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Exclusive Q&A with Peter Sauber 08 Apr 2010

Peter Sauber (SUI) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday, 11 March 2010 Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) BMW Sauber C29 and Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Force India F1 VJM03 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 28 March 2010 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 2 April 2010 Peter Sauber (SUI) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 26 March 2010 Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 2 April 2010

With two double DNFs and just one recorded finish, courtesy of Pedro de la Rosa in Australia, it hasn’t been the start to the season that returning team principal Peter Sauber hoped for. But if you consider that it took Williams years to recover from the withdrawal of BMW, three disappointing races could be just a drop in the ocean for BMW Sauber. However, with the drivers slowly settling in and new technical director James Key joining from the boosted Force India team, Sauber is hoping for some strong results soon…

Q: After three tough races, how is the mood in the team?
Peter Sauber:
Good question. I don’t let matters get to me too much, if this is possible. It is better if you don’t, because it is never good to look at things from a snap-shot perspective. I think we should at least wait until we get back to Europe to analyse the situation with regards to the team and the technical situation.

Q: Have you ever regretted taking over the team after BMW’s exit?
When I decided to take over, I had to make the decision in a short period of time. I was led purely by my gut feelings, which is something you should try to avoid. If it was a purely logical decision, you wouldn’t have done it. But in the end I didn’t have a choice because Hinwil would have been closed down.

Q: Would you have been able to just walk away from the team you started?
That is a good question. For a moment let’s imagine I had looked at the matter unemotionally. In that case, I would have made the decision not to step in. It was too big a risk. Then Hinwil would have been closed down. It’s hard to say how long the fact that I hadn’t even tried to give the team a future would have made me feel uneasy. The decision to give it a try was the right one.

Q: During the February pre-season tests BMW Sauber were predicted to spring a few surprises this season. Why has the reality been so different?
First of all, you always have to be very careful about what you read into tests. Tests and races are two completely different things, especially if you are running with a new driver line-up, who at tests can go about things in a calm manner without much pressure. Now we are under pressure to succeed and it is very difficult to adapt to this. Secondly it is a sort of phenomenon, and I would call it the Sauber phenomenon. We’ve always performed well at tests, as the cars arrive at the first outing in a very good condition. They are both reliable and have good speed. But our competitors develop much faster and by the first race they are already introducing upgrades - just like this year in Bahrain. We came to Bahrain with the car we had at the last test in Barcelona. There is another issue too - you run light at the tests and you race heavy. That’s a major difference to previous years. My guess is that the other teams were running a bit heavier than we did at the tests - five, ten or even 15 kilos heavier. If they really had 15 kilos more that equates to almost half a second in lap time. That explains the time gap. The fact is that we’ve been fast on long runs, so it’s a bit difficult for us to really understand the situation now. I am convinced that the fact that both our drivers are new in the team plays a certain role. The communication and co-operation between the drivers and engineers at the moment is not where it ideally should be. That is not a criticism, just a sort of diagnosis.

Q: Would you choose the same driver line-up if you could go back in time?
I do not want to touch on the issue of the drivers as it would be inappropriate. I took this driver line-up decision - and the considerations that led to the decision are still valid. Pedro (de la Rosa) on the one hand has his immense experience from McLaren, and Kamui (Kobayashi) on the other hand is a young driver. What we probably underestimated is the time it would take for the drivers’ familiarization. Pedro, after many years as a test driver, is now back racing and that acclimatization process is probably more challenging than we anticipated.

Q: After BMW announced their withdrawal they said that they planned to keep developing their 2010 car. Is the C29 the car BMW would have raced this season?
Yes. Largely.

Q: But it would have been a major disappointment for BMW…

Q: The car still has a lot of white space left for sponsors on its bodywork. Is this giving you sleepless nights?
The car is mainly white! When I took over I knew that for the 2010 season we would not find any sponsors. In mid January we started to intensively look for sponsors for next year, but should a company want to join us this year that would be welcomed. But in reality I don’t think that there will be a major change. In this respect everything is going to plan. As for sleepless nights, they do exist, simply because of the responsibility I have for the team.

Q: James Key is to take over as technical director. He was a main force behind Force India’s recent and significant step up in performance. Was that why you lured him to Switzerland?
We have known for a long time that Willy Rampf has been looking for a change. It’s been well over a year, and together with him we were looking for a replacement. There are not many options around- and one of them was James Key. Eventually he committed.

Q: Does Formula One racing still appeal to you?
When I sold the team to BMW years ago, it was 100 percent the best solution for me, as I was able to close my F1 career in optimal conditions. I handed over the team to what I assumed were safe hands, and my career was perfect. What happened was a massive interruption to this. I have worked very hard during my life, and I was also blessed with luck. But I always knew that you should not test your luck and I truly hope that I’m not overstretching it now.

Q: What would be your ideal 2010?
We have to see that the team settles down as quickly as possible. I am convinced that James Key will be a stabilizing factor, as we have not been very contented with the fact that Willy Rampf was looking for a change. Even though he said that he would stay on until we found a replacement, it still means a certain amount of instability when the most important man in the team says that he wants to leave. There are other factors that should not be underestimated. James Key took over at Hinwil on April 1, and with a clear technical lead in place again, I’m sure that will massively push the team. Another issue that is no less important is that I have established a management team in Hinwil that is overseeing the day-to-day operations. I am not involved any more in the day-to-day business of the team and that helps a lot. Monisha Kaltenborn, our CEO, is running the team on a daily basis and I am only in Hinwil for meetings. That makes it all a bit easier.