Motorsports Blog

19 August 2013

F1 half term report: Sauber

Do the economic woes at the perennial also-rans mask a wider malaise in the sport?

Michael Harvey
Car image



Picking over the bones of the last ten races, one-half season of F1 racing 2013 style, it’s been hard to get excited by many teams’ performances. Predictably, only Red Bull has scored anything near straight As.

It’s always important to recognise that F1s story is written in chapters, each chapter bearing the name of a team or a driver that dominated. Vettel and Red Bull are the story right now. That’s okay; it’s a good story. But another story is why organisations with money —Ferrari and McLaren — have failed to work properly. And one more: the way the regulations are written, or appear to be, that don’t allow teams without money to have a light bulb moment and vault the established order.

And so onto Sauber, who seemed to have had one such moment last year. However subtle the engineering innovation, last year’s C31 could do more — a lot more — with its tyres than many of the big teams. It gave Sauber a lot more strategic latitude and Sergio Perez, who has never experienced anything else but Pirelli’s party mix rubber in F1, made hay. No wonder Nico Hulkenberg jumped from Force India when Checo got the call from McLaren. After all, to make an impression in the midfield these days — to make sure you get the call too — you have to gamble.

Ooops. Hulkenberg is quite possibly the real deal, or at worst has a better claim than most in the Q2 group. He could certainly have been in that McLaren alongside Button and, potentially, would be making life even harder for Jenson. Instead he moved from solid, perennial-nearly-there Force India to Sauber on the basis of the C31, which gave Perez that platform and allowed Sauber to finish ahead of Force India in last year’s constructor’s championship. Sauber is his third team (after Williams and SFI) in three years of racing.

But the C32 has been the best example yet of this technical funk that seems to have descended on F1; it’s nothing like as good as the car it replaces and so while Hulk’ has been able to score here and there, and just occasionally make Q3, it’s done nothing for his profile and he’s further away from the call than ever.

The inability of so many teams to evolve their cars in a linear fashion (and don’t forget the rules have not changed significantly since double diffusers were banned) isn’t making it easy for their commercial departments. Sauber has been largely devoid of sponsorship since it lost BMW patronage, making last year’s effort still more impressive. But there have been rumours all year that the current account was running low. Now there are rumours that the Russian-backed rescue deal is in trouble too. Let’s hope not because if any team has shown itself to have that creative spark that can bust open the established order it’s Sauber.

It deserves — F1 deserves — not to have to witness charming and talented young men like Esteban Gutierrez show the world he hasn’t really got what it takes to make the grade. Remember what we were saying yesterday about how you just know when someone has got it? Just compare Gutierrez’ first half season with Perez’.

Esteban is there because he brings the money. The team needs the money because the big multinationals are no longer queuing up to sponsor F1. And the multinationals are no longer queuing up because F1 is creating fewer and fewer great characters and writing fewer and fewer great stories.

Half term grades

Sauber: C Plus

Hulkenberg: A Minus

Gutierrez: D

Tags: f1, formula one, sauber

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