Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Circuito de Jerez, 2015

Struggling Sauber must end points drought

2015 F1 season preview

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Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Circuito de Jerez, 2015

The team

It’s now five years since the withdrawal of BMW led to Sauber’s return to Formula One as an independent team. Owner Peter Sauber having put day-to-day running of the team in the hands of Monisha Kaltenborn in late 2012, but of late financial pressures have taken a toll on one of F1’s dwindling number of non-manufacturer teams.

Their 2014 was unquestionably the nadir. Lumbered with an uncompetitive Ferrari power unit the overweight C33 with its troublesome brake-by-wire system never troubled the points-scorers. That was a first for the team in more than two decades of F1 competition.

It spelled a clear need for change, one which the team has responded to. While it remains dependent on Ferrari for its engines, the team has replaced its underwhelming 2014 driver line-up.

Adrian Sutil, who never looked like being a worthy replacement for Nico Hulkenberg, was shown the door – but not before he cast doubt on how much longer the team could continue in F1. Esteban Gutierrez, who arguably had been hurried into F1 a year to soon in 2013, has also gone.

The latter has relocated to Ferrari as a test driver, and taken his Mexican backers with him. That has left Sauber’s re-liveried car worryingly bereft of logos, aside from the Brazilian bank which supports one of its new drivers.

The drivers

9. Marcus Ericsson

Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2015Ericsson a poor start to his maiden F1 season with Caterham last year. Unfortunately just as he seemed to be getting to grips with the CT05 the team’s funds dried up and he wasn’t seen again – having arranged terms with Sauber he did not return for their Abu Dhabi comeback.

With slightly less than a season’s F1 racing experience under his belt, Ericsson is now Sauber’s de facto team leader, which is a big ask.

12. Felipe Nasr

Felipe Nasr, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2015In Nasr Sauber may have found the useful combination of a driver who brings backing but is also quick – his credentials include European Formula BMW and British Formula Three championships.

He also gained useful experience in some practice sessions with Williams last year, and as a race seat there seemed unlikely to appear in the short-term the move makes sense for him as well.

The car

On the face of it Sauber appears to be in good shape as the C34 covered more ground in pre-season testing than any car apart from the world champion’s. But this is partly a consequence of the team needing to maximise their pre-season running as they do not have their own simulator, which is an increasingly significant limitation.

The team had to reduce its testing programme on more than one occasion due to problems with its car. Even so, by the end of testing it had done enough to be able to spend time working on race procedures, an area where they clearly had room to improve last year.

A lot is riding on the performance of the C34 and the teams ability to solve the problems that blighted its 2014 campaign – perhaps even the future of the team.

Over to you

Will Sauber bounce back from their 2014 slump? What do you expect from their new driver line-up?

Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

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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19 comments on “Struggling Sauber must end points drought”

  1. This year seems like a ‘make-or-break’ year for the team with poor performances on track as well as poor financials off the track. We know that the lower half of the 2015 grid is going through crisis which as come to a head after being snow-balled for a couple of years.

    It perhaps just goes to show the importance of sponsors. From Credit Suisse to Petronas, the team had primary sponsors in place. However, with the changing economic scenarios as well as other motorsport avenues being more attractive, teams are in desperate need of funding which sadly doesn’t come from the sport within.

    I am bullish about the driver line-up relatively to 2014. Nasr could be a quick and handy driver while Erricson was slowly starting to show some stability in the latter half of 2014.

    Fingers crossed for this legendary team and hoping that 2015 wouldn’t be its farewell to the sport.

    1. @neelv27 – It was only two years ago though that this team was tracking a stunningly steep performance curve. The 2011 C30 was a big improvement on its predecessor and established a now independent Sauber as a midfield force to be reckoned with, and that set the picture of things to come. At times in 2012, the C31 would have been insulted by being labelled “a midfield car”, since, had qualifying and a certain Venezuelan been kinder, the C31 of Perez may actually have had the pace to win the British GP. For almost all of the season it was the fifth best package, and at the faster racetracks was even the third or second best, such was the C31’s proficiency in high-speed corners.

      Juxtapose that to their 2014 form, and you are not seeing a team that has run out of ideas, but rather one struggling to make ends meet amid the changing face of Formula 1. The interim package, the C32, is a perfect example of this. What started the season as a big step backwards for the team was engineered and developed in such a way that when Nico Hulkenberg pulled out what was the lap of the 2013 season to go P3 at Monza, the German was less than gob-smacked, despite the fact that Sauber had reversed the development trend seen in previous seasons by making ground on the leading pace in the second half of the season.

      For me the conclusion is simple: the technical culture that exists within Sauber is a formidable one, it just needs to survive. For me, there can be no doubt the C34 is a HUGE step forward on is predecessor, it may even be the fifth fastest car out there, however the extent to which Ericsson and Nasr are able to reflect that is contestable.

      1. Well that’s one of my points as well @countrygent! However, ever since 2009, when BMW pulled out, the team has straggled with sponsorship and now with a very bad 2014 season, it becomes even more difficult.

  2. I’m really looking forward to see how Sauber performs this year. Their testing numbers seem to be very positive (at least to the lower teams).

    Something worth noting is that Sauber uses Ferrari engines. Even though I do believe that Ferrari is going in the right direction in their “revolution”, I don’t think there will be positive changes immediately (even negative changes since there are so many position shifts during late-2014) and Sauber can’t wait until the Ferrari engine is competitive again.

    1. I found some videos of both drivers, and to my untrained eye they both seem to care about their car, and for the most part (other than Ericsson at a special event) there seems to be no real dramas when they are driving, both of which I think will be essential traits when driving for Sauber.

  3. I am hoping Ericsson will be able to maintain his momentum from the last few races of 2014. He is undeniably a quick driver and often had the upper hand on Kobayashi. Nasr runs the risk of being another Maldonado. Now, we don’t really need that. Still, the pair can hopefully spur each other on. They’ve been racing each other in GP2 and I believe they collided more than once. Will be interesting to see the young Ericsson work as team leader for Sauber. Points in Australia? Very possible.

    1. I certainly deny that he is quick. Another underwhelming lineup from Sauber but what do you expect with their financial issues. Nasr should get the upper hand relatively soon.

  4. I must say that I am mostly curious how they will do. That goes for the car (will it be regular Q2 and even occasional Q3 participant?) as well as the drivers. Nasr is a rookie and while he did step up last year to get his first GP2 win, he still has something of a questionmark over his raceing abilities and Ericcson did start to show he might be ok in F1 in the latter half of last year so it will be good to see if he can continue on that path.

  5. With Ericsson and the Ferrari engine, I don’t expect much from them.

  6. Sauber will do better than last year, of that I am certain, but I can’t really see them been brilliant. They will score some points, but they’ll be still disappointing and not performing as good as they were in 2012 or 2013. At best I can see them competing at a sort of Toro Rosso level.

  7. I think Nasr will be one of the key points of intrigue in the early races. His junior record is decent, if not stellar, and certainly not comparable to the vintage youngest we have with Sainz, Verstappen, Kvyat and Magnussen, but he has taken to the sensation of an F1 like a duck to water. In the FW36 he looked fast and consistent, and in the C34 he has already looked to have the legs on his more experienced teammate. Felipe seems to revel in F1 levels of grip, and could be set to be the next Perez-esque pleasant surprise: a driver who is to all intents and purposes a pay driver that exceeds all expectations.

  8. Sauber team put in alot of efforts to prepare themselves for Australia, hard to say where they are at and what they really need to come up in the middle of the grid. Definitely, race strategy and pits stops must be practiced over and over again to avoid the debacle of last year. Sauber will do much better than last year, Ferrari engine must not let them down this year, it is now …or never!

  9. jack overill
    2nd March 2015, 18:15

    I think they will win some races and will be more of a threat then redbull

  10. Sauber should score a couple of points and I think the first races will provide the best opportunity to do that. There will probably be a few DNFs due to technical reasons (hopefully the C34 itself is reliable enough), Force India are still building their second car and might need some time to get up to speed and McLaren are still in a bit of a mess.

    Other than that, I do not see much reason for optimism. Their main competitors, Lotus and Force India, are using the more powerful Mercedes engines and also have stronger driver line-ups. Besides, their financial situation is very tough and Sauber most probably will not be able to invest much into the in-season development.

    I hope that Sauber survive, beat one tor two teams in the constructors’ championship and are able to afford better drivers in 2016. There is not really much more one can hope for right now.

  11. at least its a beautiful looking car! one of my faves.

  12. Sauber are my home team, so I always hope they do well. But the reality of their situation, I fear, is bad.

    I agree with @neelv27, this is probably a make-or-break year for Sauber. With such little sponsorship – significant especially when you consider how cash-rich Switzerland is – they probably need a decent points haul to keep the team in the running. And my belief is that this is highly improbable.

    As Keith says in the article above, 2014 was Sauber’s nadir. What signs are there that 2015 will be significantly better? None, I fear. I hope I am very wrong but I would guess that by the end of the new season all we are going to be able to say is that 2015 saw a nicer paint job. Two new, largely F1-inexperienced drivers is not what the team needed for a good start this year. I hope Nasr and Ericsson have the maturity and skill to step up to the challenge.

    When I look back, I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the loss of James Key. Key brought great changes to the fortunes of Sauber and since he left, the team has been on a downward spiral.

    Like I said, I hope I’m wrong!

  13. I am a bit pessimistic, we will never know how good the car is because of the drivers.

  14. It seems like he can improve.

  15. Sauber will score some points this season. Even last year they were close to scoring some points only to be denied by the crashing Gutierrez or state Sutil. If Marussia can score with those poor engines, I see no reason as to why Sauber couldn’t (with the exception of the poor drivers).

    With improved PU, drivability of the engine and considering that Honda might have a few failures early in the season, there is plenty to focus on for Sauber. It just cannot get worse than last season.

    Good Luck Sauber! Keep going!

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