The competitive fire has returned to Sauber. The Swiss team began this season on a far stronger financial footing, care of its new owner Longbow Finance, the acquisition completed in mid-2016 – and there was no doubt as to the team’s target.
SOUNDBITE: (English) MARCUS ERICSSON
F1 DRIVER, SAUBER:
“We want to be back in the midfield, and fight there, and fight consistently for points so that's the first aim.”
Sauber technical director Jörg Zander, fresh from a two-year stint with Audi in the World Endurance Championship, returned to the squad after an 11-year absence, with a pragmatic stance.
SOUNDBITE (English) JÖRG ZANDER,
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR, SAUBER:
“It’s important for us to make sure that we get a stable aerodynamic platform rather than just maximising aerodynamic downforce.”
But Sauber scored just five points all season, the team twice in the top-10 – care of Pascal Wehrlein in Spain and Azerbaijan.
It was a campaign not made any easier by issues like ineffective aero updates and one-year-old Ferrari power units, while Wehrlein was injured at the Race of Champions, and ruled out of Australia and China, before its former team boss Monisha Kaltenborn walked out mid-season, up in arms over the team’s future direction.
In the end, the squad finished the year 10th for the third time in four years. Its best result since it returned to independent ownership in 2010, was sixth in 2012 - four podiums its haul on merit.
The Swiss outfit has since been rebuilt, by former Renault team principal Frédéric Vasseur – a revered, pragmatic manager of small and agile race teams - much like Sauber’s founder Peter Sauber.
And while Vasseur quickly undid the squad’s Honda engine deal to retain Ferrari, securing latest-spec power units from 2018, Sauber still lacked a final step – manufacturer support…
It’s a luxury the team last enjoyed from 2006 to 2009 with BMW, the German brand bringing resources, expertise, and plenty of horsepower. Second in the championship in 2007, and Robert Kubica’s Canadian Grand Prix win in 2008 BMW’s best results in F1.
That gap has since been filled by Alfa Romeo, F1’s original top marque that took Giuseppe Farina to the inaugural crown in 1950, Juan Manuel Fangio a year later.
SOUNDBITE (English) CHASE CAREY,
CEO & CHAIRMAN, FORMULA 1:
“The very first champion, first season champion, in 1950 of Formula One drove an Alfa Romeo so it has clearly had a unique place.”
The project, beginning as a title partnership, has been passionately led by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chairman Sergio Marchionne – with a full works effort expected from 2021.
SOUNDBITE (English): SERGIO MARCHIONNE,
CHAIRMAN, FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES:
"To me it's a big bloody deal. Look, let's do it and let's do it right."
And while the team will run Ferrari engines for the time being, the funding and expertise Alfa Romeo will bring – allied to Sauber’s top team facilities – should see it quickly leapfrog rivals ahead.
On the driver front, Sauber will retain Marcus Ericsson for a fourth-straight season – alongside highly rated Ferrari protege and Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc, who is the sport’s hottest rookie prospect.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team now has all of the ingredients it needs for its resurgence. And while it may come at the cost of political independence, it is a small price to pay for a potential return to being a top team.