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