All change at Sauber after strong season

2012 F1 season review

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The 2012 season was arguably the best year for Sauber as an independent team since it entered F1 two decades ago.

While they did not improve on their best ever constructors’ championship finish of fourth (achieved in 2001), this was the first year they reached the podium more than once and they were genuine contenders for victory on their best days.

The season did not get off to a promising start as technical director James Key departed just three days before the C31 was launched. But once the season began it was clear Key’s last design for the team was a competitive racer.

Sauber team stats 2012

Best race result (number)2 (2)
Best grid position (number) 2 (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 10 (4/6)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,974 (82.8%)
Laps led (% of total) 12 (1.01%)
Championship position (2011)6 (7)
Championship points (2011)126 (44)
Pit stop performance ranking8

Its potential was somewhat disguised in Australia by the appearance of the safety car. But in wet conditions in Malaysia Sergio Perez produced an excellent performance to claim second place.

Mistakes by both team and driver cost them their best shot of victory so far. A lap 49 radio message warning Perez to “be careful” because “we need this position” hinted at the conservatism with which the team was approaching the race, and a late final pit stop cost him several seconds to Alonso. Shortly afterwards a mistake at turn 14 meant he had to settle for second.

Even so this was greeted with scenes of joy. Sauber hadn’t visited the podium as an independent constructor since Indianapolis in 2003. And there was more to come from Perez in Canada and Italy.

With Sauber using Ferrari engines and Perez part of the Ferrari Driver Development programme, it was widely assumed he would be promoted by Ferrari to take the place of the under-performing Felipe Massa. But McLaren got in first to snatch him after Lewis Hamilton announced he was leaving.

Worryingly for McLaren, Perez failed to add to his points tally over the remaining six races. The driver who will take his place at Sauber next year, Nico Hulkenberg, scored 32 in that time to finish just three points behind McLaren’s new driver.

Kamui Kobayashi was a further three points back. Hi season was only slightly less successful than his junior team mate’s yet it may prove to be his last in F1.

He delivered his first, emotional, podium finish on home ground in Japan. The race swung in his favour when several cars were eliminated at the first corner, but Kobayashi was already in second place by that point and he resisted pressure from 2011 race winner Jenson Button to take third place.

But even at this stage of the season it seemed unlikely he would remain at Sauber. Perez’s Telmex-backed seat always looked likely to be claimed by Esteban Gutierrez, a move which was confirmed at the final round (after Perez blurted it out in a press conference).

Sauber were an inconsistent force in 2012 – they had double-figure points hauls on seven occasions yet also eight no-scores. It’s not hard to identify several missed opportunities to claim the 16 points that separated them from fifth-placed Mercedes in the championship, such as Perez’s spin at Suzuka or Kobayashi mowing down his pit crew at Silverstone.

And of course there was the enormous disappointment of Spa, where their drivers lined up second and fourth on the grid but were eliminated in the first-corner crash triggered by Romain Grosjean. With a total of ten DNFs throughout the season including four technical failures, only HRT’s finishing rate was worse.

Sauber can feel satisfied with the progress made at the end of their third year since the departure of BMW. However it’s clear the team are feeling the pinch financially. They may have lured a big name to the team in the form of Chelsea football club but it’s doubtful how much money this is actually bringing in.

The year also saw a significant change as owner Peter Sauber handed over the reins as team principal to Monisha Kaltenborn. The first woman to become an F1 team principal, Kaltenborn has been with the team since 2000. Significantly, she was quick to stress the necessity of controlling costs in the sport and urged teams to find a way to retain the Resource Restriction Agreement.

“We can be proud of what we’ve achieved this year,” said Kaltenborn at the end of the season. “We got four podiums and a total of 126 championship points. This is 82 more than last season, which is an impressive improvement.

“Of course we know that with a little more consistency we could have scored even more points. That’s something we will be working on for next season.”

Sauber drivers’ 2012 race results

Kamui Kobayashi610135911418139133146149
Sergio Perez8211111139614210111511

Sauber drivers’ 2012 laps per position

Kamui Kobayashi01437294488485912560835778656668352231961810
Sergio Perez125519244058897657448572775450452726441129

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Images © Sauber F1 Team

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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23 comments on “All change at Sauber after strong season”

  1. I Hope that Kamui gets a seat next year, i think that he was strong this year at the end!

    1. I think while he had his best season, he was incredibly unlucky this year too. He and Perez get a lot of blame for being inconsistent, but I point the finger at the characteristics of the car.

      We have seen a tiny glimpse of what he is capable of, I hope he gets a chance at Lotus to shine.

  2. Kobayashi and Perez are two of my favourite drivers; watching them was a rollercoaster of emotions. They’d make me extremely excited with a great result one race, and disappoint massively the next with a bad result.

    Generally speaking however, it was great year for Sauber. Four podiums and many more big points finishes, was fantastic for them.

  3. One of the things I’m really looking forward to in 2013 is seeing how the Hulk goes at Sauber. Hopefully next year’s Pirellis will suit the C32.

    1. Hulk should do really well at Sauber. I rate him higher than Sergio and if he continues the same form he had this year, then Sauber should finish at the top of the mid field table. Ofcourse, that is if Esteban Gutierrez does a decent job in the car. Which is a “BIG IF”

  4. Season of lost chances, which also showed Sauber don’t have mentality of winners. I don’t know if it’s Swiss or female cautiousness, but when Williams had a shot at win in Spain, they went for it and undercut Alonso. Sauber had a shot at win in Malaysia and they waited until Alonso pitted, despite seeing how Toro Rosso on slicks was 4-5 seconds per lap quicker. Yes, there was a possibility of rain returning, but they were last to switch to slicks… Avertion to taking any risk is quite clear.

    Speaking of Toro Rosso, 2 races showed how absolutely bad strategy department is at Sauber, when they forgot about Ricciardo and didn’t pit Perez until it was all too late and he rejoined behind Toro Rosso on tracks, when overtaking was nigh on impossible – Hungaroring and Marina Bay in Singapore – losing any possibility to score points. Car and driver combination in many cases were much better than pitwall and it manifested itself again in Korea, when Perez was 9th right behind Grosjean and Hulkenberg before first round of pit stops. But once again Sauber waited 5 laps, during which he was passed left, right and centre by frontrunners who just pitted what resulted in losing heaps of time – exactly the same situation as in Australia, no lesson learned then – and when he finally pitted he rejoined in 14th place, stuck in traffic for the rest of the race, now 15 seconds behind Hulkenberg and Grosjean. Yes, there was 4 second delay in pit stop, but what about other 11 seconds? Another opportunity to score points lost. Whole season was full of them and, to be very honest, simply stupid and sometimes absurd strategy decisions. You just have to know only once in 20 races, in Abu Dhabi, they put both of their drivers on the same strategy. It highlights they weren’t sure their strategies were working, so they had to cover all the bases, but also looking at huge number of blunders it’s clear flexibility is not their forte, with maniacally sticking to their plans, while just looking at live timing meant you could be sure it will be another disaster.

    Drivers made mistakes too, no doubt about it. Kobayashi in Europe, Great Britain, Korea and Brazil. Perez in Japan, India, Abu Dhabi and few little others. But can you say for example Perez made a mistake in Monaco, when he cut across Raikkonen? Probably yes, until you will learn for the umptenth time in 2012 Sauber didn’t pit him, so he travelled, as it’s difficult to call it driving, for a few laps on destroyed tyres, and on the last lap before pitting was 6 seconds slower than others, because he had zero tyres left, hence no traction coming out from Rascasse and into pits, just in front of Raikkonen, for what he earned drive through. Oh, and little fact, he was in that position only because team didn’t discover suspension damage after Maldonado hit his car on purpose in FP3, so he had to start last on a circuit with almost no overtaking, when Sauber expected to be easily in Top 5? One mistake avalanched into bigger one or bad result, sums up this season pretty well.

    Car itself was fantastic, contender for multiple podiums and wins, but to achieve that you have to match it with competent strategy and team operations. That was surely lacking. And I think this frustration was also seen in Perez’s driving, which didn’t end well on many occasions.

    I just hope Hulkenberg, brilliant talent, will get much better treatment from the team and won’t be screwed as many times as current pair of drivers was. Maybe some kind of maturity and knowledge from the driver was missing and that was the cause of all these ridiculous strategy decisions, but it’s not like only Sauber had young drivers and I don’t think only they weren’t bright enough to make their suggestions and opinions … Who knows, hopefully 2013 won’t see Sauber back to where they were before this year, and some success will be achieved again.

    1. In reply to your first paragraph: I remember reading something right after the Malaysian GP about Sauber’s mentality. A journalist (I have forgotten who wrote it and where it was published) claimed that this was the so-called ‘Peter Sauber mentality’: be safe, no risks and bring home the points. He wrote that in the “Checo be careful” message, the grandpa-like voice of Peter Sauber is embedded.

      And if you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Sauber has never in its existence had any remarkably good or bad seasons (apart from their BMW time). They always finished somewhere in the midfield and even podium places have been rare for them before this season. This also explains their inconsistency in strategy: they’re not sure about it and therefore split their chances. Opinions?

    2. But it is these absurd strategic decisions that brought them a couple of podiums they’d otherwise never have gotten through Perez…so they just roll the dice and hope luck is on their side. Most of the time it doesn’t work of course, but on a couple of occasions, it helped them get onto the podium when they otherwise didn’t deserve to be there based on raw pace.

  5. Sauber provided some of the most exciting moments of 2012 with their giant-killing, so I hope that carries on.

    Hulkenberg’s just the man for the job, but I wonder if an update of this year’s car will keep up with the all-new cars from the big teams (I have the same question about Williams) – or whether they’ll miss Peter Sauber from his technical decision-making role.
    Gutierrez has a great opportunity – he’s not the only newcomer in the midfield – but if he really bombs, remember they’ve signed Robin Frijns up as well, and Sauber aren’t afraid to make tough decisions for drivers.

    1. I’ve got a feeling he will indeed bomb…

  6. The absence of James Key in the 2013 car development will be noticeable for sure…. maybe the fate can interchange between toro roso and sauber for next season!

  7. If kobayashi goes to Lotus and takes grosjeans place i reckon we will have the coolest driver pairing ever! :)

    1. Raikkonen and Kobayashi would be the best pairing on the grid. I think Kobayashi would learn a lot from Raikkonen and they would push each other forward. Grosjean might be better suited to a racing category that doesn’t have traffic or things to crash into :P.

    2. Boy would that be awesome. Kimi and Kamui, great drivers, great characters. More than anything in F1 these coming months I want Kamui to get a seat…
      I do hope Kamui gets Roman’s seat but that would sound a bit unfair for Roman, he showed speed but he was a bit crashy :p. If Lotus were to get rid of Roman it would almost be as bad as what Sauber did to Kamui.

      1. This would be awesome! Kimi and Kamui!

        I think it would be good for them and the team. Kamui has proven this year to be a solid driver, as he has been consistent when the car as allowed him to be. His Qualy pace has been very good as well. He can learn a lot from Kimi for sure, it will only make him better.

        As much as I would like to see the both of these guys get paired, it is highly unlikely. If I’m not wrong, Grosjean has backing from Total, which could be significantly more than what Kamui comes up with.

  8. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
    10th December 2012, 21:43

    “Worryingly for McLaren, Perez failed to add to his points tally over the remaining six races. ” – I believe it’d be better rewritten as “Worrying for McLaren,..”

    1. @ibis No, it’s correct as it is.

      1. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
        11th December 2012, 17:48

        I was not serious) I was implying that Perez’s results faded out right after he sealed the deal.
        Or do I need to brush up on my English?

  9. I have reasons to have doubt about Perez. surely Mclaren would either.

  10. Abdurahman (@)
    11th December 2012, 9:22

    I don’t know why but by the end of the season I had really soured towards Perez after really pulling for him earlier on and last year.
    His response last year to Jeremy Clarksons “mexicans” humor on Top Gear was fantastic haha. He just seemed to kind of lose the plot in the second half of the season and his move in Abd Dhabi was pretty rookie and dangerous.

    1. I missed that one. What did he say? :D Any links would be great

      1. I took a quick look but can’t find it on youtube, I was believe it was in a interview pre race on bbc.
        He basically said, “I thought it was funny, but my countrymen might have a problem with Jeremy” or “Jeremy shouldn’t go to Mexico” or something to that effect. :)

  11. One of the most exciting, if not most exciting, teams to watch this year. Both drivers were a delight to watch but especially Perez. I really hope that they can continue their form from this year into next but it remains to be seen with the loss of James Key.

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