Sauber are the kings of mediocrity. Q2 stalwarts, camera-shy in the race and a colour scheme that screams ‘paint me’. In fact, the only time in 2014 where things got a little exciting was Bahrain, when poor old Esteban Gutierrez ended up barrel rolling his way through the desert.
So it’s a surprise then that Sauber have been at the epicentre of this year’s silly season, considering the greyness of 2014 for the Swiss team. Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil are both confident of keeping their seat for next year; is that either false hope or justified confidence?
Let’s start with the Mexican side of the garage. Esteban may be quite a way short of the greatest talent to grace the grid, but his chances of remaining in the sport for third year (fairly or not) were improved significantly earlier this year when the return of the Mexican Grand Prix was announced. Sponsorship is crucial to Sauber’s longevity, even more so than the likes of Lotus and co considering their financial plight, so one has to presume that Gutierrez may have had his bacon saved with the increased interest and likely finance rising from his homeland.
Now, to Sutil; the epitimy of a marmite driver. Some say he is still one of the better drivers on the grid, a theory set in the history of his impressive Midland F1 and Force India days – Monaco 2008, anyone?- but others will say, and perhaps since his return to the sport in 2012 this becomes a more justifiable view, that the German has rather lost his spark. Money, no, but sparkle, yes. Sauber have a poor car this year, for that there is no doubt, but if Sutil can’t outperform the C33 even on occasion, then what purpose does he serve? Peter Sauber was never one for experience, and at some point in these next few weeks, a decision will be made by new Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn on whether Sutil is a bit too past his sell-by date for her liking also.
As for other contenders, and this hurts to say, but look for the chap with the biggest wad of sponsorship. Ultimately, that leaves two real contenders, and one long shot. The first of the three is Simona de Silvestro, one of the team’s three test drivers. Silvestro had forged a strong career over in the U.S. of A. before this season when the Swiss driver joined the Swiss outfit in February. Since then, she has been making much noise about her ambitions to be the first female F1 driver in quite a while for 2015. Publicity, money, and the notion of girl-power puts Simona directly into the frame.
Another worthy contender is the likeable Giedo Van Der Garde. The off-the-cuff Dutchman is blessed with big bucks from clothing brand McGregor, as well as one years experience in a race seat following his time at Caterham in 2013, and has so far been gifted with a number of practice sessions with Sauber in an attempt to further develop the flawed C33. A well-backed, proven talent in both test and driver roles, Giedo could well be the team’s best bet when it comes to a balance of talent and income.
The last driver in with a shout is Jules Bianchi. Let’s presume that Kimi Raikkonen will indeed retire at the end of 2015, leaving a void at Ferrari for 2016 with Bianchi’s name on it. This scenario has the issue of where the Frenchman will wind up next season. Another year at Marussia would be harsh considering the sheer talent and performance displayed at Marussia (despite the teams Q2-threatening pace this year), so might Ferrari use their customer engine deal to place Bianchi at Hinwi? This would leave Sauber with a top class young talent, Ferrari with strong replacement for Kimi, whilst also freeing up the seat at Marussia for the likes of fellow Ferrari Development Driver Raffaele Marciello. Or maybe even the cash-laden Jolyon Palmer. That, folks, is a win-win situation all round.
Sauber have struggled with a heavy car all year; their next weight issue comes with which set of heavy pockets to go with for 2015. Let the bidding commence.