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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
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 Dec 2010   |  12:04 pm GMT  |  27 comments

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 finished 8th in the Constructors Championship (Darren Heath)


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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27 Comments
  1. Ben N says:

    Peter Sauber is a good man!

    I hope Perez turns out to give Kobayashi a run for his money!

    Kobayashi will be a major points/podium scorer given a half decent car!

    1. Gareth D says:

      I agree. I like how Kamui conducts himself both on and off the track. I very much enjoy his banzai overtaking moves, which goes to show that in order to make overtaking more frequent in F1 you just need some crazy Japanese guys :D

  2. richie675 says:

    Great article and interesting tidbits about NH and the deficiencies of the team/car towards the beginning of the season. It’s been great to watch the resurgence.

    James – do you know much about the Ferrari KERS package, and how this will influence how competitive Sauber is next year? With the on-going Renault BHP discussion, will the FIA allow any additional tweaks to engines over the winter?

    1. James Allen says:

      They didn’t last winter..

    2. Dave C says:

      Well they used Heidfeld as a gauge on performance of the car as well as Kobayashi and it showed the KK is a much better racer and also faster than Nick, the way KK scared Nick off the road in Suzuka was good to watch.

      Another thing that was interesting was that PDLR proved to be a better match than Nick and that just shows why Mclaren took on Kimi instead of Nick in 2002, people at the time couldn’t see why as Nick was slightly quicker on overall pace but the pure raw talent wasn’t there and I fear he will never win a race.

      As for Kobayashi I actually do think if you give him a good car like the Renault or mercedes he could give the title challengers alot of trouble! They should turf out Massa and put him in the car.

      1. Solo says:

        Actually Nick proved to be better than De la Rosa and was close to Kobayashi. The guy was completely unfamiliar with the car and he did just as good as the Spaniard or even better because i think he did better in the races. Do you remember Fisi and how badly he was going by getting in an unfamiliar car?
        What Heidfeld did only showed that his a very decent driver.
        I will hardly take notice of Kobi passing him in Japan since it was obvious Nick didn’t even try to resist.
        And i can’t comprehend why Vijay doesn’t show Luizzi the exit door and hire quick Nick so he can have a staple point scorer driver. He should sent Sutil home too and put the Hulk on the other car. A stable good driver and a young talent would be perfect.

  3. Wayne says:

    I think as Red Bull has shown it takes an overwhelming budget (or Adrian Newey) to succeed in F1 regardless of any supposed budget cap agreements. When you consider Red Bull’s history they really had no success at all until RB drowned them in money which coincidently enabled them to afford Adrian to put all that cash to good use. You are right to aim high Peter and I wish you well but it’s not really going to happen for Sauber in the short term is it? Same for Williams really, there’s no team I’d love to see return to form more but on their budget it just isn’t going to happen. A huge budget does not guarantee success in F1 (Toyota anyone?) but it does enable it.

    1. Ralf F says:

      Red Bull weren’t short on money on their previous incarnation (Jaguar). So it’s more than just the money, the people play an equally key part. And the resource restriction agreement was settled as a long-term reduction, so it will take a few years for the difference to be felt.

      1. Wayne says:

        so you agree with me than?

      2. Ralf F says:

        Not completely: I think Red Bull succeeded because they got very capable people in, not because they had a big budget because Jaguar also had a big budget. But I also think Williams, Sauber etc won’t really be successful until at least 3 years from now when the RRA will be in full swing.

      3. DB says:

        I agree with Wayne. With the money, you have a chance to win, altough some don’t (Toyota and Jaguar are examples). Without the money, you don’t have a chance (the sudden downfall of Jordan in the early 00s is an example).

        At first, I was going to disagree citing Brawn, but then I remembered they made the car with Honda money and then barely kept it competitive long enough to hold RBR back.

      4. Wayne says:

        Yes I thought about Brawn while writing but dismissed it for the same reasons. Like I said money is the enabler and offers the chance to succeed without guaranteeing it. As you put it (more clearly than I did) in modern F1 there is no real chance of success without the money. No good just having good people as I would imagine that all F1 teams have good people. If they haven’t got the tools they will be out developed and outperformed by brute force spending.

      5. Andy C says:

        I often wonder what might have been if Adrian had gone to Jaguar (he was very close to going as I understand it).

      6. Wayne says:

        Mmm, I’m not sure but didn’t Williams’ drop off in success more or less coincide with the loss of Adrain Newey?

      7. James Allen says:

        Initially, but they were competitive in the early 2000s with BMW – should have won the 2003 championship, but for the ruling which hit the Michelin teams in September of that year

      8. Wayne says:

        Also, I would suggest that the budget cap is largely meaningless. It doesn’t include drivers – so the best drivers will never drive for the less well funded teams. It doesn’t include marketing so the sponsors etc will never jump ship to the less well funded teams. The budget cap will just maintain the status quo. And besides all these very imprtant factors, teams with more money WILL find ways to spend it to develop their car, whether they purchase third party engineering/manaufacturing developers etc or whatever else they come up with.

  4. Jo Torrent says:

    It’s hard to sell a team based in Switzerland, isn’t ? Formula 1 is all about UK. To take the risk and buy a team outside must be a very brave move. I hope that he’ll find someone serious and committed to take over his team.

    1. Michael T says:

      Maybe the RedBull Austrian owned example will help in that respect….. although it is a bit of a one off I would imagine and the factory is still UK based…. I have just argued against myself there really. Nevermind!

    2. Paul says:

      That’s a bit narrow minded isn’t it? Considering that Ferrari arn’t really that far away from them either.

  5. Andy C says:

    Peter Sauber is a top man. He could have washed his hands of his old team when he knew BMW were leaving.

    But he went back, saved the team and hopefully is putting in place a brighter future.

    Putting Key in place was excellent. And how many other teams were willing to take a punt on Kamui.

    F1 needs people like Peter Sauber, genuine racers with a few ethics.

    Heres hoping they do well again next season!

    1. Wayne says:

      I agree and Frank Williams definitely fits into that category as well.

  6. Ben N says:

    Any chance of the bright blue, green, yellow, red, grey, orange, black, white, turquoise, pink, purple etc livery returning?

    I know Red Bull and Petronas have left them now, but that was an excellent livery!

    1. Michael T says:

      The mostly white car was a bit dull, given the difficulty in getting sponsors they may as well have brightened the car up last season. A bar I used to frequent had one of the old Sauber-Red Bull nosecones above the bar!! I always wanted it for my house!

  7. Greg says:

    I take my hat off to Peter Sauber. He has given openings to some great talent and again it shows with taking on Kamui. I think one of his best showings of his nature was the incident with Karl Wendlinger and it was such a shame it never turned out better for them both as Karl was very talented. If I remember right, he punched way above the cars performance at Donington in 93.

    Though I’ve always been surprised that the team have had so many aero issues, I remember reading once about the wind tunnel facilities they had built and how it was (then) the most advanced of all the F1 teams. Sauber belongs on the grid and Peter Sauber is a gentlemen to keep his old team in F1 where it belongs.

    Kamui Kobayashi in a Q&A reveals his overtaking secret…
    Q: What is your secret for overtaking?
    KK: Because I am Japanese I have small eyes – so I can’t see the others guys.

    Q: …and seriously?
    KK: If I feel I can overtake I just do it. That’s all, no secret.

    Roll on 2011 and put me down for a Kamui T-Shirt!

    1. Andy C says:

      It’s got a lot to do with courage. You can’t teach that can you!

  8. PH says:

    Excellent article offering genuine insight into the Sauber’s development this year. Looking forward to the Key post.

    Lots more of the same next year please!

  9. theRoswellite says:

    James, just a couple of quick comments…

    It isn’t money that gets you to the top, you need good ideas, which is just another way to say…you need good people. Obviously you must attract and retain them with SUFFICIENT funds, but the money alone won’t suffice. I’ll spare you the obvious recent examples. It only gets you a seat at the table, after that it’s about talent

    And Peter Sauber has demonstrated the ability to find very good people.

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