Sauber plan ‘big ticket’ upgrades this year ahead of crucial 2025 season

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Sauber technical director James Key says they aim to introduce “several” major upgrade packages through the upcoming season.

Key has returned to the Swiss team as technical director for the first time since 2012 after being released from the same position at McLaren following their disappointing start to the 2023 season.

Arriving back at Sauber, Key says the team has notably grown in his decade away from their Hinwil factory.

“It’s great to be back,” Key told media including RaceFans. “There’s a lot of familiar faces still around. A lot of the people I was lucky enough to work with last time I was at Sauber are still there so there’s a level of familiarity.

“The team’s grown. We’re still a small team, but nonetheless it’s still pretty big – many hundreds of people. It’s getting tight for parking spaces and office space – a normal problem when you hit that.

“I think in general some of that small team efficiency is still there, but inevitably as you grow as a team you begin to lose that. So pulling that back is one of the things that we do need to do a little bit more.”

The independent team is embarking on two years under an interim identity. It raced as Alfa Romeo for the last five years and has taken on the name of their sponsors Stake for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Then in 2026 it will become Audi’s factory team.

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Key says there is a clear pathway for Sauber to follow as they expand and enhance their technical department ahead of the arrival of Audi, which will produce a bespoke power unit for the new regulations coming in 2026. However he says it will take some time for the team to fully realise their intended growth.

Showcar with Audi F1 launch livery
Sauber will become Audi in 2026
“In terms of next steps, there’s a very significant, well-documented plan,” he said. “We’re already acting on it. Attracting all the right talent to the team, to join some very good talent that is already there, is obviously a priority that we’re working on hard in the background.

“There is a lead time to people [arriving] of course, with gardening periods, we were aware of that. We’re certainly not waiting for that. There’s a lot of stuff we can do now without any extra people and so on. For sure there’s things that the team can do with its current form better. But ultimately, to achieve our goals, we have to expand in all the key areas – in fact, in all areas. Everywhere has got to take a step up regardless of where we are in that process.

“I think ultimately we’re probably not going to be the final product that we’re aiming for until about 2027, really, because there is a lot to do. But we’ll be in far better shape as we approach 2026, and that will give us the opportunity to take a step forward we need to.”

As with all teams, Sauber are constrained by the budget cap which limits how much the team is allowed to spend each year. However, Key says the team’s freedom to invest in improving their car development facilities – permitted under the ‘capital expenditure’ allowance – will help them to close the gap to the bigger teams ahead of Audi’s arrival.

“The team has spent very wisely with the CapEx it’s had,” Key explained. “I have to say the ownership that we’ve currently got with the shareholders is very stable, supporting the team extremely well.

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“Some really important investments have been made this year which will begin to make a difference coming into [2024]. So there’s some of that in place, but there’s still plenty more to go. I think all the basics are definitely there, which is why I think there’s potential to do better immediately.

“But there’s some of the big stuff we’re definitely missing a bit too. I think the future CapEx will fill those gaps with more state-of-the-art key facilities, investment in existing facilities that we’ve got which already good as a baseline wind tunnel is legendary at Sauber, but there’s work to do in terms of the technology, for example. So I think all of those things will be direct performance gains compared to where we are now. And a lot of it’s catching up, to be honest with you.”

After a disappointing start to the year in 2024, Key’s former team at McLaren introduced multiple major upgrades through the season to move to the front of the field and become regular podium contenders. Heading into the new season in 2024, Key expects that Sauber will introduce multiple major upgrades themselves over the coming year as they look to ramp up development processes ahead of 2026.

“We’ve got a pretty clear plan,” he said. “Several possibly big-ticket development items that I think we need to try and get onto the car during the 2024 season, so we’ve got that going on.”

Making an early start on their first Audi-powered car for the new regulations in 2026 isn’t an option this year, as the rules forbid that. But Key said the team must be ready to advance that project come next year: “’25 is going to be a critical period for ’26.”

“That lead time of people, as we said, and all the other plans are in place but need detailing in some cases. Then [it’s] making an early start on certain things as soon as we can.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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12 comments on “Sauber plan ‘big ticket’ upgrades this year ahead of crucial 2025 season”

  1. I find this a bit hard to believe. Why waste money on this year’s car with the budget cap in place, when you can better spend that money preparing for 2026 anyways. Their driver line-up more or less confirms that their ambitions for 2024 are low and for me that follows. It would be such a waste to spend all this money to turn 9th into 8th or 7th, when you can also upgrade facilities or spend money attracting new staff with a bit of bonus money instead.

    1. Agreed, given that 2026 is the big circled year on their calendar the next two seasons are seemingly more about keeping their spot on the grid, not doing so bad that Audi gets cold feet, and just waiting it out. Their driver choices are indeed a pretty telling reflection of that approach.

      That said, I’m a bit surprised Audi isn’t already more involved. Perhaps they are but just not publicly, but the recent story about the new leadership feeling the need to confirm their F1 strategy does suggest there isn’t yet a whole lot going on.

    2. 9th to 7th is still nearly $20mil…

      when you can also upgrade facilities or spend money attracting new staff

      He talks about doing exactly that… Not sure what you mean. Did you read the article or just the headline?

      He feels there’s still more investment to do but there are some potentially big ticket items they can try on the car this year with the investment they’ve made so far…

    3. The way I’m reading it, they are doing exactly what you are suggesting/expecting.
      As they cannot spend on ‘26 car development yet, they get the right people in place and probably installations as well.

      I guess Audi has signed off on the strategic plan, but do not want their name on the ticket during the next two mediocre years with mediocre drivers.

    4. @sjaakfoo as others note, there are direct quotes from Key talking about the team setting out long term recruitment plans and capital expenditure plans to improve their current infrastructure. Given the questions you ask are addressed in the article, it gives the impression that you didn’t bother reading it.

    5. As we’ve seen, that approach has failed more than it has succeeded and they need to build up both morale and momentum if they want to hope to sign any good drivers or engineers without just relying on huge salaries.

  2. This sounds like they expect the launch car to be poor and need to do a lot of rework to make it mid-field competitive and/or James Key has come in and spotted several areas that could be improved based on his knowledge of other cars and those changes will take some time to incorporate

  3. I thought it was supposed to be ‘Stake’.

    1. Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber.
      Or another mingled version of that.

      PS I often inadvertently put an ‘s’ after ‘Kick’.

  4. Key, not only in name.

  5. After a disappointing start to the year in 2024

    …oh give them a chance, it’s only been a week

    1. I know, a a pretty absurd line. lol

      But I doubt Stake Sauber to The Wall F1 will take much time to embarrass itself and show it’s still not serious.

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