Adrian Sutil, Sauber, Hockenheimring, 2014

Sauber’s growing plight should set alarm bells ringing

2014 F1 season review

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[interactivecharts]Adrian Sutil, Sauber, Hockenheimring, 2014

Sauber team stats 2014

Best race result (number)11 (2)
Best grid position (number) 9 (1)
Non-classifications (mechanical/other) 13 (6/7)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,790 (76.89%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2013)10 (7)
Championship points (2013)0 (57)
Pit stop performance ranking9

The Mercedes team which stamped its authority so emphatically on Formula One this year can trace its current involvement in the sport back to 1993 with Sauber. The following year Mercedes were officially the team’s engine supplier, but the pair went their separate ways at the end of the season.

Sauber extended its current engine contract with Ferrari in time for the arrival of the new generation power units. But how they must have wished they were still using the three-pointed star’s hardware as they struggled with the disappointing V6 turbo hybrids from Maranello.

This was far from the only cause of Sauber’s trouble this year. But when the factory Ferrari cars often toiled in the lower reaches of the points positions it can hardly have come as a great surprise that, but for Jules Bianchi’s heroics in Monaco, both of Ferrari’s customers teams would have ended the year point-less.

This was an unwelcome first for Sauber, though one which was on the cards from the early stages of the season. But the real shock is how swiftly this team’s fortunes have reversed.

Just two years ago they enjoyed one of their best ever seasons, reaching the podium on four occasions. Although they failed to build on that last year, they ended the season strongly following a mid-season surge. As with several of their rivals, the sweeping regulation changes meant they started 2014 in very different shape to how they finished the previous campaign.

Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, Monte-Carlo, 2014“We are simply too slow” lamented new hiring Adrian Sutil following the first race in Australia. Eight months later the situation had changed little.

The C33 began the year well over the minimum weight limit. That led Sutil, one of F1’s taller drivers, to drive without a drinks bottle at some tracks in a bid to save weight.

A lighter chassis arrived in Spain which gave the team a moderate step. The banning of front-rear inter-connected suspension also seemed to help, and other upgrades appeared during the season. But still points eluded them.

It didn’t help matters that Esteban Gutierrez crashed while on course for a top-ten finish at Monaco. The team’s last, best chance to score came at the Circuit of the Americas where Sutil achieved the car’s sole Q3 appearance of the year – only to be taken out by Sergio Perez on the first lap.

Persistent reliability problems were a constant source of frustration, particularly for Gutierrez. His patience was running low at mid-season, but the team were still struggling late in the year, notably in Brazil.

The Austrian Grand Prix marked a low point for the team as operational errors compounded their woes. Gutierrez was sent from his pit box too early, and in their haste to tell him to stop, the other car of Sutil was given the messages, causing him to pull over and lose time.

The background to all this was the worsening financial situation most F1 teams are affected by. Nico Hulkenberg’s departure from the team after a single season last year shed some light on Sauber’s predicament, team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has consistently warned about since taking up the role two years ago.

Compounding Sauber’s plight, talks over planned investment from Russia had “virtually come to a standstill” in May after the United States and European applied economic sanctions in response to the dispute over Ukraine. Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin nonetheless made his planned practice session debut at the Russian Grand Prix.

Simona de Silvestro, Sauber C31, Fiorano, 2014Simona de Silvestro’s brief stint as the team’s ‘affiliated driver’ threw further light on their financial troubles. The IndyCar racer drove a C31 in her sponsor’s colours at Fiorano before splitting from the team over a financial dispute. Late in the season Sauber also gave test runs to Adderly Fong and Roy Nissany, neither of which distinguished themselves in junior categories.

Finally, for the second time in three years, the team announced a wholesale change in its driver line-up. Well-heeled Caterham driver Marcus Ericsson arrives alongside Felipe Nasr for the 2015 season, the latter courtesy of his Banco do Brasil backing.

Sutil delivered a parting shot after the news broke, saying Sauber had “confirmed two drivers but it doesn’t mean the drivers’ going to drive – and it doesn’t mean the team’s going to drive.”

If Sauber have gradually changed from a team which pays its drivers into a team which is paid by its drivers, it would be extraordinarily short-sighted to characterise that as the cause and not the symptom of its present plight. This is, after all, a team which lost one potential sponsor to the sport’s commercial arm a few years ago, and now gets the rough end of a grossly inequitable distribution of prize money.

It is down to those in charge of the sport to decide whether they value having healthy midfield teams who can take a punt on exciting young talents which may lack big-money backing. Sauber has a deserved a reputation for doing just that, and the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa arguably owe their careers to it.

But there is little reassurance to be found from looking at what happened to those who went before them. Next year Sauber should start its 300th race, but that is no guarantee how many more they will be around for. Just ask Tyrrell, or Brabham, or Ligier…

2014 Sauber race results

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2014drivercolours.csv

AustraliaMalaysiaBahrainChinaSpainMonacoCanadaAustriaBritainGermanyHungaryBelgiumItalySingaporeJapanRussiaUSABrazilAbu Dhabi
Adrian Sutil111713131311141521161616
Esteban Gutierrez12161614191415201315141415

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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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40 comments on “Sauber’s growing plight should set alarm bells ringing”

  1. Well, that’s what happens when you hire two terrible drivers. Sauber could and should have had a double points finish at Monaco, but oh no, that’s far too much to ask for. That being said, if they hadn’t crashed like stooges, we wouldn’t have the great memory of Marussia scoring…

    Nasr/Ericsson will be an interesting lineup next season. Nasr’s quick, and Ericsson will have a point to prove. I just wonder though, are Sauber beyond the point of no return when it comes to competitiveness?

    1. I doubt Ericsson will make any sporting difference, unless he pulls out some brilliance from the hat, but his time at Caterham wasn’t impressive.
      Nasr is different, he is a pay driver, yes, but having watched him during the GP2 races I am convinced he has talent. He could be to the team what Perez was in 11/12.
      I hope so. I really want the Sauber I knew and admired back.

    2. To be fair, I thought Williams were beyond the point of no return when it came to competitiveness and out of nowhere, they’ve absolutely smashed it so we’ll have to see.

      The thing Sauber has going for it is a long standing reputation as a decent team and has very good facilities.

      If you are a manufacturer and you want to enter F1, you have 2 options:

      Option 1 is to start a brand new team like Caterham, Marussia, HRT but with a much larger budget. Can’t think of many recent success stories though with this approach and it would take a while to assemble a strong team of engineers to compete. How many years would this take in reality before they would be at the front?

      Option 2 is to buy an existing team like several of the recent world champions (Red Bull, Mercedes/Brawn & Renault/Lotus). This means that you pick up from where the team currently is, expand the budget a bit and you don’t have to make such major changes. You already have a strong platform.

      For companies looking to enter F1, Sauber must be an attractive proposition…

      Option 2

    3. I wouldn’t call Sutil terrible, He’s had some brilliant drives over the years & showed last year in a fairly competitive Force India that he’s still more than capable of running well in the points.

      I’m also not sure that Guttierez is as bad as he’s looked, I think in the right environment he could develop into a very good driver. He certainly showed good speed throughout his junior career & you don’t suddenly lose all that when moving into F1. He was the GP3 champion in 2010 & was a regular front runner & won races in GP2 on his was to 3rd in the championship in 2012 (His replacement next year Felipe Nasr was down in 10th that year).

      Sauber’s biggest problem this year was more the power unit & chassis, Yes the drivers made some mistakes but if the car was better then they would have scored points (As Guttierez did towards the tail end of 2013 & as Sutil has on many occasions throughout his time in F1).

    4. I think that is what happens when people who are not interested in the sport run the sport. There should be commercial interests but that cannot be the one and only thing. Please Give atleast 10% importance to the sport apart from the commercial aspects.

  2. It was Roy Nissany, not his dad, Chanoch, who tested for Sauber.
    Just pointing out the obvious typo, Keith. :)

    1. Changed it, thanks!

  3. Anyone else see the Sauber video where Fong said he was a few tenths faster than de Silvestro? I find it hard to believe they were on comparable runs…

    1. @jmc200 Likewise – especially because Fong is best known for never being good enough to care about.

  4. Interesting, if rather depressing article. To be brutally honest, Sauber seems to have been on a descending path for a couple of years at least, and I suspect it has a lot to do with their inability to attract big money sponsors in the time of global austerity.
    For the past couple of years at least, they have carried NEC, Oerlikon, Telmex and Claro. The only new one I could spot this year was Telcel – which is part of Telmex, isn’t it? Go back to 2007/8 and the cars were bedecked with Intel, T-Systems, Petronas and Credit Suisse.
    Lower sponsorship income equals lower development budget equals competitive disadvantage equals need for pay drivers just to survive.

    1. @timothykatz

      Go back to 2007/8 and the cars were bedecked with Intel, T-Systems, Petronas and Credit Suisse.

      All present due to the BMW name on the entry list…

      1. Yes, I suspect you are right. When Peter Sauber re-purchased the team in late 2009 it all seemed to get off on the wrong foot and things began to decline.

      2. I believe that all of the sponsors were signed with BMW rather than Sauber, Meaning that when BMW withdrew all the sponsorship contracts were terminated which left Sauber with nothing.

        There wasn’t a single sponsor on the car at the start of 2010-
        http://i771.photobucket.com/albums/xx360/zzkang2/20100402%202010%20Formula%20One%20Malaysian%20GP/201004022010FormulaOneMalaysianG-30.jpg
        And they hadn’t added many by the end of 2010-
        http://www.f1-site.com/wallpapers/2010/f1/brazil/practice/brazil-photo-f1-wallpaper-2010-18.jpg

      3. @optimaximal Not all. Petronas had been a sponsor to Sauber I think since they started or maybe a year or two after they entered. They then moved to Mercedes upon the Merc entry.

        1. Yeah, they were with Sauber pre-BMW, but when that partnership dissolved, Petronas could either jump ship to another team or persist with a dead entity.

          They chose to move to Merc because it was a championship winning team, whereas Saubers performance in ’09 was fairly dire (thanks to BMW pulling the plug).

    2. BMW pulled out in a very careless way and have set Sauber on the back foot ever since.
      The team came close to not even competing in F1, but were saved by Toyota also pulling out.
      Peter Sauber could so easily have walked out and closed the chapter on his F1 foray, but I believe he didn’t want to see his creation just fade into oblivion and was thus forced to take over the team.
      Williams have also suffered an almost similar fate after their partnership with BMW. Look how long it took them to recover.
      I really can’t blame Sauber for the actions they regarding driver employment. It is so easy to judge when you aren’t the one with the responsibility for paying the bills.

  5. I’m really concerned about this team, just look at the 2012-2014 evolution. They used to give young promising drivers a chance too …

  6. V6 costs 20 million plus per unit. V8 costs 6-8 million per unit. Horner is spot on. Time to ditch the lawn mowers.

  7. i wrote this a couple of months ago:

    “IMO it’s not only the uninspiring driver line up, but since Peter retired the swiss team has been going downhill. Too many bad calls in and out the track. They couldn’t keep James Key with them and see what he is been doing with Toro Rosso and at the same time their design staff seems to have no clue as their last cars have shown; they usually come with very bad qualifying and race strategies; last year best asset was Hulkenberg and they let him go too; their current reserve (or afilliated) drivers are only average and instead they couldn’t secure Frijns; the marketing department can’t come with sponsorship deals and they are blinded with the promise of some russian money. So it comes as no surprise that they are at the bottom of the points table.”

    Today I still believe the first problem with Sauber is called Monisha

    1. I think Sauber probably did as well as the past 10 years, but were one of the victims of the ridiculous engine homologation rules. if engines were on parity like the last 15 years, then sauber would have been battling for 5th best or so like usual.

  8. It is the engine costs. The distribution of wealth in F1 has always been… let’s use the word peculiar… but the engines have never been this costly. Add in the costs of designing totally new car for 2014 season and you are looking at situation where there is sudden increase in costs. Poorly distributed wealth is a long term issue but what is killing the teams is the increase of costs. Not the small money coming back from F1 to the teams.

    1. Problem was that you had both Renault & Mercedes talking about pulling out if the engine formula wasn’t changed & no interest from any other engine manufacturer’s/suppliers to come in under the old formula.
      The basic formula we have now (Small capacity turbo’s with a big focus on the ERS systems) is the formula all the engine manufacturer’s involved in the initial discussions pushed for (With the exception been Ferrari).

      Its also worth remembering that at the time the current engine formula was been talked about (2009-2010), The teams were doing a little better financially than they now are & you had a lot of additional cost cutting measures been talked about which subsequently didn’t happen & they would have taken some of the strain off the increased engine cost’s.

      The biggest issue is the distribution, Knowing the engine cost’s were going up they should have allocated the customer teams who need to pay for the engine’s an additional amount of the prize money to help with the additional cost’s.

    2. I think the engine cost thing has been debunked, including in a recent good FT article that opened my eyes on this. The V8s were running onto 20m a piece also, that was in 2008-9 dollars too. And remember, it wasn’t not so long ago that there were unlimited numbers of engines allowed, so it’s not just about unit costs. The difference now is the collapse of direct sponsorship dollars for teams. Look at the sidepods of Sauber, as noted herein, McLaren, Williams, even the tail-enders, compared ton 10-12 years ago. The revival of Martini is a rule-proving exception, given the paltry sum they pay to have their iconic livery on the cars. Ironically, though formally banned, tobacco may be the single biggest team sponsor remaining, however in the shadows (with Ferrari). That alone should show that F1 has been on borrowed time financially since the tobacco ban. (Take note, people who say F1 can recover from an alcohol ban just as it did with tobacco.) We should be counting our lucky stars that a new manufacturer is coming in to a team that doesn’t even have a title sponsor and thus being in a position of having to prop up the team to continue the engine project. Can you imagine selling that to the board of a public company? At the end of the day, the pie is not as big as people think, because the teams lack sponsorship money, and CVC has to service its debt and pay venture capital back.

      How does F1 get out of this squeeze? A key issue is how backwards and foolish is FOM’s media strategy, which is major reason the pie is too small. Bernie has TV rights so Bernie only cares about TV and is actually hostile to other media. But F1 is leaving so much money on the table by failing to use social media and the web more broadly to sell itself and give exposure to its sponsors. If you are a major brand, you already use these avenues to market. And when you look at F1, you see a television cul de sac that even embargoes Youtube videos showing your brands. Further, F1 is moving to a fee-only television, further restricting your marketing reach. It’s just not an attractive way to get eyeballs on your brand logo or increase awareness of what you sell now.

      1. How and where has it been debunked? Even niki lauda himself among everybody else have said multiple times the engines are super expensive. Most expensive engines ever. And in 2014 f1 car the “engine” basically means the internal combustion engine, the turbo, ers, kers, battery, new gearboxes, new driveshafts, new battery, new electronics to control the brake by wire, new electric motor/generator. Everything in the car behind the driver is new compared to 2014. Those are the components I can list over the top of my head. All that changed for 2014 and it did create massive cost increase.

        One thing to remember is that for big teams 1 million rise in costs is easy to shave off when you have 500 places where to take it from. At 10 million you still have 50 such places. At 50 million you just take it in the chin and spend little more in one year. Tell your shadeholders stories about road relevance and hope they believe it all and give you those extra tens of millions to go play F1.

        For small teams every million means that they need to directly find another million because they are already running lean. For 10 million they will die within one year because they can never recover. But when we talk about 10-50million (what is the actual costs increase?) that means sure death. The teams simply can not take such big cost increase (even if it is for one year). Not only are they already running lean because developing the new car was a major expense but they are also looking at scoring less points. If you look at the full points distribution this year you will see that almost more than ever before is the points distribution biased towards the front running teams.

        It is the same thing in real life with increasing costs. If costs increase tens of millions in one year even for one year it is not the same thing for the rich and the poor.

        1. See http://m.autosport.com/premium/feature/6291/engine-budgets-are-just-a-scapegoat. 20 -30mm engine budgets are not new to f1. What’s new is the lack of team income from sponsors.

          1. @DaveW
            That’s behind paywall.

      2. How and where has it been debunked? Even niki lauda himself among everybody else have said multiple times the engines are super expensive. Most expensive engines ever. And in 2014 f1 car the “engine” basically means the internal combustion engine, the turbo, ers, kers, new gearbox, new driveshafts, new battery, new electronics to control the brake by wire, new electric motor/generator. Everything in the car behind the driver is new compared to 2013. Those are the components I can list over the top of my head. All that changed for 2014 and it did create massive cost increase.

        One thing to remember is that for big teams 1 million rise in costs is easy to shave off when you have 500 places where to take it from. At 10 million you still have 50 such places. At 50 million you just take it in the chin and spend little more in one year. Tell your shadeholders stories about road relevance and hope they believe it all and give you those extra tens of millions to go play F1.

        For small teams every million means that they need to directly find another million because they are already running lean. For 10 million they will die within one year because they can never recover. But when we talk about 10-50million (what is the actual costs increase?) that means sure death. The teams simply can not take such big cost increase (even if it is for one year). Not only are they already running lean because developing the new car was a major expense but they are also looking at scoring less points. If you look at the full points distribution this year you will see that almost more than ever before is the points distribution biased towards the front running teams.

        It is the same thing in real life with increasing costs. If costs increase tens of millions in one year even for one year it is not the same thing for the rich and the poor.

    3. Oeiiiiiiiiiiii! (another davidnotcoulthard account) (@)
      2nd December 2014, 19:25

      @scksolid As you’ve said….it’s not really the engine costs. It’s the distribution of wealth.

      1. Oeiiiiiiiiiiii! (another davidnotcoulthard account) (@)
        2nd December 2014, 19:27

        @socksolid

  9. I think Sauber probably did as well as the past 10 years, – they raced like a midfield team does. – but engine homologation rules have changed their position in the pecking order. if engines were on parity like the last 15 years, then sauber would have been battling for 5th best or so like usual. besides marussias rare 8th place at Monaco, it was obvious the battling teams, having to run underpowered Ferrari and Renault engines were going to lose out even more this year. I hate how this has happened to f1 – a 2 tier power level series. in previous generations of f1, when manufacturers and teams opted for different powerplants – based on configuration (v6, v8, v10, v12), and costs – at least with the disparity in power there was development that was allowed, so everyone had a fair chance. now there is no fairness for engine manufacturers, who ever has the lead stays in the lead, it is ridiculous. I am sure Ferrari and Renault will use their political power to change the scenario soon but, and that will give the low end teams a fairer go also.

  10. Adding to the poignant opening reminder of the past relationship with Mercedes, one should also note Sauber’s long and glorious history with Mercedes at Le Mans, producing some of the fastest and quickest sports cars ever made. Sauber has a tremendous motorports legacy, with and without Mercedes. In the case of this team, it is clear that you cannot simply say that it is a mismanaged garagiste. It would be quite alarming to see them simply annexed as a customer-team running stale equipment and weak pay-drivers.

  11. Well Peter has retired, I suppose if they got bought out at this point it would be better than a continuing decline into bankruptcy. It’s good to have a team that isn’t based in the UK or Italy. Problem is there are no (viable) buyers.

    1. It’s not like UK-based Marussia or Caterham had any more luck finding viable buyers.

  12. I know the engine wasn’t very good, but there was more to their crap season than that, in terms of car design.

    One can only assume that adapting to the new formula required so much energy and attention that other critical areas of the car were fundamentally neglected/overlooked.

    1. My guess is that with strong rumours of Sauber going bust mid 2013, including not being able to pay its suppliers (A large chunk of that was Ferrari) there really just was not enough money to focus on building a good car Robert.

  13. Again … what is the point of F1 races being broadcast only on Pay-TV?

  14. Dietrich Mateschitz should just buy that thing. Yes, I said it. Buy it and rename it Roter Stier (Red Bull in German).
    Red Bull was the title sponsor for Sauber for 10 seasons (from 1995 to 2004).
    There are still great people working in Hinwil plus the team has great facilities.
    Plus more oppurtunities for Red Bull Junior Team. Wink-wink.

  15. To me their 2013 car design was the big gamble that has sort of snowballed into this year. Most teams refined their 2012 designs going into the season, and Sauber had one of the best – but chose to start from the bottom again, produced a dog of a car and it wasn’t until the second half of the season (and thanks to a Mr. Hulkenberg) that they started getting results. If they’d play it safer, they would have likely finished higher in the Constructors then 8th and got a higher pay-out. They might have also convinced the Hulk to stay for another year or two.

    Although I liked the grey when they first switched, I don’t think it’s doing them any favours and when you see the whole grid racing on the TV Sauber appear a little anonymous. Hardly what you want when you’re struggling for sponsors.

    Bad driver choices and a not-so-great engine doesn’t help either.

  16. As I am reading the Sauber story it makes me think that Somewhere in the alphine mountains a person named Dietrich Mateschitz is watching all these and getting nervous. One of the days he or his company feels this is not worth due to the falling popularity of the sport then they will walk away putting these teams on a fire sale which will reduce them to low midfield teams back again struggling for survival.

    I am not saying that formula 1 is dependent on Red Bull but it will send a message to sponsors across the globe that this sport is not worth investing in thus putting it’s future to risk.

  17. @keithcollantine I think Sauber scores 57 points last year, not 126 ;)

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