Contenders again - With Ferrari F1 backing how far can Sauber go?
They're already profiting from an increased collaboration with Ferrari and, with the recent arrival of the Scuderia’s technical chief Simone Rest...
They're already profiting from an increased collaboration with Ferrari and, with the recent arrival of the Scuderia’s technical chief Simone Resta, is the growth set to continue?
Since the start of the hybrid era, Sauber's form could be described as having greater troughs than peaks, but their desires to climb from back-markers to consistently competitive midfielders has involved a much closer working relationship with Ferrari, and the acquisition of Resta as technical director is a perfect example of it.
Resta - a Ferrari employee of fourteen years - officially started his Sauber role at the beginning of July, just over one month after he was announced by the Swiss team. In a time when gardening leave is commonplace among staff transfers in Formula One, the comparatively quick turnaround of roles points to an increased working relationship between the two outfits.
Sauber have a lot of history with Ferrari. Ignoring their brief spell under the ownership of BMW (2006-2009), their association goes back to 1997, when they would buy Petronas-branded Ferrari engines.
One of the first moves made by team principal Fred Vasseur when he took the reins at Sauber one year ago was to cancel the planned switch to Honda power units for 2018.
Instead, he decided that Sauber should have a greater partnership with Ferrari and, as well as a supply of up-to-date power units, gearboxs and rear suspension components, the team now have a partnership with Alfa Romeo, sister company to Ferrari.
Expectations at the start of the season weren't too over-the-top from Sauber, they merely wanted to be more competitive, to reduce the gap to the midfield and at least be 'in the mix'.
Their early season form suggested that they were doing just that. They had enough pace to compete in the lower-midfield positions and challenge for an occasional point.
But despite being one of the smallest teams on the grid, they've made some of the bigger improvements on the grid, having extracted more performance from the C37.
Their average deficit to the fastest midfield runners in qualifying has decreased. At the start of the season, typically the fastest Sauber set a time at 101.3% of the fastest midfielder (often a Haas or Renault) in the session when Sauber were eliminated (usually Q1).
More recently, Sauber's quickest qualifying times are at around 100.7% of the pace of the fastest midfielder.
Whilst some of this improvement will be down to Ferrari academy driver Charles Leclerc acclimatising to Formula One, this is backed up by Marcus Ericsson's only Q2 appearances coming in two of the last three races.
If this level of progression continues, then the Sauber personnel might just be looking forward to a productive second half of the season, as well as 2019.
With this year's car having a longer wheelbase than last year's, similar to Ferrari, time will tell if their 2019 car will have any more similarities to the red cars, particularly with Resta's involvement.
On the driver front, with Leclerc destined for a drive at Ferrari next year, it's probable that one Ferrari junior will be replaced by another; Antonio Giovinazzi, who had a stellar GP2 campaign in 2016 before securing his reserve driver role at Ferrari.
Cost cap workaround
With Liberty Media looking to control the costs associated with Formula One, it's anticipated that the long-awaited cost cap will be introduced in the regulations shake-up for 2021.
One of the areas affected is likely to be research and development, including the staff associated with this sector.
Given Sauber's increased involvement with Ferrari (and subsequently their sister company Alfa Romeo), Resta's switch to Sauber is an example of how teams could work around these pending rules.
With the top teams still looking to retain as much expertise as possible, they could simply 'park' their employees at one of their partner teams.
This works because the employee is still within the top team's 'stable', but there is a reduced cost to retaining them.
It can also be beneficial for the employee as they will gain more experience, possibly in a higher position, better preparing them for any bigger roles which might appear within the higher team.
The smaller teams benefit, too. They can profit from the additional expertise that might have otherwise remained at the bigger teams.
Whilst some of the top team bosses have said that a cost cap would lead to job losses, Liberty Media's aims are two-fold. It helps lower the benchmark set by the bigger teams, and it can give some of the smaller teams the tools necessary to reduce the gap.
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport ImagesDo you think Sauber have made the right call in creating closer links with Ferrari? Do you think more teams should follow their example (along with Haas)? Leave your comments in the section below.
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