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A personal review of the F1 year – Sauber
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A personal review of the F1 year – Sauber
Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Jan 2011   |  6:48 pm GMT  |  34 comments

BMW Sauber F1 team, 0 wins, 0 podiums, 8th in Constructors’ Championship

It was a season of two halves for the team, with a lamentable first half and a fairly positive second half. Kamui Kobayashi turned out to be a real star and he’s the first Japanese driver I’ve encountered who has a big appeal to European fans. I thought Sato would be popular in Europe but it didn’t work out that way, whereas Kobayashi has a real fighting spirit and an air of cool about him which makes him a fan favourite.


His bold pass on Alonso in the closing stages of the race at Valencia was a real highlight of the year for its sheer audacity alone. Of course he had a massive advantage being on new soft tyres while Alonso was on old hards, but it was still great to see a Sauber passing a Ferrari. It reminded me of Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell attacking Ayrton Senna in Phoenix in 1990. Kobayashi reminds me a bit of Alesi, actually.

Sauber was in rebuild mode last season after BMW’s withdrawal from the sport in 2009. There was some solid budget there from BMW to design and develop the car and they kept some BMW branding as a result – pretty much the only branding on this alarmingly white car – but this was the Sauber team pure and simple back on its own as a small independent, a place Peter Sauber hoped he would never be again.

He has to be admired for his survivor spirit and he ended the year with a very solid looking partnership with Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world via his Telmex company, which could be the salvation of the team. Sergio Perez is the lucky Mexican driver who gets the race seat as part of this deal and it’s happy days all round at Hinwil.

The technical department did a poor job with the car, which was a real handful to drive at the start of the season. It had two or three inbuilt aerodynamic imbalances and poor traction out of slow corners. It was also unstable mid-corner, judging from early season super slow-mo shots. James Key, who knows more about getting bang for your buck in F1 than anyone except his mentor Mike Gascoyne, joined the team after the season started and did a great job to turn the car around into scoring solid points in the second half of the season.


Pedro de la Rosa started out the season as Kobayashi’s team mate, but found himself replaced by Nick Heidfeld from Singapore onwards. De la Rosa was a curious signing by Sauber; he undoubtedly had the engineering ability but he’d never been super F1 quick. What he did bring with him from McLaren, however, was a heads up on the devilishly clever F Duct idea. Sauber was the first team to have a copy on its car, so they had clearly started developing it before the season.

Heidfeld jumped into De la Rosa’s seat for the last five races and had a go, but he had to bow to the inevitable when the Telmex deal came off for 2011. So he’s on the sidelines again.

Will Sauber be any stronger in 2011? They are in that group along with Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso who will all be hoping that the rule changes don’t move them further away from the front runners (I think they will) and who will also be looking over their shoulders at Lotus in particular, who have targetted them for their second season in F1. That’s a big gap to bridge, but the Lotus strategy was always more geared to 2011 that 2010, which was a ‘getting to know you’ year.

Photos: Darren Heath

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34 Comments
  1. KK’s branding as the “Japanese Alesi” is curious. I like that.

    I hope Sauber’s car is not so alarmingly white this year – it was quite tricky to photograph (at least for me), a white blur all the way especially in places like Valencia (street circuit) where the sunlight is pretty monstrous. Brawn’s white paint was a lot better.

    Seems like end of the road for Heidfeld and PDLR… Hmmm, they’ve been around since my teenage years so it’s an emotional farewell. Auf wiedersehen muchachos!

    Also, I hope Peter Sauber doesn’t have to save his team once again in the future.

  2. NamedMyKidAyrton says:

    Aren’t there confidentiality clauses in contracts to prevent a team’s intellectual property from the sort of leak you’re describing with De la Rosa?

    1. Jack says:

      yeah, but without absolute proof there’s no way they could do anything about it. And De La Rosa wouldn’t have brought the exact plans with him, written down, just the concept, and almost every team copied the concept in the end didn’t they?

      1. NamedMyKidAyrton says:

        Agreed about the need for proof and the difference between concepts and engineering plans. It’s just that when you consider the significance of certains insights can be measured in the tens of millions of euros, you’d think they’d be running a tighter ship.

        It’d surprise me that James would be mentioning De la Rosa’s contributions on the f-duct if it wasn’t a relatively verifiable fact within the paddock.

  3. I’m very much still of the view that Lotus having the Renault engine, plus Red Bull hydraulics, is going to put them right amongst the midfield, well ahead of Torro Rosso and picking the bones out of Williams and Force India.

    1. Cacarella says:

      The Torro Rosso has had the EXACT same car as Red bull for the past how many years? and it even came with an ‘allegedly’stronger engine than the Red Bull. I hope they do better, but I don’t think the Renault/Redbull package is the answer to their problems.
      IMHO/YOMV

      1. Phil says:

        They did until the end of 2009, at which point the rules stated they had to be a constructor in their own right (the exact wording says something about fully owning the IP of their car IIRC).

        2010′s car was based on the 2009 chasis, but didn’t have any of the developments that the sister RBR cars had.

  4. jonrob says:

    “They are in that group along with Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso who will all be hoping that the rule changes don’t move them further away from the front runners (I think they will)”

    Unfortunately they are also in the group that I have as the most likely to suffer a movable rear wing structural or non return failure, either of which may be very dangerous. I don’t think the teams further down will bother with it until later (when they have seen whether it is worthwhile, and the problems in using it)

  5. Rich C says:

    Such a woeful team…

    1. Ghost in the Ruins says:

      Who, Sauber? That’s a harsh assessment. I think they do a very good job for the level of fincial input they have. When they had money from BMW they were right up there (2009 excepted).

  6. Thanks for such an fascinating series of articles. Today’s was a very interesting review, not just about the Sauber team but the very complementary things you said about James Key and, particularly, his mentor Mike Gascoyne.

    I’ve always rated Mike very highly and obviously Tony Fernandes agrees with us.

    Unfortunately there seem to be a lot of contributors on this and other forums who regard Mike as failure, often stating ( incorrectly ) that he’s been sacked from every team he’s worked for in F1.

    This prompts me to suggest a further series of articles for you, James :

    How about the 12 best unsung heroes of F1 ?

    Take the top 12 roles in a F1 team, explain exactly what the job involves ( The differences between teams would also be interesting ) Then write about who you think are the best people in the paddock at each job, and why.

    It would be fascinating.

    A Happy New Year to all who read this.

    1. Miha says:

      Agree. This would be great stuff to read. We all know a lot about drivers, but less about others. Thumbs up! :)

  7. fausta says:

    James,
    Can you tell us more about how the rule changes might push some of the midfield teams further back.

    Also, wasn’t there a bet between Richard Branson and Tony Fernandez regarding who finished higher in the constructor’s table, loser working as an attendant on the winner’s airline?
    I heard about it at the beginning of the season but nothing now that the season has concluded.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes the date has been set for Branson to be a stewardess on an Air Asia flight. Coming up soon

  8. jmv says:

    i wonder if anything can be said about driver combinations in light of the limited testing in nowadays F1.

    must the non-top teams need to have a experienced driver together with a hotshoe?

    like williams with rubens and hulkenberg? and sauber with de la rosa and kobayashi?

    a perfect ying-yang that keep things in motion?

    i say this because i am concerned for next year that sauber has not enough experience under the belt during a race weekend.

    peter sauber has commented on this saying that kamui is ready to lead the team.. but i doubt that leading the team in 2011 is the same as leading the team in a more traditional sense when there was testing.

    but i guess if peter says so.. then he’s probably more right than i am (fervent blog reader and arm chair enthusiast :)

    let’s hope sauber produce a decent car out of the box. i love this team, and plus they need a sexier livery!

    1. jmv says:

      plus i hope that kamui becomes the first japanese driver either to slot in at mclaren or ferrari! why not?

  9. Ryan Eckford says:

    2010 was a reasonably solid and promising year for Sauber.

    The categories that I measured the 2010 cars in include:
    Car Driveability, All Round Car Ability, Low Downforce Circuits, Medium Downforce Circuits, High Downforce Circuits, High Speed Circuits, Medium Speed Circuits and Low Speed Circuits.

    The categories in order of strength for the C29 are:
    1. All Round Car Ability(7th)
    2. Medium Downforce Circuits(6th)
    3. High Speed Circuits(7th)
    4. Low Speed Circuits(8th)
    5. High Downforce Circuits(8th)
    6. Car Driveability(9th)
    7. Low Downforce Circuits(8th)
    8. Medium Speed Circuits(9th)

    Kobayashi had a very good year. I don’t think he is a driver who could win a World Championship, but I think he is a driver who could win races if in the right car. De La Rosa and Heidfeld although solid, struggled to match Kobayashi, confirming what I have said about Kobayashi earlier. Overall, a solid promising year for Sauber.

    1. Max Smoot says:

      To be fair, Heidfeld was handicapped on his return with Sauber by the limited number of engines remaining out of De La Rosa’s allotment. Although it does indeed look like Nick is once again out of a ride, I doubt that we’ve heard the last from him.

  10. kaoru says:

    Interestingly they kamui and jean share a manager : mario miyagawa.

    Know where did Kamui first meet de la Rosa? It’s a Roppongi karaoke bar! At that time they didn’t know each other he joined in a foreigner group seating next to, de la Rosa and ex-formula1 driver Ralph Firman there accidentlly, and sung together without any knowledge of each other’s identity.

  11. Andy C says:

    Sauber are just one of those teams that I can’t explain why, but I’ve always wanted to do well.

    Glad to see Peter step back in and save the team, after the debacle of BMW.

    I hope the Slim deal ensures their future. Excellent move from them to take a chance on Kamui (and it was a chance).

  12. Ben G says:

    Peter Sauber is a man of genius – to start a team from scratch in the most competitive era of F1 ever, and to still be there.

    I hope they can get back up the field next year.

  13. manos says:

    James hi!happy new year!
    can u explain why do u think the midfield temas will move backwards next year?
    you have mentioned it before and i think we all would want an answer on that.
    thanks

    1. Anil says:

      Stable aero rules til 2013 and so the top teams will have more money to throw at their cars.

      Hence why in 2009 Brawn and Red Bull were able to leap to the front.

  14. Wasn’t KK a star! Japan, he was just brilliant, so pleased for him and even though he was chuffed with himself on the Beeb Forum, he well deserved to be!

    So likeable!

    I would love to see him in the William this year, Rubens will show what the car is capable off, and im certain that someone like KK will match the performance in a scintillating manner.

    Very entertaining to watch, even madder than Lewis AND can pull it off…. while being modest! You got to love that :-)

  15. Paul D says:

    In the late 90′s/early 00′s I used to perceive Sauber as a real up and coming team with lots of momentum and potential. Unfortunately that momentum has now gone and the team has no direction. Peter Sauber stepped in to save some jobs for a few old friends, however in essence the original spirit of the team is dead.

    1. Carlos says:

      They were “up and coming” more recently than that! In 2008 it looked like BMW Sauber (and Kubica) would have a shot at the title in 2009, but the car turned out to be a disappointment and it all went downhill from there.

  16. Seán Craddock says:

    where’s Ferrari’s review? Did I miss it? Today’s the twelfth day of Christmas isn’t it?

    1. Seán Craddock says:

      On a separate note I am enjoying these reviews.

      Although I would like to know why you think the midfield teams will get further from the front with the rule changes.

      It seems to me that the midfield teams like Renault and Mercedes will be up near the front and scoring podiums next season.

      And Force India? Announcing today that their new car won’t be at the first testing session in February? It’s what Red Bull did last year, and with the driver line-up being a secret for the moment, could they be thinking hard as to who would be the best racer because they think they have a decent car?

  17. adam h says:

    james allen will u please give it a rest?! Kobayashi might be an alesi,but trust me alonso is NO senna!! Its a good job he didnt inherit title 3 otherwise we’d be reading more of these ridiculous statements!

    1. James Allen says:

      I never said Alonso was a Senna??

      1. adam h says:

        yes you did… “It reminded me of Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell attacking Ayrton Senna in Phoenix in 1990″

  18. Roonmastor says:

    I’m a massive fan of Sato as are a number of people I know. Such an entertaining driver to watch. We always hold out hope that he’ll get another drive in F1.

    Everyone remembers his overtake on Alonso’s McLaren in his Super Aguri in the Canadian GP.

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