Tom Haapanen, F1 correspondent
Peter Sauber's independent Sauber F1 Team launched its 20th season in Formula One with the unveiling of the team's new challenger, the Sauber-Ferrari C31, at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, today.
Developed under the leadership of technical director James Key, who announced his departure only last week, the ongoing development of the new car will now be led by a team of the technical department heads: Matt Morris (design), Willem Toet (aerodynamics), Giampolo Dall'Ara (track engineering) and Axel Kruse (operations).
The new car was largely described as evolutionary by the team, with the only major changes apparent in areas where the 2012 regulations force significant changes to the car, such as nose height (to lower it below the height of the cockpit rail) and the exhaust (blown exhaust no longer permitted).
It is an evolution where we knew we could carry over certain approaches.
"The Sauber C31-Ferrari boasts a large number of promising new developments," said Sauber, the team principal. "In other areas it is a systematic further development of last year’s car."
"It is an evolution where we knew we could carry over certain approaches,” Morris explained. “We had to improve on the weaknesses we identified on the C30, but at the same time we wanted to maintain its strengths. We had established some good directions to go in towards the end of last year with the C30 which we wanted to continue with, particularly some of our DRS developments, and some of the ways we were opting for with the car’s set up in order to improve our qualifying performance without compromising our race pace."
The new-familiar 2012-style stepped nose is present on the C31, though, to allow a low nose with the step just ahead of the front suspension mounting points. The Sauber implementation has a particularly thin nose section, seemingly barely thicker than a wing, but the front wing design is not quite as complex as, say, the Red Bull and Lotus front wings.
The car does incorporate a new all-carbon fibre, longitudinally mounted, gearbox supplied by Ferrari, the team's engine supplier. The Ferrari KERS unit is carryover from 2011.
The team was under some time pressure to get the car ready, and was not able to complete all the development work in time for the launch and this week's testing. Instead, the car will receive its first update prior to the season opener at Melbourne.
"The current plan is to launch a fairly basic roll-out version of the car, which was defined quite some time ago," Morris said. "We will then be testing development parts during the upcoming weeks with a late upgrade for the first race in Australia. Therefore the car will look quite different in Melbourne compared to the roll-out car."
The team has retained its young-but-hungry driver lineup from the 2011 season, with Kamui Kobayashi looking to improve on his fifth-place finish at the 2011 Monaco GP, and Perez intent to build on the three points he scored last year. Continuing with the team is also third driver Esteban Gutierrez, who joined the team last fall.
“I obviously can’t make serious judgments on the car because we had just a promotional day and were running only demo tyres," Kobayashi said after his first run in the car. "But still it is always a good start to the season when everything goes smoothly and according to plan. Being that perfectly on time actually is very Japanese and Swiss as well!"
The challenge for the team will now be to ensure that the subsequent development cycles go smoothly even as Key has departed, and the team has a competitive car at the season opener.
"We’re aiming to start the new season as strongly as we did in 2011, but then also to maintain this level of performance throughout the year," said Sauber, setting out the targets for the team. "Our goal is to finish regularly in the points so as to put ourselves in a significantly better position in the World Championship."