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2015 F1

Mid-Term Review: Sauber’s struggles persist at the summer break

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Sauber F1 Team have long been an exemplary for privateers’ survival in Formula One. In their span of 23 years, they have seen manufacturers fall out by the wayside and businessmen of enormous capability anticipating big picture in a short space of time exit in the face of adversity.

It can be argued that BMW’s ambitious buyout in the team and the factory backing for the 2006 season prompted wealth of success. The German car manufacturer was being the cornerstone provided launch pad for the Hinwii-based squad to finish second in the constructors’ championship and third the following year before pulling out at the end of 2009 citing economic viability.

As the deal with Qadbak Investment Limited didn’t come into fruition, BMW announced selling back their stakes to Peter Sauber in November 2009 before the owner himself transferring one-third of Sauber Group’s share to the newly appointed CEO, Monisha Kaltenborn.

Their stint as an independent outfit since then was a roller-coaster ride. The underwhelming campaigns in 2010 and 2011 were succeeded by three podiums for Sergio Perez and one for Kamui Kobayashi subsequently helping them to finish sixth in the constructors’ table the following year.

Despite turning many heads, Team Prinicipal Monisha Kaltenborn admitted ahead of 2013, the last season in the V8 era, that lack of funding would have a significant impact in the development race which proved to be the case as they ended up seventh-best with the only highlight performance being a fifth place for Nico Hulkenberg at Monza.

Soon arrived 2014 without them scoring any points in all of the 19 races; Sauber’s disastrous season in history would have certainly been the one they wanted to put behind themselves quickly as their financial woes were put under limelight. The new technical regulation and the investment the turbo V6 Power Units brought with it had been the major setback for such low levels of performances it appeared.

While seeking investors, Sauber have been a partisan of introducing budget cap for ensuring long-term sustainability but their perspectives were often overlooked by the big spenders. Drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr came in with substantial backing and the team looked set to wipe out the dismay that often persisted for 2015.

The revitalised Swiss team endured huge success in pre-season tests. While both Nasr and Ericsson acclimatised themselves in the cockpit, Nasr finished the first pre-season test in Jerez with the fastest time and then he topped the second day of final test and completed the last day with an astonishing 159 laps when many top teams struggled.

Before the season commenced though the Swiss team embroiled in a legal row with reserve driver Van der Garde who claimed to have promised a race seat for 2015. After the judgment from a Swiss tribunal came in favour of the Dutchman, Sauber breached the order and signed the aforementioned drivers.

Therefore Garde appealed in the Victorian Supreme Court seeking clarification ahead of the Australian GP and the decision was upheld. Sauber claimed that it’d be dangerous to let him drive but their argument was devalued and came under the risk of their assets being seized if the court order was further transgressed.

The team decided to skip the opening practice before Nasr and Ericsson took part in the afternoon session with speculated involvement from Bernie Ecclestone to scrub off the negativity forced upon the sport caused by this legal tragedy. However, a settlement believed to worth around $16m was made for Van der Garde to shake hands with the Swiss team and the appeal was then withdrawn allowing them to compete on Saturday.

Nasr missed out Q3 by a narrow margin to Pastor Maldonado but made it count when it really mattered in the race. With only a pat at the wheel, Nasr was lucky not to get heavily damaged and made quick grounds to move up to fifth when Maldonado brought out the safety car in the opening lap.

He managed to preserve his tyres for good keeping a cool head throughout the race and fended off the challenge from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo twice to become the first Brazilian to finish fifth on debut. He along with Ericsson’s 8th place finish gave Sauber a much welcomed 14 points in Australia before they went on to repeat the double-points finish in China as well.

However, the competitive start to the season would be thrown into complete disarray as the team had managed to achieve only three more points in the next seven races. With that said, reliability hadn’t been the biggest glitch but the lack of pace to join the likes of Force India, Lotus and Toro Rosso in the midfield certainly had been.

The mid-season slump has been a wakeup call as it will be followed by developments to be carried out later in the year to prepare for 2016. The team expects to end the season on a high, or at least ahead of McLaren who languishes ninth and will be pushing hard in pursuit of more performance, with the recently appointed former Jordan, Red Bull and Caterham technical director Mark Smith overseeing the proceedings. (Suren M)

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