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Midfield Monitor

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.

The Sauber stalemate situation - A promising battle between Sauber and Mercedes looks set to deliver nothing at all


Earlier this month, Monisha Kaltenborn - newly installed team principal at the Sauber team - reiterated just how proud she was of her team, and what they have achieved this year. With four podium positions to their name, Sauber were riding the high of a third place for Kamui Kobayashi at his home race in Japan. Spirits were lifted, and the motivation to go on and do even better was there in abundance.

Our car is a great success and has proved competitive on virtually any kind of circuit. Some describe it as one of the best cars on the grid. Now it’s a matter of carrying the impetus forward into the remaining four races.

Our ambitious goal remains to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship. And I have the utmost confidence both in our team at Hinwil and in the crew at the track along with our two drivers.

- Monisha Kaltenborn

Fifth place in the constructors’ championship was filled by the might of Mercedes, and there were twenty points between the two. Mercedes have had their fair share of podium finishes in 2012, including one victory for Nico Rosberg, but they haven’t been in the top three since the European Grand Prix. This looked like a fight that Sauber really could take on, a battle that would provide some brilliant extra interest for the fans, and something all four drivers could get their teeth into. Except that hasn’t happened.

Two steps forward, two steps forward

Sauber and Schumacher talk
Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

We’ve had two races since the Japanese Grand Prix, and neither team has scored a single point. The gap between fifth and sixth place in the 2012 team standings remains at twenty points. It’s a stalemate. As each event ticks by, there is one less opportunity for Sauber to make any dent in the gap, and they need to make the move now.

This season has proven to be one of Sauber’s best in a good few years - it’s a definite step up from where they were in 2011, and streets away from their retirement heavy first year without BMW. It’s a year of real potential, this, although all talk of securing that one surprise victory has long since faded away.

Three races are all that remain before things at Sauber are shaken up again. The Hinwil-based outfit have seen more than their fare share of chopping and changing over the years, and there is more still to come. Sergio Pérez is headed for the door, and he has really spearheaded their campaign towards the front of the grid. It was Checo’s podium finish at only the second race of the year that gave the team a dazzling light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, Pérez has picked up three of the team’s four trophies, although Kobayashi’s was arguably more emotional for being achieved at home.

While the iron is hot

Next year is awash with uncertainty - who will be able to fill Pérez’s young but speedy shoes? Will Kobayashi have done enough (and have enough money) to earn himself a third subsequent year with the team? Will the sponsorship arrangements be different/less once Pérez has gone? With great change there is often a few months or years of settling in, and that’s why Sauber need to strike now, while there is still a chance.

Rosberg's focus turns to 2013
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes have all but given up on this season. Michael Schumacher is running for the hills as soon as the chequered flag in Brazil has been waved. He’s spent three years chasing a memory of how things used to be, and he’s had enough.

Lewis Hamilton will be coming in to spice things up at Mercedes, and I do think he can propel the team forward, if he’s presented with a comfortable working environment and a relatively fast car.

Rosberg’s victory is a long-forgotten highlight, with the unpredictable first half of the season overloading us, and the never-ending second half of the year dragging us down. He knows it won’t happen again, he knows that he’ll face some real competition next year, and it’s simply a matter of gliding towards the end of the championship so as to press the reset button for 2013.

Best of three

The next opportunity for Sauber to close the gap to their nearest rivals will be this weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi. Will they be able to get their car under control and find some speed? It’s almost entirely impossible to say, as the Sauber chassis has been unpredictable throughout the entire year. They have been famed for being light on their tyres, except for at those races where they come in to the pits early and abandon a one-stop strategy. They’ve been known to have good straight line speed, except at those races where they have been bogged down in traffic and making no headway.

There isn’t much opportunity for making up twenty points over the next three race weekends

It could be circuit specific, but it just as easily could be a completely unpredictable chassis. We’ve got the bland but challenging Yas Marina track up next. In 2011, the Mercedes drivers finished next to each other in the points, and the Sauber drivers were also close together with just one point between them. Following Abu Dhabi is the complete unknown of the brand new Austin circuit. No single team can have the advantage there (unless you count Red Bull who have sent a car for a jaunt around an unfinished lap), and so it will be on to the Brazilian Grand Prix to finish things off. The 2011 race had one of each team in the points, and one of each team lolling about outside of the top ten.

Given the history, and the way this current season is panning out, you’d have to say that there isn’t much opportunity for making up twenty points over the next three race weekends. It’s going to take a podium position for one or other of the teams to either bring the competition closer together, or put them firmly out of reach. Sauber have been known to pull off a surprise podium finish, and Mercedes have knowledge of winning this year, and would no doubt like to repeat the experience.

In reality though, it’s a stalemate that is just not going to be broken. I can see both teams picking up a few points here and there, and then crawling across the finish line in Brazil to remain fifth and sixth for Mercedes and Sauber respectively. It’s still a great achievement for both, but is something of a letdown after that stirring speech from Monisha following the Japanese Grand Prix. Perhaps she can encourage the troops in a similar fashion in early 2013, and we can begin the battle all over again.