raise a complaint before the European Union with Force India. This has the potential to be a serious problem for FOM, but in the six months since it was announced there has been no indication whether EU Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager intends to act on it.

Against this fraught political and financial backdrop the team is striving to return to competitiveness. Sauber took a wrong direction with its aerodynamic programme in 2013 and the following year struggled with Ferrari’s first-generation V6 turbo hybrid. So much so that it ended the year point-less for the first time in its history.

Their 2015 campaign may have marked the beginning of a turn-around. Out of the misery of Melbourne it emerged with its best points haul of the season which instantly assured them of an improved constructors’ championship position.

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But although the team moved up two places in the standings the only teams they beat were Manor, running 2014-specification equipment, and the struggling McLaren-Hondas. Almost half their points tally was scored at the first race where many of their rivals hit trouble.

So Sauber’s 2016 season will be about how real their recovery is. The C35 wasn’t present for the first test, meaning the team will begin the year at a slight disadvantage.

The team has excellent resources at its Hinwil base but its ability to make use of them is restricted by its budget problem. New technical director Mark Smith, formerly of Caterham, understands the particular challenges of producing a car on a tight spending limit.

The days when Sauber could afford to take a risk on an exciting young driver with vastly more talent than funds are sadly a thing of the past. But they at least have the benefit of consistency in their driver line-up which is considerably more experienced now than it was 12 months ago.

9: Marcus Ericsson

Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016

Though capable, Ericsson has not yet distinguished himself as a driver who belongs in Formula One on merit alone. Even the benefit of driving almost a full season with Caterham in 2014 wasn’t enough to give him an edge over rookie team mate Nasr last year.

12: Felipe Nasr

Felipe Nasr, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016

Nasr was conclusively the more convincing of Sauber’s two drivers in 2015. His mature, composed debut drive under pressure from Daniel Ricciardo stood out, and if the C35 is up to it we may get a better idea what he is capable of this year.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “Sauber face challenging season after late start”

  1. Evil Homer (@)
    9th March 2016, 11:56

    Used to always be that “second team” that you hoped would do well, but with issues of late, mainly signing 15 drivers for two seats that seems to have run dry! They will battle for top place of the bottom 3 with Manor & Hass, they think they may be further up but over the full season I am not so sure.

    1. McLaren as well. Battle to avoid the wooden spoon is sounding exciting this year.

  2. Perez’ drive in Malaysia seems so long ago now…

    1. @thomf1s Indeed. Their last podium was Kobayashi at 2012 Japanese GP. They had a great car and great drivers in 2012 but from then on it all went downhill. One star driver and one pay driver with a mediocre car in 2013 and even worse in 2014.

      At least now they have a good engine. I wish them success, especially with their EU complaint. without its success I don’t know how long Sauber can keep going on like this(and other small teams for that matter)

      1. Was at Suzuka in 2012, the support for Kobayashi was incredible, the cries of Kamui that rang around the circuit were amazing when he went up to the podium, 1st and 2nd were frankly irrelevant. He had own stand for fans, his own merch stall, along with Button and Kimi. Sauber could have truly ridden a wave of a quality Japanese driver, huge home support. and popularity across Asia and beyond. And what did Sauber do in response to that – drop him – nuff said to what has happened for the team since really

        1. @wombat1m Agree with you about Kamui. KK was lost opportunity for Sauber. However they had cash problems and since no big Japanese sponsors came to follow KK they had to take the rubbish Guti instead. Some really don’t appreciate the hardships of the small teams in F1 for which they have to thank the poison dwarf, CVC and impotent FIA. Sauber could’ve easily gone the way of Caterham and (nearly) Manor by now

          1. @montreal95, even so, they could at least have shown Kamui a bit more respect with their message announcing he was being replaced.

            If you read it carefully, it was clear that they’d actually written the message with the intention of announcing he would be sacked before the Japanese GP, only to seemingly loose their nerve when they saw how popular he was and how badly that would go down with the home crowd. At the very least, they could have at least tried to update the message to acknowledge what he’d achieved for the team in that race, rather than trying to put the statement out at a time when they’d hoped it would attract less attention…

  3. I’ve always rated Nasr, a good bet for the future I think.

    1. Same, he’s not a WC but strong material.

  4. Sorry I have to say this they took till 9 March to pay their staff salaries for February, sure they’ll all be super motivated to burn the midnight oil to make Sauber winners… or just maybe not… however bad it gets you pay your staff period

    1. @wombat1m Or fold and then no one gets paid. Do you know Lotus hasn’t paid many of last year’s salaries on time either around summer time? What did they do? Prepare the car that was on the podium at Spa

      I think the staff at Hinwil will be even more motivated to work hard and try to improve the situation. After all, this team could’ve went bust when BMW abandoned them. Yet Peter and Monisha fought to keep the team alive and keep their staff’s jobs. And moreover they know very well whom to blame for this situation and it’s not Sauber

  5. They really did screw themselves over changing the philosophy of the car for 2013. In the C31, they had one of the aero marvels of the field.

    They had been my favourite team for a couple of years and it was so great seeing them score podiums regularly, on merit – and entertaining podiums at that. With 2014 on the horizon, I still don’t understand why they did what they did with the C32, and then they went grey, and then the whole Giedo thing happened…

  6. They have a lot of problems…

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