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Peter Sauber Q&A: Team funding well set for 2011 03 Sep 2010

Peter Sauber (SUI) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Thursday, 13 May 2010 Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 29 August 2010 (L to R): Peter Sauber (SUI) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal with Monisha Kaltenborn (AUT) BMW Sauber Managing Director on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 25 July 2010 Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) BMW Sauber C29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 28 August 2010 Peter Sauber (SUI) BMW Sauber F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Valencia Spain, Saturday, 26 June 2010

BMW Sauber’s 2010 campaign got off to a slow start, but with Kamui Kobayashi once again finishing in the points in Belgium, the team’s recent renaissance shows no sign of flagging. To add to the air of optimism at Hinwil, team principal Peter Sauber is certain that after some tough financial times a healthy level of funding for 2011 is now secure. As to where that funding will come from, Sauber is remaining tight-lipped…

Q: Prior to the European Grand Prix in June the team were struggling for results, but you kept your cool. Was that Formula One-style cold-bloodedness, or rather courage born out of despair?
Peter Sauber:
It sure wasn’t any kind of despair, that’s not my style. And it sure wasn’t, as you call it, ‘Formula One cold-bloodedness’ because I never pretend to be something I’m not. It’s true, the start of the season was tough - there’s no doubt about it. But there was never a single moment of doubt in my mind that it was not the right decision to run the team again, as there were only two options -to run it or to close it. And closing down was never an alternative for me. Not after BMW stepped out, not after the first four races and for sure not after this season - no matter how it develops. It was do or die and you couldn’t let this team die. When I say yes, the first races were really painful, then I mean not only in terms of performance but also in terms of reliability - and our cars have always been reliable. It was a very new situation and a very scary one indeed. But it doesn’t help to fret and look back in annoyance. Instead we look forward to the next race and the next chance to improve.

Q: There’s something very odd - and perhaps worrying - about seeing an ad-free Formula One car. How do you feel about that?
I have to correct this question as it is not completely ad-free! But joking aside, it would have been an easy thing to plaster the car with advertisements from sponsors that pay less than what you think is the true value. I know that it is happening at other teams, but I say that it is the wrong road to go down - at least for us. If you are only showing off that you have sponsors, whilst the revenue is not there, it doesn’t help. A sponsor that is with us is paying for the space at a just price. We knew all along that it would be very difficult to find sponsors this season, especially after taking over the team just before Christmas - more or less ten weeks before the start of the season - and to find the kind of serious sponsors that you want before the first race. Naturally you always keep hoping but we were also prepared to run this season without a title sponsor.

Q: You recently admitted that the future of the team is secured for next season. Can you give us any more information?
No, I only can say that I am confident, or rather I am convinced, that the team will have proper financing next season to give us the chance to race on the level that we want to.

Q: When you say racing on the level that you want, what level is that?
Ah, that is difficult to say. When you have a look at the past then we were oscillating between seventh and fourth place (in the championship). BMW made a big step forward that took us all the way to P2. We took the team over again when it had finished in P6, although I would say that this position was a lucky one as we managed to rise from seventh to sixth place only at the last race in 2009. But at the moment I would say that is looks like it will be hard to maintain that position as the gap, particularly to Force India, is quite significant. We are not satisfied with the position that we hold now. And when I say that I am sure we will have the finances to race as we would like, then I clearly see us doing better than now.

Q: There have been rumours about an alliance between the team and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu, who has been looking for a way into Formula One racing for some time. Is there any truth in the rumours?
I could say that we don’t comment on rumours. That could be one possible answer. But how do rumours start? (Mexican GP3 driver) Esteban Gutierrez was already contracted to the BMW Sauber F1 team. We had him drive the car for one day last year at the young drivers test day, as this was contractually agreed and he did impress us. This was the reason why we took him. Gutierrez is contracted to us now and he has very close contacts to Mexico and especially to Carlos Slim. This is the reason why you will find Carlos Slim a bit more often in our hospitality than at those of other teams, but it is also no secret that Carlos Slim is a much-welcomed guest at all the other teams as well.

Q: With the prospect of a race in Austin, Texas, a Mexican tie-up would be perfectly timed…
It is no secret that we are probably the best address for upcoming talents. We have proved that in the past, not just because I can spot a good, young driver, but also because the team is good for young drivers. You must never underestimate the human factor in nurturing talents. And there is another aspect to that. If a young, talented driver is doing well with us then the big teams immediately have that guy on their radar screen. We already face this again with Kamui. Driving with us is different to driving somewhere else and that makes our team interesting for young, talented drivers.

Q: A team that was once on the shopping list of a company like BMW could very likely also attract a Mexican billionaire…
The team is attractive and has potential because it has an excellent infrastructure, absolutely comparable to that of the top teams. The fact that we cannot really rival the top teams is to do with our financial situation and head count. But the conditions are there.

Q: Let’s return to the 2010 season. There were high hopes for Kamui Kobayashi based on what he demonstrated last season. From 13 races this year he has failed to finish in six - three because of technical issues and three due to accidents. Are you still satisfied with him?
What I say now goes for both drivers - they’ve both delivered what we expected from them. You cannot expect a rookie to have the speed and the ‘race intelligence’ of somebody who’s been racing for years. I only can repeat myself. We are satisfied with the performance of both our drivers.

Q: Since Valencia it seems the C29 has picked up pace. Is that down to the influence of new technical chief James Key, or just the team finally overcoming typical post-launch problems?
That is not fully correct. We’ve always started the season pretty well so what happened at the start of the 2010 season was rather atypical. We were running well in the winter tests and then the season started and it didn’t work at all for us. That was a complete mystery for all of us - especially as we didn’t finish races. But it was not just the car - it was also partly because of the new engine. It simply didn’t work well for some reason. This season was different from the very start. We have seen many times that over the course of a season the gap has widened to the other teams, probably because we could not keep up with the development. This year we had good tests but started the season terribly and now we’re on a nice upward trend. And, of course, that trend can partly be attributed to James Key, as we now see that the car works on tracks where we normally always had our share of problems. I’m thinking especially on the slow tracks. In Monaco it was not working, but two months later the car worked pretty well in Hungary. It was very difficult to race our car with much ride height. Due to aerodynamic reasons we had to race the car with little clearance, and then you naturally find yourself in difficulties when running over the kerbs. In this respect James Key has turned things around, as was visible in Hungary. In fast sectors the car was always running well - coming quite close to the top teams - but where we still have a deficit is in top speed and we are really looking forward to seeing that improve.

Q: How has James Key settled in Switzerland? He moved from Silverstone-based team Force India…
If you are occupied with a difficult car you hardly have time to reflect on your new environment. But he told me a few days ago that he’s been to Arosa with the whole family - going up the Weisshorn mountain for a view. That went down very well with the whole family, which gives an indication that the adaptation phase is going very well.

Q: For a team like BMW Sauber, constructors’ championship position is a big concern, as it means hard cash. At the moment you are holding on to P8. Can you do any better?
We are definitely focused on doing better than P8 - if that is feasible I cannot tell. I have no idea how our immediate challengers will develop. We also had no idea that in 2009 at the last race we would outrun Williams, but it worked. So let’s see what we can manage to do in the six remaining races. For Monza we will try to get a good set-up for a low-downforce track and for the last five flyaway races we will introduce some bits and pieces, but I have to say that clearly our main focus is on the 2011 car. And if we speak about P8 in the constructors’ championship, let’s not forget that last year a team with a world-class driver ended in P8 - Renault with Fernando Alonso - so P8 doesn’t seem to be all that bad…