Exclusive Q&A with Peter Sauber: It's a real boost to be back 04 Feb 2011
Running a virtually sponsorship-free car is one of the bravest things a Formula One team boss can do. But that is exactly what Peter Sauber did in 2010 and now he is fulfilling his promise to make the 2011 grid after testing the teams new car in Valencia. With a talented young driver pairing - Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez - behind the wheel of the C30 and backing from Mexican telecommunications giant Telmex, Sauber is confident the team can do more than just survive this year
Q: Last year you made a rather unintended return to the fast lane following BMW's departure. How would you sum up your first season back in charge of a Formula One team?
Peter Sauber: It was unintended, indeed. The years before were enjoyable but then I have been surprised by how quickly I am back in the middle of the action. Somehow it felt as if Id never been away. But to be fair, I have the privilege of not being directly involved in the operational business at Hinwil. But being back in a competitive business environment has another huge gain - it helps the mind. Its a real boost!
Q: So you have tasted blood again
PS: I wouldnt say that, but the fact is the more the grey matter has to work the more it adds to the life of a pensioner. And thats not bad at all.
Q: The start of last season was pretty disillusioning. It was only after James Key joined the team that the results started to become acceptable. Can one man still make a difference
PS: Yes, thats possible. You can see it on other occasions too - not just with us. In our case you have to differentiate. We were pretty poor at the start of 2010, as the car was too slow at first, and secondly it was not reliable. That reliability returned was not necessarily something to do with James Key, because in the past reliability was always one of our strongest assets. For sure he looked into that matter but basically I would say weve just returned to our normal standards. Our performance was poor - or not good enough - and there he managed to make a big change. Anybody familiar with the complexity of a Formula One car knows how difficult it is to make an existing car faster, especially if you dont have abundant resources. That our performance level went up is surely something that can be attributed to him. He optimized the aerodynamics and the driveability of the car.
Q: In the last third of the season you switched drivers, from Pedro de la Rosa to Nick Heidfeld. Did the change help?
PS: Thats difficult to answer. Actually not really. No. But in the end it delivered a solid result. With hindsight it was absolutely right that we took that decision. Pedro was very close in speed to Kamui, or Kamui had pretty much the same speed as Pedro. I wasnt expecting that from a rookie - and in fact it left us with some doubts. Then we made a switch to Nick. In that phase we didnt know how fast the car really was because Kamui was no benchmark for us. After Nick had joined it became pretty obvious that Kamui is very fast. Pedro followed that situation with a smirk, which I absolutely understood as he has told us before not to underestimate Kamui. I know that Pedro was crestfallen, but for the team it was the right decision.
Q: You go into this years campaign with a driver in his second year and a rookie. That looks like a brave choice
PS: Yes and no. I think that after last season Kamui is ready to step up. I trust he is able to handle this responsibility and has gathered enough knowledge to bring the car forward. He knows that it will be basically up to him to push the car because for Sergio it will be a year of acclimatization. But we have experience with such a driver line-up. One of our best years was in 2001 when we clinched P4 in the constructors championship with Nick Heidfeld in his second year and Kimi Raikkonen in his rookie season.
Q: Keeping Kobayashi probably wasn't a difficult decision to make, but what convinced you to take a chance on Perez?
PS: Sergio Perez made a case of his own with his GP2 results. That was the reason Telmex decided to bring him into Formula One. In the end that was the reason we teamed up with Telmex. It was not a case of a driver knocking on our door, but Telmex - who have supported Sergio for years - were convinced that he was ready. And so are we. They contacted us saying that they wanted to join us with their driver.
Q: It seems that for smaller teams to survive they must sign drivers with funding. The best case scenario is that a team gets talent and money, and in the worst case they get only money. What criteria are in place at Sauber?
PS: In our case, in all the 18 years we have raced in Formula One, we only had one real pay driver - Pedro Diniz. That was a very sensible decision as Pedro was fast and sometimes brought very lucrative sponsors to the team. In the case of Sergio I still resist calling him a pay driver. Telmex came to us with their driver and not the other way around. Telmex has a young driver programme that is similar to that of Red Bull and nobody calls their youngsters pay drivers.
Q: The Williams team have mooted they may try another avenue to funding and sell shares in their team. Is that something that could also be an option for you?
PS: I honestly have to say that I dont understand the reasons behind going public. Thats all I have to say.
Q: To find a balance between the needs of the big teams and the small ones seems impossible. Do you agree?
PS: Well, somehow it is moving towards the smaller teams, as one or the other of the big teams are thinking of reducing their budget. That definitely would benefit the smaller teams. When I say smaller teams I am thinking of teams like Force India, Williams and ourselves. Lets put it this way - the direction seems sensible if it continues in the future.
Q: You are hopefully going into this season with a well-stocked war chest. What are you aiming for?
PS: A well-stocked war chest? Not really. But after a season with an almost blank car and people questioning how we managed to race, I have always said that we would be on the grid in 2011. And we are. Teams of our size - I mean those I have just mentioned and I think you can also count the Renault team among them - would be faster with more money. Sure, it is no guarantee, but the chances are pretty big. A big team with a big war chest - I wont mention names - is not automatically faster with more money, but in our case it would make a difference. If you think about the resource restriction agreement, although we never reached that level because of our budget situation, but with more funding we could do more development work, like going into the wind tunnel, and that eventually would raise our performance. It is one of my duties to find new sponsors and believe me it is very, very difficult.
Q: Will the future of the Sauber team be Mexican?
PS: I dont think so. It was never the plan that (Telmex CEO) Carlos Slim would get directly involved with the team. And to be honest I feel pretty good knowing that 100 percent of the team is with me again.
Q: After the first test, you must have an opinion on how competitive your new car is?
PS: No, I dont. What I can say is that I am satisfied with how everything is working. With the abolition of the double diffuser the car's lost a lot of downforce. You hear all kinds of statements from teams that by the first race they will have regained all that downforce, others say they will have even more, and we are really looking forward to what the actual situation is. After one test it is too early to say.
Q: You seem pretty confident. Are you heading into the 2011 season with a positive feeling?
PS: Absolutely, yes.
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