F1: Lost in Vengeance - Sauber 2013
After the back to back races, the F1 circus now heads for a short break until the next race at Shanghai International Circuit. This is actually a well deserved break for many, as the teams will have breathing time to sit down and analyse their progress so far in this season. While many teams have made some progress, there are few teams that seem to have become lost in the woods. We take a look at ‘Three’ particular teams who have promised so much during the off-season, but have now failed to live up to the expectations. Yes, this is a long season, but it’s also true that these teams have disappointed us.
Being a midfield team is all about sneaking in, and grabbing the opportunity whenever it arises. All these midfield teams have long ambitions, some of them always face constant questions about their future. It’s a pain for these teams to face the media as the questions are about their future among other things, but then they brave it all, only to sit anxiously in the pitwall to see if they could grab a point or two, if lucky, grab that odd podium. One such team is Sauber. This team had a ride in the last few seasons. BMW had to withdraw from Formula 1 in 2009, Peter Sauber regained the team, they spent a year waiting for sponsors to come on board, roped in young Perez for the 2011 season, who came in with bags of money, had to do few gimmicks like topping an odd pre-season test in 2012, then started off that season with a bang, and continued to surprise people in 2012, in what turned out to be an unpredictable season. In the end, they finished off on a high note, and also to an extent of chasing Mercedes for the reputed fifth position in the standings.
Now, over a year after being on their first podium in recent years, Sauber, unfortunately, seem to have lost the magic touch that they had possessed right throughout their 2012 campaign. The team, which had a busy winter programme where Peter Sauber passed the reigns to Monisha Kaltenborn, one rookie was roped in to partner another new inductee into the team, and the fact that this is the first proper season without the Technical Consultant James Key, the team has been so far struggling for the pace.
It’s such an ironic position that they are in at this moment. The team who had gone in with their new livery for this season, was looking to build on the momentum that they had with their 2012 challenger C31. The team decided to have an evolutionary design from C31, with several key components remaining unchanged. Things were looking so good at the launch, and although they haven’t predicted much or hyped about the situation, it was evident that their targets was nothing short of podiums.
“The aim is very clear and simple: We want to continue to improve ourselves. The key factor for this is the car, so the Sauber C32 is based on its predecessor which was a very competitive car. It had a lot of strengths and a few weaknesses and the engineers focused on building further on these strengths and eliminating the weaknesses. I’m confident that the entire team has done a very good job.” – Monisha Kaltenborn
The major changes that this team faced is, in fact, in the technical side. Monisha Kaltenborn took over increased responsibilities, Matt Morris had huge shoes to fill, and also the new driver lineup promised plenty of potential in it for the future. But then, something dramatic happened that forced this team to struggle, with the team’s unofficial Number 1 driver, Nico Hulkenberg voicing a strong opinion, on the team radio, after the Malaysian GP.
“Thank you guys, But we have to improve in many areas. This is not acceptable.” Nico Hulkenberg over the radio.
Blick quotes Hulkenberg as: “When I go at the speed of Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren, I quickly ruin the tyres. Now we have a lot of data and impressions and I hope we can draw the right conclusions.”
Auto Motor und Sport quotes Hulkenberg as saying: “There are still some areas where there are gaps. The car does not fit me like a shoe.”
It’s not only that their driver is disappointed with what has been done over the winter. Matt Morris, their designer, was also equally disappointed with the pace of the car. He tried to remain positive after the Australian GP, when a question was put forward by the media, regarding the performance of C32. He seemed to be uncomfortable, but voiced a frank opinion.
“I wouldn’t say I’m happy with the performance of the car and it’s not where we wanted to be at the start of the season” – Matt Morris
Meanwhile, the lady who has been making the calls at the Sauber pitwall for quite sometime now was also positive about the future of C32, but was equally cautious with her words, and tried to remain calm about the situation. This is what Monisha Kaltenborn had to say, after the Malaysian GP.
“We are happy about this result, because we had an unexpectedly difficult weekend. However, we were able to improve step by step. We now have a better understanding of those areas in which we have to improve. This will help us to exploit the full potential of the car,” said Kaltenborn.
It would be interesting to see how this team works on their failure. C32 promised so much, but it has failed to live up to the expectations of many. On the positive side, C32 seems to have a good pace on the long runs. What happened to Hulkenberg at Australia was really unfortunate. Esteban Gutierrez was the lone representative of Sauber at Australia. Their immediate rivals, Force India, had a good weekend there, and we could not really compare the two teams. In Malaysia, Force India had a bad weekend, again it was not possible to compare these two teams. It has been stated by the Sauber team that Force India is their nearest rival for this season, and that the team has managed to match the pace on the long runs of its nearest rivals. But plenty of people believe that Force India has edged past Sauber and is looking good as the fifth best team.
A lot can be debated on the loss of performance of this team. Although James Key is currently struggling at Toro Rosso, he has shaped Sauber in a effective manner. The C31 was his product to an extent, in spite of the fact that James Key had to leave the team ahead of the 2012 season.
Can this team survive with the likes of Matt Morris?
In one of our recent articles, we debated on the people who can carry the torch from Adrian Newey into the next era of the sport. We rated Matt Morris as a candidate. It’s not that we are expecting a bit too much from this person. He clearly has a potential to be a much sought designer in the near future. Sauber is one of the teams who have a different technical structure, as compared to most teams on the grid. The absence of a Technical Director in this team can act as a major asset for Matt Morris, if he sticks to his basic principles. While Force India had a major rework of their 2013 challenger at the rear, Sauber came into the 2013 season with not many changes to boast about, as compared to its nearest rivals. Maybe the success rate of C31 was proving to be a tempting affair for this team. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why Matt Morris wasn’t able to cast his entire potentiality on the C32 or it could be the fact that, with additional responsibility that the team has given to its technical team, maybe the absence of the Chief Technical Director is an reason for the lack of performance of C32.
Esteban Gutierrez – A Costly Gamble?
Maybe Sauber was financially handicapped with the loss of Sergio Perez. Esteban Gutierrez is an amazing rookie, people can often mistake his innocence for lack of pace. While plenty of people so far seem to have been impressed with the performance of Bottas and Bianchi, it should be noted that Bottas had an amazing preparation going into the 2013 season. The Friday sessions that he was into, the amount of test sessions that his team offered, all cost Bruno Senna a proper track time and also his seat in Formula 1. Bottas was prepared for the 2013 season, and so was Bianchi. Esteban Gutierrez looked decent in his two starts in Formula 1, but clearly hasn’t caught the eye of the pundits just yet. He was clearly not prepared just as much he would have liked. Sauber could have given him more track time to be prepared for this season, as they did have prior info about the plans of Perez. Was he a last minute decision? Was Kobayashi too late to get the funds that he was asked to? Was the last minute offer from the backers of Esteban much larger than the other candidates? You never know.
But we can say that, Esteban has a great potential to be a ‘good’ if not an ‘amazing’ driver in Formula 1. But the lack of pace as compared to Nico, who has been driving force of this team, would make us think that Esteban is a gamble as of now. He has been elevated to a new level without proper preparation, and his rate of adaptability is low by the looks of it, and is costing Sauber far more time than one would imagine. If only Sauber could have afforded another driver on par with Nico, they could have sneaked in more points in these two races, which would have been crucial in the end.
There is still so much left in this season, but it’s obvious that, some teams start to focus more on next season a bit quicker than others, especially the midfield teams. Clearly, Sauber needs to make rapid progress quickly, else the performance of this team may go backwards for this season, and also for the next season. Their main sponsor, Telemax, may leave the team in a bid to replace Vodafone at McLaren. Without major performance for this season, Sauber may struggle to catch the potential sponsors for next season, which may further hurt them badly.
Nico Hulkenberg will be the major victim of all this fiasco. If only he could have stayed on at Force India, things would have been a lot brighter for this young talent. Nevertheless, people aren’t questioning his talent, as it is evident that he has been the driving force of the team, for now, and maybe for this entire season as well.
Sadly for Sauber, they have lost in a bid to build on from their successful 2012 season. They seem to have lost in the vengeance for now.