Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn has credited the growing maturity of the team’s two young drivers as a key factor behind its transformation this season into a competitive Formula 1 force.
Aside from its heavily-funded BMW era in 2006-2009, the Swiss outfit has been the epitome of a perennial midfield runner since entering the sport in 1993, with only six podium finishes achieved either side of its manufacturer-owned period heading into this season. However this year enjoying the benefits of what Peter Sauber has already described as the best car ever made at Hinwil, Sergio Perez has added a second and third place to that total with the team having entered the summer break in a strong sixth position in the constructors’ championship.
Eyebrows were raised at the start of last season when Sauber discarded team veteran Nick Heidfeld to promote Perez from GP2 to partner Kamui Kobayashi, who then had only one full season of F1 racing under his belt himself, to give Sauber the most inexperienced driver line-up in the field, but Kalternborn feels that over the past 18 months the drivers’ rate of progression has mirrored that of the team’s.
Speaking in an exclusive interview in the August edition of the JA on F1 podcast, Kaltenborn said: “We got them at a time where the team was definitely not among the competitive ones. They have made their experiences and I think season-by-season now they have been able to contribute far more to the development of this car and I’m convinced that this car and this season is also the result of the kind of driver feedback we’ve been getting. So I think they’re learning and they’re making their experiences which is improving their own skills.”
Perez’s victory near-miss in Malaysia, and the fact he is a member of their young driver programme, has led to season-long speculation that he could be in line to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari, while Kobayashi, fresh from a career-best fourth place in Germany after a difficult run of races, has also been linked himself. For Sauber’s part on their 2013 plans, Kaltenborn said:
“If we’re going to have them next season we’ll see because we always have announced season-by-season.But I’m quite relaxed for the future.”
Both drivers were asked to assess their own seasons so far in an interview conducted by the team itself this week and Perez echoed Kaltenborn in acknowledging he had taken a step forward this year. “Having a lot more experience now compared to my rookie season makes me much more confident in many respects. I think I am a lot better than I was when I entered Formula 1. This goes especially for when it comes to making decisions with the team,“ he said.
Yet, while Sauber’s season has been one of several notable highs, both drivers and management recognise that they have let slip further opportunities to achieve strong results through operational errors or poor qualifying performances. “Since the beginning of the season we have been competitive on most tracks, and this means we can be confident for the remainder of the season,” Kobayashi said. “The downside so far has been we definitely missed some opportunities for some more great results. Too often we didn’t manage the weekend perfectly. If we can improve there, a lot will be possible.”
Speaking to JA on F1, Kalternborn agreed that while Sauber’s season so far had been a great achievement there were regrets and clear areas to improve on: “Of course if we are now critical with ourselves we have to say that we have a very competitive car and despite all the successes of the podiums and gaining a lot of points at some races, we could have done better had we not made certain mistakes. So I’m confident if we can improve our efficiency, and especially improve our qualifying performance, we can really still make a step ahead and make use of all the opportunities which we have already had this half.”
You can hear the full interview with Monisha Kaltenborn, along with chats with other leading F1 luminaries including Frank Williams and Jackie Stewart, in episode six of the monthly JA on F1 podcast which can be downloaded directly here or via iTunes.