Boss explains why his team's not matching Ferrari...
Nine races into the season and the Swiss team are just two points behind McLaren in the constructors' championship, lying sixth in the table. So what does the boss think of it to date?
Q: With half of the season behind us, what is your assessment of 2004 so far?
Peter Sauber: I think that, all things considered, we can be highly satisfied with the results of the first nine races. We've scored 15 Championship points - clearly more than at the same time last year - and are now ranking sixth in the Constructors' Championship. We're only two points behind McLaren-Mercedes, but clearly ahead of Toyota, Jordan, Jaguar and Minardi.
Q: The beginning seemed a bit slow, the team didn't really pick up speed until Barcelona. What was the reason?
PS: The explanation is simple. We knew that the new wind tunnel would not be operational until March and set the goal of using new aerodynamic components at the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola at the end of April. We achieved this goal, and the effects were immediately visible and produced already successful results at Barcelona. Since then, we've been able to make continuous progress with the aerodynamic development of the C23, and this has clearly improved our performance.
Q: The visual appearance of the car, though, has not changed!
PS: That's exactly what's fascinating about aerodynamics, the fact that small changes can make such a big difference. We've put a lot of work into optimising the brake ducts, for example. This has not only improved braking performance but, above all, aerodynamics. Such changes are hardly discernable by the naked eye. Particularly this development, though, has shown how important the possibility of working with full-size cars in our wind tunnel is. It's impossible to perfectly simulate the air flow through the brake ducts, the uprights and the wheels with a 50- or 60-percent scale model.
Q: What are the next changes to be anticipated?
PS: As it looks right now, we'll be using a new front wing at Magny-Cours and, only a week later at Silverstone, a new engine cover.
Q: Would it be fair to say that the wind tunnel has been worth the investment made?
PS: Absolutely! Of course, for a team like Sauber Petronas, this has been an enormous investment, but one that will surely pay off in the long run. To keep up with the breathtaking pace of developments in today's Formula 1, having a state-of-the-art wind tunnel to work with is an absolute must. Although we're still at the beginning, in other words, a phase of familiarizing ourselves with the facility, we've been able to make progress. In retrospect, I'm very happy to have taken this decision.
Q: Yet, there is a possibility of future regulations restricting aerodynamics, which means that the wind tunnel investment might prove to have been a mistake!
PS: Today, aerodynamics account for roughly two thirds of the performance of a Formula 1 car. Even in the event of certain regulatory restrictions, aerodynamics will continue to have a major impact on lap times. There's no doubt in my mind that this investment will yield positive effects in future, too.
Q: You're using the same engine as Ferrari, the same gearbox, and the C23 resembles last year's Ferrari, yet a few observers seem to feel that the distance between yourselves and Ferrari is too large. How can you explain this?
PS: Let's face it, the car's performance is not primarily attributable to the engine and gearbox. The most critical factor is aerodynamics, and in this respect we're just at the beginning of our development. What's more, Ferrari have completely different resources at their disposal and, above all, they've got Michael Schumacher. Michael is a driver with exceptional skills, and this year, I think, he's even better than he's ever been. Perhaps, the question of why Ferrari are so far ahead of everyone else should be posed to those teams having entered this season with the goal of winning the World Championship.
Q: How satisfied are you with your two drivers?
PS: I'm highly satisfied! Giancarlo has been picking up more and more speed. In the beginning, he was having a bit of difficulty, but the faster the C23 has become, the more he's been able to show his great skills. I've always considered Giancarlo one of the best Formula One drivers, and his performance has confirmed my opinion. Since his first year with us, Felipe has had a very positive development. He's always had a high basic speed, but his year as a test driver with Ferrari has taught him a lot about the technology, and now he's able to give valuable input to the engineers. Besides that, he's simply a little older, and thus more mature, now. I'm convinced that Felipe has great potential and will be able to further exploit it in future.
Q: Do you believe that Sauber Petronas will be able to compete at the current level in the second half of the season as well?
PS: Yes, I do. Though the enormous investments on the part of the works teams are a bit disconcerting, we do feel strong enough to accept this challenge. The disadvantages we're faced with in terms of budget and resources, we need to compensate for by being more efficient. We have a team that works together extremely well, both at the race track and back home at the Hinwil factory. And the wind tunnel has finally given us the right tool to perform pinpoint work on the car's performance.
Q: Does this mean that you keep eyeing fifth place in the Constructors' Championship?
PS: Owing to the fact that we were extremely unlucky at Indianapolis, McLaren-Mercedes managed to get ahead of us. Considering the technical and financial means of McLaren-Mercedes, the matter should really be quite clear, though. Of course, we won't simply admit defeat either. Yet, we continue to see Toyota, Jordan and Jaguar as our direct opponents. Of these three, Jordan is more predictable than Toyota and Jaguar, because they're using the same tyres.
Q: Speaking of tyres: how satisfied are you with Bridgestone?
PS: Bridgestone have made considerable strides since the beginning of the season, particularly in terms of consistency during the race. Still, when it comes to a fast lap, which determines grid positions, we continue to have clear disadvantages compared to our competitors. Generally speaking, the influence of tyres is much too high these days.