Another team preview, another tale of ownership changes. Can you lot all just calm down please?
Peter Sauber is back in business. After selling an 80% stake in his eponymous team to BMW in 2005, the Swiss melded seamlessly into the background in an advisory role. However, after BMW’s relatively brief flirtation with running their own team finished at the end of last season, he negotiated a deal to take outright control. This was after a proposed sale to Qadbak Investments fell through; given that they are the jokers who also purchased Notts County Football Club, perhaps it’s for the best that the deal didn’t go through. As an aside for those of a non-football persuasion, after Qadbak’s purchase Notts County spent lots of money they later realised they didn’t have, which was really rather careless of them don’t you think? Needless to say they’re now facing large debts and a struggle to survive. Therefore, regardless of affiliation, all F1 fans can be truly relieved Qadbak didn’t get their grubby mitts on Sauber.
Although your correspondent is quite unrealistically excited by the prospect of Sauber properly returning to the F1 fold, it seems the man himself is rather less made up. A random selection of quotes from the car launch includes: “I would have preferred for it to have stayed the way it was. It was nice”, as well as the clearly delighted “I had a nice, easy time over the last four years, and this is now a big challenge for me to be back,” closely followed by “When I realised I had to start all over again the feeling was very bad.” It seems the return of Sauber, much like the return of Schumacher, shouldn’t be expected to go on for too long: “After 36 very, very hard years in motorsport, that life was okay for me. I don’t plan to stay for another five years, but at the moment I’m also not looking to sell the team.” Stay as long as you like, Pete, we’re just glad to have you back.
BMW’s last season in control of the team wasn’t great, which wouldn’t have taken much guesswork considering the fact they pulled out of the sport. You’re unlikely to do that as World Champions, aren’t you? Finishing with 36 points in sixth place, the team narrowly beat former collaborators Williams and were along way behind fifth place finishers, Toyota (23.5 points, if you want to get specific). That said, their results over the course of the season do show a distinct improvement; in fact, by the time the European Grand Prix was over (11th out of 17 races) they only had nine points. After that, something rather strange occurred – between the next race at Spa and the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi the team scored 27 points, or two thirds of its overall total. If you’re going to have a dreadful season, that’s the way round you’d want it: improvement towards the end should give hope for the future…
And what of that future, I hear you cry? Well, let’s start with getting the car on the grid. Sauber is only there courtesy of Toyota’s decision to exit the sport, so the team must be feeling quite lucky that they’re even there, instead of facing a struggle to convince people, a la Stefan GP. As for the car, it’ll be powered by a Ferrari engine and is remarkably bereft of sponsorship. For those who appreciate the technical details, see here. Peter Sauber has previously said the budget for this year is ok, but future years will obviously require more sponsorship. Hopefully the fact that Sauber’s a well-known F1 name will entice some companies to part with their cash; although, as Brawn found last season, it can be tricky to convince companies to back a team with turbulence in its recent past. Driving for the team will be former Toyota Timo Glock injury stand in Kamui Kobayashi and former McLaren test driver Pedro De La Rosa. With a mixture of youth and experience, Sauber will doubtless be hoping Kobayashi will provide some explosive race performances (all other drivers, you’ve been warned…) and that De La Rosa will help develop the car, as well as putting in some solid race performances. The team will also be “sponsoring” eighteen-year-old Esteban Gutierrez, which essentially seems to translate as “watching a lot and doing some training”. The team appears to be happy with how testing has gone and how many miles they’ve managed to do in the car, and will doubtless be looking forward to getting started in Bahrain.
Minimum target: Scrapping for places below the big four.
Ambitious target: Getting in amongst the big four.
Benson Jamichello’s prediction: Kobayashi to be mental and De La Rosa to be slow.