Sauber go conservative after 2013 setback

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At the end of 2012, Sauber’s most successful season ever, the team hired the increasingly impressive Nico Hulkenberg to lead its driver line-up.

Hopes were high the team could build on their improving form and enjoy an even better campaign. The result was a crushing disappointment for the team.

The team were nowhere in the first half of the season and Hulkenberg quickly made plans to move on. Despite a late-season rally by Sauber, Hulkenberg returned to Force India, who also beat them to sixth in the constructors’ championship.

Worse, the team which has been rebuilding since BMW’s withdrawal at the end of 2009 ran into financial problems. Details about it falling behind on supplier payments became public knowledge.

An investment deal was eventually struck with three Russian companies which has led to the placing of Sergey Sirotkin in the team’s reserve driver roster. That he has not – as originally suggested – become part of their race driver line-up is probably for the best. For while Sirotkin has shown some promise in the junior categories a promotion to an F1 race seat looked premature.

Instead Sauber have played it safe with their driver line-up. They’ve kept the faith with Esteban Gutierrez, who endured a tough rookie season alongside Hulkenberg last year, but brings support from Mexican sponsors.

Seeking an experienced driver to fill the gap left by Hulkenberg, Sauber chose the man he replaced at Force India – and who was beaten by team mate Paul di Resta last year.

Adrian Sutil may not be an inspiring choice of lead driver, but the team need him to do his ‘solid midfielder’ thing and bring home the points.

Sauber steadily increased the mileage on their C33 throughout testing. Particular attention has been focused on its new brake-by-wire system which has proved problematic.

But after suffering serious problems in two of the last five test days – requiring a change of chassis on the first of those and failing to run at all on the second – they bounced back in style on the final day completing over three grand prix distances worth of running.

To begin with at least, Sauber’s fortunes in 2014 will be closely tied to that of their engine manufacturer. While Ferrari are nowhere close to being in the kind of dire straits Renault are, they do appear to be a clear second behind Mercedes.

The C33 seldom headed any of its Mercedes-powered rivals in testing. At this stage they look likely to begin this year as they started the last one, scratching to make it beyond the second phase of qualifying.

How well they progress after that be determined by whether an underwhelming driver line-up can exceed expectations, and whether the new influx of cash flows smoothly enough for the team to keep pace on development.

Sauber’s F1 record

Championship position7877768845668767
Pole positions0000000000000000

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What do you think of Sauber’s prospects for the new season? Have your say in the comments.

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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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34 comments on “Sauber go conservative after 2013 setback”

  1. Lucas Wilson (@full-throttle-f1)
    4th March 2014, 12:04

    Another year another midfield Sauber :-)

    1. What’s the smiley for?

  2. saubers main problem are the drivers. gutierrez may still be improving, but sutil won’t bring the team any further.

    1. @rigi Any further than what? Even an improving Gutierrez will lose to Sutil. Sutil is a midfield F1 material, Gutierrez is just rubbish

    2. @rigi, Saubers main problem is lack of finance, no Russian driver probably means no Russian money.

    3. Most uninspiring line-up for a looooooooooooong time indeed. They should’ve taken Kobayashi for his experience and Robin Frijns as a young promiscing talent.

      1. @paeschli And who would’ve paid for that? You?

        I agree with you that the lineup is uninspiring. But when you’re in Sauber’s financial situation you have to make hard choices. Gutierrez brings the money. Sutil will bring the points(he always does).

  3. Are Sauber the best team to have never won a race?

    1. @matt90 The best active team. The best all-time team to have never won a race is probably Arrows. They had IIRC 8 second places while Sauber have only 2 of those

      1. Ah yes, I forgot about them. 5 2nd places rather than 8. Arrows benefited from racing when attrition was much higher though, which does make those occasional high positions a bit more attainable. Sauber generally have similar but slightly better championship positions despite their fewer 2nd places (having come 4th once, and 5th once, whereas Arrows only managed 5th once).

      2. Actually, if we ignore the legacy of Honda/Brawn/Mercedes (like we’re ignoring BMW Sauber), I would probably consider BAR to be best, if a little short-lived.

        1. @matt90 Indeed 5 second places. However, that wide-spread mantra regarding positions were more easily obtainable in the old days crushes to the ground in the face of reality: Sauber’s 2 second places were obtained from positions 10, 13 on the grid. Arrows 2nd places were obtained from positions 2,3,5,8,9. Moreover it works both ways! if we should accept the aforementioned argument, then the positions in the WDC are much less relevant to this analysis. What I’ve read about the 1988 season makes me think that the 5th place by Arrows then dwarfs the dreary 2001 season by Sauber. in 1988 Arrows were in a number of races the only(somewhat) alternative to the Mclaren pace-wise in the races(faster than Ferrari on race pace a few times), beating the likes of Ferrari on pace a few times and even more frequently the other turbo team Lotus and the normally aspirated Williams and Benetton all the time. That’s despite an FIA mistake with the pressure control unit that made them lose up to 60 bhp for 2/3 of the season. While in 2001, a season I remember well, the Sauber was miles off the pace of the first three teams and only got 4th place by a couple of points from Jordan and BAR because of their better reliablity

          And speaking of BAR. If you think they’re the best team not to win races then what about Toyota? BAR was well funded from the start, and the return they got for the money was pathetic. They were also Hondas de-facto priority team from 2002 already

          1. Good arguments. But what about Toyota? They were fairly similar to BAR but their peak year wasn’t as impressive.

          2. @matt90 You’re right about that 100%! Peak year by BAR was 2004 with 11 podiums. I somehow forgot about that at all . Come to think of it, it’s not really surprising as I’ve been trying hard to erase that dreadful season from memory. Looks like i’ve succeded :)

  4. “That he has not – as originally suggested – become part of their race driver line-up is probably for the best.”

    Hmmm… yes… I think Sauber are going to need some good PR people for 2014.

  5. I wonder how all this will play out with Putin doing naughty things and how it will affect sponsorship and Russian involvement overall? Knowing Bernie, he probably doesn’t care that Putin is showing himself to be the love child of Stalin himself.

  6. Just design-wise it’s not an inspiring entry by Sauber this year. It’s not like I really know which aero choices will really work better this year, but they and Toro Rosso seem to have gone down a very conservative route with their cars.

  7. Will people please, just stop saying negative things about Sutil and Guti.
    Sutil is a very strong midfield driver who wil get consistent points finishes if provided with a good car. Guti wil do the same job as Sutil and he is on a learning curve, so it won’t be long before he gets a few more points.

    Just to prove everyone who was negative about Sauber’s driver line-up wrong…

    Go go Sutil! Go go Guti! Go go Sauber!

    1. Spencer, dear boy, everyone is entitled to their opinion on this site, even if you don’t share it.

      I am a Sauber fan. I am here in Switzerland, living 50 minutes away from Hinwil. Just so you know.

      Sutil is an incredibly boring driver, second-rate driver. He reminds me of Nick Heidfeld, only worse. A safe midfield pair of hands. But not someone who is going to drive the team’s development forward and help usher in a new era. The over-hyped di Resta was even better than him last year. I was hoping to be able to say good riddance to both of them at the end of 2013.

      Considering their financial woes, Sutil might be an alright choice for Sauber in 2014. But if money hadn’t been an issue, they would have never hired him. He brings experience, yes. But

      I’m all for your enthusiasm; you’ve obviously got tons of it. But as a Sauber fan, I am deeply dissatisfied with their driver line-up this year. I at least hope that Esteban Gutiérrez will improve this season.

      They should have brought back Kobayashi. There is a driver who would have lifted the whole team with his enthusiasm alone. And he was willing to race for free.

      1. He brings experience, yes. But … so do a lot of better, available but more expensive drivers.

  8. Adrian Sutil was a bad choice in my opinion and I can’t rationalize signing him.
    I’ve never been impressed by his driving style or attitude and he makes a lot of costly mistakes, both in loss of potential points and the cost of damage repairs.
    Does anyone see their incentive? Hasn’t he always been beaten by his teammate? He just got trashed by DiResta who had a bad/average year himself (evidently not good enough to stay in F1) so what makes Sutil special?
    Does he have substantial financial backing or bring sponsors and marketability with him? Is he a wizard at setting the car up or fault finding?
    Maybe they banked on his experience and ability’s in certain areas and thought that would give them an edge with all the chaos of these massive regulation changes?
    I would love to know, and hear from anyone who has any idea why he was their best option for 2014.

    I like Sauber but can’t help think they are slipping back, I really hope they prove me wrong.

    1. Sutil has a great consistency and if given a good car that could be consistent points finishes. He has always got the majority of Force India’s points and would have beaten Di Resta if it wasn’t for extreme bad luck. He retired at Bahrain, Spain and somewhere else (I don’t remember where) whilst in a good points position.

      He also brings invaluable experience to the team. Although Sauber have struggled in testing, I believe Sutil’s experience can get them early points. Guti is on a steep learning curve and will soon be on his team-mate’s level.

      1. I disagree, Sutil actually finished 1 more race than DiResta last year who also had a lot of bad luck and a string of 4 or more DNF’s . DiResta out qualified Sutil 12 – 7..
        The only thing Sutil has consistency in is his ability to tangle with other cars on the track and incurring penalties.
        Look at pre season testing, how many times did he spin and cause red flags compared to his younger much less experienced team mate?
        Im not sure i agree with your claim he has always scored the majority of Force India’s point either, Kobayashi would have been a much better choice and has double the points per race average over Sutil .
        Your only reasoning behind signing him is consistency which is flawed as he has consistently been make to look average in every capacity.
        Im thinking this year will probably be his last season in F1 if he cannot live up to your and Sauber’s expectations.
        Time will tell the team.

      2. Whilst Sutil is fairly experienced, with 109 starts under his belt, there are other experienced drivers on the market (Kovalainen, with 111 starts to his name) on the market at the same time.
        Besides, although figures like di Resta and Kobayashi are not quite as experienced as Sutil (having closer to 60 starts each), equally they are not rookies either – they could have also reached out to somebody like Timo Glock (91 starts) if they wanted to, so there are a few experienced drivers they could have otherwise chosen.

        Equally, whilst Sutil is reasonably experienced he isn’t rated all that highly for his feedback skills – he is rumoured to be pretty average (at best, and there are those who are even less complimentary) in terms of feedback and setting up a car, which was another reason why Force India were keen to keep a di Resta-Hulkenberg line up for 2013 (Hulkenberg is much more highly rated for his technical knowledge than Sutil).
        Based on paddock rumours I would have said that Glock and Kovalainen, both of whom trained as test drivers before becoming race drivers, are better in that department than Sutil.

        As for the retirements in 2013, the third race that you are thinking of would be the Malaysian GP, where both di Resta and Sutil retired from the race due to defective wheel nuts. That said, di Resta also retired from a few races where he could have scored points – in the Belgian GP for example – so I wouldn’t say that Sutil would have automatically finished ahead of di Resta considering that di Resta actually had the higher retirement rate.

        However, there is one thing that Sutil reportedly does have more of than some other drivers, and that is sponsorship cash (particularly from Medion) – reportedly in the order of €5 million a year.
        Now, that isn’t to say that Sutil is a bad driver – he is a perfectly adequate driver, but there are multiple drivers on the market who are as competent as Sutil is and on a purely technical level he doesn’t stand out from the field. It seems to be that, overall, it is his financial backing that just tips things in his favour.

    2. Despite what people say, I have faith that he will do well.
      I definitely would rather have Glock or Kovalainen that dosen’t mean that Adrian is the worst choice.
      Would you prefer to have Sirotkin, the over-rated rookie driver?
      Would you rather see Buemi there? Or Di Resta?

      I know Di Resta was good and I always had faith in the SUT/DIR line up at FI but I always believed that Sutil had a slight advantage over Paul because of his consistency.

      Also, his Medion sponsorship obviously keeps him on the grid, but it must be really great for Sauber to get not only a strong driver but several million Euro’s as well.

    3. JKorz Sutil always beaten by team-mates? You should get your facts straight, mate, you’re wide off the mark

      Sutil was not thrashed by Di Resta. He was beaten by him in a close fight after a year off(remember that). Di Resta, who was btw good enough to stay in F1, if talent was the only thing that mattered, was himself beaten by Sutil in 2011.

      Sutil is a safe pair of hands who will bank the points and who also brings a substantial sposnsorship via Medion. Which is also important for Sauber. Yes it’s not inspiring but Sauber at the moment need points and money most of all

      1. 2011 was DiResta’s rookie season, and it was pretty close between them. Also, DiResta ahd the measure of the highly-touted wunderkind Hulkenberg until he latter quarter of the season. Sutil is not spectacular, but brings money. If budget were not a consideration, he would have been out of a job long ago like Buemi or Algusuari. Kovalainen, Glock, even Anthony Davidson are more deserving of a drive IMO.

  9. Good luck for Sauber F1 team. I hope this season will not be as bad as the last was.
    Sutil is a good driver, but can be guarantee you at least 1 point in every race? Probably no. And what about Esteban? I think he is improving, but I guess it will take another season for him to be a serious points scorer.
    Anyways, predictions can always be proven wrong by performances. Lets all hope Sauber and the drivers will deliver it in 2014.

  10. Given the available marketplace of current or recent drivers available to Sauber, these do seem like sane choices. Indeed, if last year was any indication, the livery is not capable of outstripping the skills of ANY recent F1 driver. I would bet some money that Jacques V. or Montoya, could hop in and do times comparable to GUT and SUT.

    Obviously, time will tell if this year’s version is any better, but for now, it doesn’t seem important for Sauber to be looking for Top Tier talent to extract the last few tenths from their highly performing car. No, they are still in the “survival phase” of building mid-field points to gain sufficient notice that drives sponsorship dollars, that hires top engineers and facilities who MIGHT, be able to build a better car than what they have. Then and only then will they need top-flight drivers to complete the package

    1. @javlinsharp
      At last, some one who agrees with me. I think Sutil and Guti will do well in the end.

      Let’s hope Sauber have a good car for SUT and GUT to get some points in…

  11. I am very more inclined to follow drivers instead of teams. In that view, I find the 2014 Sauber team much less appealing than the 2013 one. If drivers cannot make the difference (but I hope I’m wrong), there is still the strategy/engine/chassis fields.
    On the engine side, Ferrari may not be willing to see the Sauber cars compete with them like last year, so they could be reluctant at some point to share more information.
    Definitely a midfield team, not the worst, but at that game they could come behind Force India and Williams. Unsure about how this could be a better year than 2013, not to mention 2012. Good luck to them, they will need it. It’s going to be a though year for everyone, they will have opportunities they cannot miss.

    1. That comment was a reply to @spoutnik, by the way

  12. I can’t add any more words to this preview. In my view, spot-on.

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