Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s preview of the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship! We continue our 11-day journey through the field today with a look at the Sauber sqaudron as we continue to lead up to next weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix! Make sure to check Race Chaser Online all season long for all of your stateside-based news from the Formula One world!
March 7, 2014 — Story by RaceChaser open wheel correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Photo via f1-fansite.com — Across the Formula One grid, numerous changes in personnel and innovation have taken place from team to team, all to make a push towards dethroning Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing from their lofty throne. But further on down the field, amidst the driver signings and manufacturer swaps, Sauber is sticking with what they know.
While its nearest constructor’s championship competitors have made multiple offseason moves, the mood in the Sauber paddock has been quiet and conservative. For the fifth consecutive season, the team will be powered by Ferrari, and Esteban Gutierrez returns to the driver lineup aside seasoned veteran Adrian Sutil.
Although the team has yet to follow up on the success of their BMW years, the Swiss outlet has been consistent with its mild but acceptable season long results. Entering its 21st season of competition, 2014 isn’t about reinventing its approach to the sport, but rather, the focus is on maintaining its place as a midfield challenger with potential top five upside.
The Drivers: Both Sauber drivers enter the new year coming off a rather forgettable 2013, having been overshadowed immensely by their previous teammates on their respective teams.
22-year-old Mexican Esteban Gutierrez returns to the lineup for a second season, following his first season in which he scored points in only one Grand Prix, finishing seventh at Suzuka. In the adjacent paddock, Nico Hulkenberg scored points in more than half the races, tallying 51 total points to the miserly 6 posted by Gutierrez. With Hulkenberg gone, Gutierrez must step up the pace significantly with little room for error. His history with the team started as a development driver in the training program with Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi in December 2009, and his relationship with the team as well as Mexican sponsorship from TelMex earned him his second shot following an uninspiring introduction to F1.
“I am happy to be able to continue as a driver for the Sauber F1 team,” said Gutierrez. “It was a steep learning curve last season, but by working closely with the team I was able to improve continuously. It will be my fourth year with the team, the second as a racing driver, and I feel comfortable in taking the next step.”
“The technical challenges in 2014 will be massive. Therefore, it will be even more important to know well the people you are working with.”
Outright speed, not mechanical reliability, was the biggest Achilles heel for Sauber’s second fiddle last year, and with the stakes for his career and the team raised in 2014, a duplicate season would figure to keep him off the team and possibly even off the grid in the future.
Sauber’s newest addition to the roster is 31-year-old Adrian Sutil, who spent the previous five years of his career as a member of Force India (with a one year hiatus in 2012 due to legal troubles stemming from an altercation in a Shanghai nightclub). The German was positioned alongside Paul di Resta in the garage, but often found himself behind his teammate on the track.
Di Resta finished seven of the first eight Grands Prix in a points paying position, while Sutil limped home outside the top 10 in two races while failing to finish two more. Outscored 49-28, Sutil switched seats in the offseason with the aforementioned Nico Hulkenberg, while ironically, it is Sutil’s impressive teammate di Resta who finds himself without an F1 ride in 2014.
Sutil has notched points at Monaco, Belgium, and Singapore each of the last three seasons and has been around the track a time or two in F1, starting 109 Grands Prix in his career. In an era where teams opt for younger drivers with larger paychecks but hold them on a tighter leash, Sutil’s veteran presence is welcomed by Sauber and has the potential to even be an asset to the development of Gutierrez.
Sauber also has one of the deepest lineups of reserve drivers in F1. 18-year-old Sergey Sirotkin joins the cast, brining deep banking accounts from Russia along with him, while Dutchman Giedo van der Garde hops to Sauber following one season with Caterham. IndyCar fan favorite of Swiss descent, Simona de Silvestro, is also expected to get track time in a practice session later in the season.
The Car: The Sauber C33 was rolled out to reporters and subsequently onto the track at the first test of the year in Jerez. Things got off to a slow start for the team—literally—as they admittedly left out key but unspecified performance parts that were introduced in later tests at Bahrain. Financial pressure and a vastly underperforming automobile placed plenty of stress on the Swiss team at the onset of 2013, but the problems were eventually sorted out by the midway point on the F1 calendar.
Testing went fairly well for Sauber in the preseason, which ranks fifth in team distance travelled with 4039km logged between the three outings. Gutierrez and Sutil rank fifth and eighth respectively in on-track time. Setbacks were suffered in two of the last five days of testing, but despite the new brake-by-wire setup proving problematic and change of chassis necessary in Bahrain, they redeemed themselves by accumulating nearly three Grands Prix worth of time and mileage on the final day.
The Ferrari 059/3 V6 turbo engine will power the C33, which sports a similar livery to 2013 and few glaring differences aside from its limp snout and finger nose.
The Challenges: The team hit a financial hitch in 2013, saddled with a reported $118 million of debt midseason. Development of the chassis stopped ahead of the German Grand Prix, as even paying bills began a challenge for the team. Sauber have been backed by two of the wealthiest investors to be found in F1—Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, who was dethroned by Bill Gates this year as the richest man in the world, and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich—but just because they associate with the team doesn’t mean they’ve thrown their weight around as much as some would hope.
Three Russian companies struck a deal with Sauber, leading to the placement of teenager Sergey Sirotkin on the team’s reserve driver roster. Although Sirotkin won’t hit the track just yet (which is probably for the better), his presence will be felt in the team’s pockets immediately. Sauber must stay afloat financially to ensure seamless day-to-day operations and a continued progression in development.
The Strengths: In case you’ve been living under a rock this offseason, the key word in F1 for 2014 is “reliability.” It is no longer a given to finish a Grand Prix, and Sauber has had less problems than their counterparts in Renaults. Ferrari is a clear second to Mercedes, but Sauber’s car and engine combination can certainly produce points in 2014.
With so much stress on engine performance, conservative drivers may be rewarded slightly in certain scenarios. Although the combination of Sutil and Gutierrez is the hardly electrifying on-track equivalent of vanilla ice cream, at least they have a track record of keeping the car in one piece at the end of the day.
Projected Result: Don’t expect anything new from Sauber in 2014. The C33 is a solid piece of machinery, but the team’s closest mid-pack rivals, Williams and Force India, are motored by front-running manufacturer Mercedes, and the looming clouds of financial burden won’t help the team progress much. A strong performance or two is not unreasonable, but Sauber won’t achieve anything close to the success of the Robert Kubica/Nick Heidfeld years from 2006-2009 with BMW. Final Position: 8th.