Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Next race: Hungarian Grand Prix, Mogyoród
Midfield Monitor
Christine Blachford

Christine became an avid follower of Formula One after getting a taste of the action way back in 2003. Today, you'll find Christine putting her experience to good use as writer and producer of the news show F1Minute, and editor of community F1 site Sidepodcast.

Fast car, low mileage, two careless owners // Sauber teeter on the line between rise and fall, but their foundations look solid

Published

Sauber had a really strong start to the 2012 season, but since then things have been looking difficult for the Hinwil based team. A double points finish in Australia was followed by a second place podium for Sergio Pérez. The entire team were emotional with the great result, and it looked like their ability to look after the tyres was going to play into their favour over the coming year.

Four more races have been completed since then, and things are no longer looking quite so optimistic. In China, Kobayashi managed to pick up a point, and in Spain, he finished fifth for a good haul - except teammate Pérez retired from the race. Bahrain, sandwiched between those two events saw both cars finish outside the top ten, picking up zero points for their efforts.

Through the darkness, into the light
Through the darkness, into the lightCredit: Sauber AG

In the city

Monaco was always going to be a challenge, particularly for Sergio Pérez. The young Mexican had some unfinished business with the difficult street circuit, after missing out on the 2011 race following a shocking accident just outside the tunnel. Whilst he was, eventually, okay, the accident left him off the track for two races, and knocked his confidence for many more.

Coming to the principality in 2012 meant facing up to some demons, and whilst Sergio said he was feeling fine about it, there must have been some niggling worries in the back of his mind.

My mind will be completely fresh. I will never forget the accident but I will try to go as quick as possible. After as big an accident as last year, it's not easy. But I'm looking forward to getting back on this track and to recover well and fight for position and for every single tenth.

- Sergio Pérez

It must have been particularly worrying to see a couple of drivers hitting the exact same bump outside the tunnel that has caused so many problems before. The FIA reprofiled that area of track, using laser guided technology to flatten it, but there were still accidents there - notably Paul di Resta, who lost the front wing of the Force India after hitting the bump, swiftly followed by the barriers.

Even if he was supremely confident at Monaco, the track was not going to treat Pérez well. In qualifying, he crashed out of the first session, finding himself last on the grid. A gearbox change secured that position so that it was looking set to be a race through the field for one half of the Sauber team.

Racing incidents

The Sauber had been launched into the air - all four wheels off the ground

Kamui Kobayashi was on to slightly better things, starting the race 11th, but it was all over before it began. On the second lap, Kobayashi was forced to retire after damage from the first corner accidents became too much. The Sauber had been launched into the air - all four wheels off the ground - coming back down to earth with a crash. Kobayashi was okay, but the suspension was not, and Sauber had to retire the car, feeling it too dangerous to continue.

Pérez was busy setting fastest lap after fastest lap, despite being stuck at the back of the field. He gradually navigated his way forward, but was then handed a drive through penalty after a small incident with Kimi Räikkönen. Sergio was battling with the Lotus driver for position, and veered into the pit lane at the last minute. The stewards deemed it to be impeding the car behind, and after the penalty, Pérez was at the back of the field once more.

Eventually, after other retirements propelled him forward, and some fast driving from the fiery driver, Pérez crossed the line 11th, missing out on those crucial points. He secured the fastest lap of the race, and the performance just makes you wonder what could have happened if he wasn't at the rear of the field.

Immediately after the action, Sergio spoke of the potential the car had, and how it had been squandered over the weekend.

We were very quick, but from my grid position it is very difficult to overtake and move forward. After the drive through I managed to make up some positions, but the race was lost yesterday. We expected and hoped for more rain in the race.

- Sergio Pérez

The weather didn’t play into their hands, and the team have to move on, putting Monaco firmly behind them. Instead, it’s time to look ahead to Canada - but what awaits them there? The disappointing finish from Sauber has allowed Force India to close the gap in the championship standings. Thirteen points now separate the two - Force India’s double points finish in Monaco proved just how quickly the lead can be caught.

Hit and miss

A 1-2 finish
A 1-2 finishCredit: BMW AG

The Canadian GP has good memories for the team, as the scene of their one and only victory (as BMW Sauber) back in 2008. Kobayashi has also managed to finish in the points in 2011, although the previous year both Sauber cars retired. Sergio Pérez will face up to the challenge of Montreal for the first time after opting to sit out of the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, but we’ve already seen that being new to a circuit doesn’t phase him at all.

The past few weeks have been tricky for Sauber on track, but it feels as though the next few will be the deciding point of the season. If they can improve, even just a little, then it will be a decent fight for a good strong finish in the championship this season. If things deteriorate any more, then we’re likely to see them continue scrabbling for their standings place with Force India, and perhaps even being overtaken by them. Canada will be key, as will be Europe that follows.

Even if things don’t go to plan this year, the future of the team has had a boost

Even if things don’t go to plan this year, the future of the team has had a boost this month. Previously, when BMW were involved, the team were very open about their feelings that if things veered off the expected course then they would no longer want to be involved in the sport. And, of course, that is exactly what came to pass. For Peter Sauber, taking over the team he had sold wasn’t his number one career plan, but saving the Switzerland squad was his number one priority.

The prospects have been boosted by the news that Peter has given CEO Monisha Kaltenborn a stake in the team. Partly as a reward for her loyalty and hard work in bringing Sauber back from the brink, but also partly as a plan for the future, keeping Monisha on board will be a massive boost both for her and for the team. She’s clearly a popular member of the team, and of the paddock, and consistency in the future can provide a solid base for the results to be built from.

The news of a sponsorship deal with football squad Chelsea was met with derision from non-Chelsea fans, and confusion from those who can’t reconcile football with motorsports. It is an unusual deal, but for a team that have had a woeful lack of sponsors over the recent years, it is progress. Relying on the oddly anonymous Sauber Club One initiative, in which sponsors clubbed together to not see their name on the car, didn’t fill me with optimism for the future.

What does raise hopes is the confidence shown in Monisha, and the eagerness of Sergio, Kamui, and everyone in the team to get this season back on track.




  • Great assessment of the Hinwil squad.

    Personally I find myself frustrated with their frequent insistence of adopting more conservative strategies - or persisting with an idea that would only work with 4 safety car periods, a streaker, a random snow storm and interference by BCE.

    I have a soft spot for them, especially they way that Peter has stuck by them and ensured their survival, but I hope they start to get a bit more aggressive with strategy in the coming races.

  • I'm used to see us be consistently average, but we've developed into a highly inconsistent team this year, and it's highly frustrating. We have the potential, really do, but either bad luck (I think Sergio and Kamui must have run over about 25 black cats in Monaco), poor strategy or stupid driving ends up ruining it.

    The good thing from this year is my opinion on Kobi has really improved, I thought he'd get thrashed by Sergio and he really hasn't. In fact his 5th in Spain is probably the best I've seen him drive, he managed his tyres, did his usual insane overtakes, and was quick at the same time. I'm glad he's proven me wrong, he's really maturing as a driver (and less damaged front wings, so yay!)

    I think we could still finish anywhere from 5th-8th, we're quicker than Force India, maybe same pace as Williams (and if we can somehow humiliate Maldonado along the way, I'm all for it), and well faster than Toro Rosso. We just need to show some... determination, maybe be more aggressive like Mike says, although I do doubt that will ever happen. We do suffer sometimes from 'small team mentality' and while sometimes wise (I agree with the decision to stick with the 18 in Malaysia), I hope we do it more when we're lower down the order. Sauber are one hell of a frustrating team to support.

Comments closed to new entries.