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Sauber still aiming high, but he wants out within three years

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Sauber still aiming high, but he wants out within three years
Dec 1, 2010, 12:04 PM

Sauber has issued an interesting Q&A with its team principal and 100% shareholder Peter Sauber at the end of a very turbulent season for the Swiss ...

Sauber has issued an interesting Q&A with its team principal and 100% shareholder Peter Sauber at the end of a very turbulent season for the Swiss team. It started with a desperate situation and ended with a lifesaving deal with the world's richest man, Carlos Slim and a new Mexican influence on the team. Sauber confirms that at this stage this is purely a sponsorship deal, by Slim's Telmex company, with no equity transfer. But clearly he is looking at how he can make his exit.

In today's Q&A he talks up next year's Sauber Ferrari package, "We’re setting our sights high, and things are looking good so far. James Key has proved in the past that he knows how to build fast cars," he says, before revealing that he has promised himself that he will not still be in charge of an F1 team at the age of 70, which gives him three years to make an exit.

Sauber thought he already had made an exit, when he sold a controlling interest in the team to BMW. Rocked by the withdrawal of BMW in 2009, Sauber was forced almost exactly a year ago to take the team back to save the jobs of his workforce. The team continued as BMW Sauber F1 team this year with money and branding from BMW taking the team through the season. Technically the car was poor at the start of the year, quickish looking testing times were soon revealed to be showboating for PR and sponsor hunting purposes. It didn't really work and the car was both slow and fairly low on sponsorship all season.

It was also unreliable, with the first half of the season something of an embarrassment for Sauber. He acknowledges that this made finding sponsors very hard indeed. Like a football team chairman he acted decisively, recruiting James Key from Force India. Key's impact was felt immediately, like his mentor Mike Gascoyne he came in as a trouble shooter, fixed some problems straight away and put in place some longer term structures for rectifying other problems. Sauber pays fulsome tribute to the young Englishman,

"In April James Key took over as Technical Director and achieved a great deal in a short period of time, " says Sauber. "He and his team identified the weaknesses of the C29 and laid down a clear roadmap for improvements. These ideas were quickly put into practice and had a positive effect. After collecting just a single World Championship point in the first eight races of the season, we added another 36 over the next eight GPs – plus seven in the final three races. Added to which, James also implemented a series of organisational changes. Our success in finding a way out of such a difficult situation over the course of the season represents a fine advertisement for the quality and spirit within the team.”

I sat down for a long chat with Key in Singapore, which I will post on another time. He's an impressive man in a quiet and understated way. Key said he spotted the problems with the car quickly and set priorities. There were three areas which were wrong with the car, aerodynamic imbalances mainly, but also a mechanical problem too. It was hard to set up, peaky in performance and therefore not very driveable. Key planned one significant update, but then switched that into a staggered set of three updates (Valencia, Silverstone and Hockenheim) which addressed inbuilt aerodynamic errors from the wind tunnel development programme and saw the car move forward up the grid and gave Kamui Kobayashi in particular a chance to score some points.

The other interesting point is Sauber's explanation of why he hired Nick Heidfeld for the last races of the season from Singapore onwards,

"We were in a situation where we didn’t know how far we had come in terms of performance (since Key's arrival). Both drivers were new to the team, we didn’t know them very well and we didn’t know how good the car was. What we were missing was a reliable benchmark. We know Nick well after working with him for many years, and that allowed us to gauge the progress of various elements.”

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Series Formula 1
Teams Sauber