Strong start essential for Sauber with year-old engine

2017 F1 season preview: Sauber

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Sauber rarely figures in the fight for points last year. But a mid-season cash injection has allowed them to raise their sights for 2017.

One key decision could determine their prospects for the season ahead. The team will use year-old Ferrari engines, which some have taken as a sign they will struggle. But Toro Rosso did the same thing last year and took seventh in the championship, so Sauber can aim at least as high as that.

Sauber could be in a stronger situation than Toro Rosso, whose Ferrari deal was a last-minute and temporary arrangement. Sauber has had longer to plan its C36 around the dimensions of Ferrari’s 2016 power unit, which of course it also used last season.

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The team should be able to count on good reliability out of the box. But how well last year’s engine stands up to the increased mileages (up from four races to five) and higher full-throttle running times this year is a significant question mark.

Still few sponsors on the Sauber
The others will also be able to develop their engines at a faster rate than last year, due to the elimination of the ‘token’ development restrictions. Marcus Ericsson know that mean the team must strike in the early races.

“At the moment I still believe we are in the game with the others,” he said during pre-season testing. “I don’t believe we are in a big disadvantage so far.”

“It’s still difficult to tell, you don’t know what engine settings people are running. But looking at speed traps, stuff like that, I don’t see we are lacking much in any performance. I think the first part of the year at least I don’t see us having a big disadvantage.”

The arrival of Longbow finance last year has at least allowed them to ramp up their chassis development. Last year their new car wasn’t ready in time for the first test. “It’s a big difference inside the team,” Ericsson agreed, “I think already from the roll-out of the car to now there’s been lot of updates.”

“The floor is new, bargeboards and all different things. It’s pretty much as much updates as we had all year last year in one week. It’s definitely a big difference and that’s very positive. It makes life better for us.”

“Definitely the first part of the season is where we need to strike and be strong,” he emphasises. “For sure the engine manufactures are not going to stay still. We need to be there in the beginning to try to maximise our chances.”


9. Marcus Ericsson

Ericsson is beginning his fourth season of Formula One but opinions vary as to whether that’s an endorsement of his driving or the backing he brings to the team. He raised his game during 2016, something which wasn’t immediately obvious given that he ended the season point-less. Wehrlein will be one of the strongest team mates he’s been measured against so far, but his solid base with the team could give him an early advantage.

94. Pascal Wehrlein

It was no great surprise to see Mercedes pass Wehrlein over for the promotion to the top team given his still limited F1 experience. He showed signs of promise last year, particularly at tracks he had prior experience of, such as the Red Bull Ring. Better things therefore will be expected from his second season, particularly has he should have a more competitive car. But he doesn’t expect to be back to full strength immediately following his off-season crash.

Poll: Which Sauber driver will finish ahead in the championship?

Which Sauber driver will finish ahead in the championship?

  • Pascal Wehrlein (69%)
  • Marcus Ericsson (31%)

Total Voters: 169

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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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39 comments on “Strong start essential for Sauber with year-old engine”

  1. @keithcollantine it should read Longbow instead of Longbox

    1. ExcitedAbout17
      13th March 2017, 12:34

      And for them to reach 7th should read LongShot ;)

      1. ahah! did you meant 9th?

        1. No for 9th they only have to finish the races.. Mcl looks like driving chicanes this year (again)

  2. Good luck to them! The first races are their only chance to score some points. With the unfreeze on the power unit development the situation is different from last year. Also last year STR was way up right from the start. I’d be surprised if Sauber doesn’t end last this year unfortunately.

    1. As a thought, if the engines have already arrived at their HQ, then there isn’t any reason why they couldn’t use the engines in succession, so use a new engine for each of the first 4 races, thus getting the best of the engine’s life in the races where they have the best chances of scoring points.

    2. Yep but by saying they don’t stay with a big disadvantage so they mean starting with a disadvantage nonetheless? In which case they are counting on reliability alone and I am afraid it won’t be enough (even against McLaren which will probably scores by the end of the season)
      I don’t see Sauber anywhere else than 10th by the end of the year.

  3. Disappointing to have a team using a year old engine – I really do not like that this is even allowed. I do understand there financial factors to consider – I guess better than not having Sauber altogether.

    Torro Rosso fought bravely last year and showed what can be done although would have been much better though to have seen that car with a “current” engine in it.

    1. Andre Furtado
      13th March 2017, 16:12

      Last year was a different situation as the engine development was restricted.

      1. The same barrier remains in place for Sauber this year…

  4. I’m still sad that Nasr lost his seat. He have more potential than Ericsson, Wherlein and some other drivers.

    This lap was enough to give him at least another year:

    1. daayyuum, very nice drive.

    2. Ericsson lost the gamble with tyres and then aquaplained. The race befor Brazil amongst others showed why he is still in the car and nasr aint.

  5. Andre Furtado
    13th March 2017, 14:46

    I can’t imagine that anyone with half a brain would think that last years engine during a year where engines wi be getting major upgrades is a good idea at all, Sauber will be running the back of grid for most of the year, specially the second half. Bad business decision, although Williams, McLaren and Sauber have been going downhill on bad decisions since their management has changed

    1. 1. With a completly changed aero reg it makes sense to spend what little money you have on that area.
      2. Ferrari aint interested in 1 year deals with their current engine, ask Toro Rosso about that.

    2. @Andre Furtado – anyone *with* a brain knows that a) the 2½-3 seconds Sauber were down on Ferrari last year was due to an inferior car, and b) this year’s engines will be 1/3 sec up on last years at the start of the season (check other recent articles, I think it was Renault who said so) and possibly as much as 2/3 s by the end of the year. Anyone with a brain will realise that Sauber can gain far more by investing in car development than in forking out for at 2017 spec engine.
      @Gabriel – spot on!

    3. PS. In a recent interview Ericsson said that Sauber brought more new parts to testing than they had throughout all of 2016. Go figure.

  6. voted for Ericsson to win the team mate battle. if they don’t get points in the early fly-away races will be on highest placed finish i think!

  7. I hope Sauber have made the right decision by going with last year’s engine, because it appears the engines for 2017 are a lot more powerful and also, quite reliable.
    To score points, they need 9 or 10 cars to DNF each race, because I dont see them out racing any of the other teams.
    They only get to save some money as we have only 10 teams.

    1. If Sauber had the Ferrari 2017 engine, my money would be on them finishing 9th in the WCC. Mclaren should be counting their lucky stars that Sauber are handicapped, or else it would probably be Mclaren finishing the season in dead last.

    2. digitalrurouni
      14th March 2017, 11:31

      I don’t think this year’s engines are a LOT more powerful. It’s more the aero that is giving everyone the impression. Engine development of course is taking place but the fuel restrictions in place won’t allow for much more power to be gotten out of those PUs. Also there’s only 4 PUs allowed vs 5 from last year. That will definitely be a factor in being a bit more conservative to get more power out of them. I think Sauber made the right decision. Ferrari’s last year PU was no slouch.

  8. I don’t rate either driver above avg. Their future does look bleak but I’m sure the team knows what they have to do, they need to score asap.

    1. @peartree Pascal didn’t prove to be a master in DTM if you ask me but he had a very solid season with Manor. He isn’t out next Vettel or Hamilton but surely he could trump Perez or Grosjean for example.

      1. @xtwl I agree. It’s a matter of perspective. I don’t rate Perez and Grosjean as avg either, so I’m sure Pascal is able to beat them.
        Perez and Grosjean both come from wealthy backgrounds, in fact Romain was born whilst his family was on vacation in Switzerland. 2 self sponsored careers in f1. Many of the current f1 drivers do a pretty good job but if it wasn’t for lots of money many wouldn’t be in f1 based on their junior careers or previous f1 tests. Hamilton and Vettel surely do belong in f1.

        1. I’m sorry but wthat the hell? Grosjean is wealthy because he was born on a family holiday to Switzerland? How specious is that? (Apart from not being true) How about, if he was so wealthy, why did he work weekdays as a bank clerk his entire junior career? Give me a break.

          Also, Perez and Grosjean have had better careers than Wehrlein before F1 and I’m certain will be considered more fondly than Wehrlein. To compare them to Hamilton and Vettel is silly but both reached F1 on merit.

  9. Reading this brought back to mind the debate we had about Nascar’s chase for the cup, and other such championship deciding races. One reason it couldn’t work for F1 is precisely this, some teams start the year off strongly, others outdevelop them over the course of the year. That swing of performance is one of the things that makes the engineering side of F1 compelling.

  10. @george Agreed, even if over the past 7 seasons, the first half of the season is much more exciting than the second half, although this effect as been partly attributed to Pirelli’s tyre choices.

  11. This year Sauber will become the team with most grands prix yet without win or pole. They will surpass Minardi, but they can always hope for next seasons.

    1. Didn’t they win a race as BMW Sauber? Kubica’s Canadian GP win in 2010?

      1. @todfod Yes, and the win came in 2008, but I’m not entirely sure whether that really counts for Sauber as the team was owned by a different manufacturer then.

  12. The first real test for Wehrlein. If he can’t beat his team mate this year, I’m not sure he deserves a place on the grid.

  13. Wouldn’t it be better for Ferrari to provide them with 2017 engines, even at the same price? Then Ferrari would need to manufacture and transport only one set of parts, they wouldn’t need to devote engineers to last year’s engine, they would get more mileage for testing on the new engine, all three teams would use interchangeable parts, etc. Basically, everything would be simplified. There’s also the small publicity benefit, since Ferrari-powered teams would be getting better results overall, instead of having clearly the worst team struggling with an old Ferrari engine. The actual cost of the new engine, as far as materials, man-hours to build, etc, can’t be much higher than last year’s, certainly not enough to offset the disadvantages.

    1. I agree, it doesn’t seem like a well thought decision at all by ferrari. They could use the extra team way better to find faster faults or unlock more performance with their current engine as well.

    2. Ferrari still has to make the same number of parts and bring them simply because they will not run the risk Sauber got a part due to breakdown and then there not being that part when Ferrari breaks down.
      Also the 2016 engine is proven and will not be developed, so needs less people to maintain and run.
      And then i am even ignoring the fact that they already have parts laing around from last year.

      Only advantage is they would have more engines running around for testing, but than again how representative will a sauber be for that.

      1. They may not develop the old engine anymore, but they still need an engineering team dedicated to it, the machines to make the parts, probably special tools, software and whatnot. I don’t know, I just don’t see the benefit of keeping old engines around. It has to be more expensive and complicated than just making more of the new ones.

        1. @ironcito
          Normally it wouldn’t be a easier or cheaper as you said since they would have to built two different things and two different parts and that doesn’t allow the focus on one engine and cost focus that comes with diverging resources.
          BUT truth is manufactures do a lot more engine building in a year than they need so they can cover their bases so they have plenty of spare parts and even engines to give to a team for year.
          To them is like getting rid of excess stock they no longer need and that is why they can provide a year old engine to a team for a cheaper price.

          The team of engineers working with Sauber is irrelevant because they would be working with Sauber away from Ferrari no matter the year of the engine anyway. They are not the engineers that Ferrari uses for the R&D for the technology and progress on it’s current engine anyway.
          As someone else said the only real thing that might seem like a loss is extra running data for the new engine.

  14. Sauber seem to be in better shape than last year and with only 10 teams they are guaranteed a top ten finish in the constructors’ championship and the money that brings, so hopefully there shouldn’t be any worries about their future.

    Their best chance for points is probably due to better reliability in the early races or a race with a high rate of attrition later on.

    I think Wehrlein will finish ahead of Ericsson in the championship.

    Wehrlein wasn’t considered for the Mercedes seat due to his lack of experience and I think if he doesn’t impress against Ericsson this season then he can forget about being considered for a top seat any time soon as there are always plenty of “the next big thing” drivers trying to get into F1.

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