Monisha Kaltenborn Q&A: Sauber on a roll 02 Apr 2012
With Sergio Perezs sensational podium finish in Malaysia - and the subsequent rumours of his switching to Ferrari to replace Felipe Massa - Sauber have found themselves unusually high in the headlines of late. Team CEO Monisha Kaltenborn insists their rising Mexican star is going nowhere. She is more concerned with maintaining the Swiss squads upward trajectory on the track and ensuring their long-term F1 future, as she explained exclusively to Formula1.com
Q: Monisha, the Swiss have always been renowned for being good with numbers, so how long can the smaller Formula One team survive?
Monisha Kaltenborn: Well, I think the question is not about how long we can survive, but how much longer it will take for the big teams to understand that the smaller teams are just as important to Formula One as the four big ones. If the situation of the smaller teams is not good - and I would go so far as saying that we are all in a similar situation compared to the big four - then this is not good for the sport. The challenge is to create parameters which will allow all teams that are here today to run sustainably, to stay in the sport and to have the ability to use whatever assets they have to compete at more or less a similar level.
Q: What in your opinion has to happen to achieve that? Whenever there is a new, must-have technical development, even if its worth only a fraction of a second, the big teams go for it whatever the cost, to the disadvantage of the smaller teams. Is a budget cap really the answer?
MK: At the end of the day, yes, I think so. We started it with the Resource Restriction Agreement (RRA), and that in itself was already an important step, but of course it is far from the only one you need. We now have to evolve it to the next step, and in my view the future should indeed lie in some kind of budget cap under which each and every team could do what they want to, because we all have different strengths. Looking at our team, for example, we have a good infrastructure and a good wind tunnel, so it would allow us to benefit from that. Others have other assets. Overall I think it would make Formula One more interesting as it would also mean that we would all use different strategies and take different approaches to the business and the sport.
Q: What time frame are we talking about?
MK: I think very soon. I think that we should have the next step already in place for next season and take it from there. Next season for me should already see a major step forward in the financial feasibility of a team. When the current Concorde Agreement comes to an end at the end of this season, I think it would be a good time to set some kind of rules.
Q: What you say sounds logical, so why has it not become reality? What is the biggest hurdle?
MK: I think the biggest hurdle is us, the teams ourselves! (laughs) But I think by now even the big teams should appreciate that Formula One with four teams would not be overwhelmingly attractive to fans. That would be a very wrong message. So my hope - and I have to say that most of them have already supported the RRA and have now signalled that they would give their support to taking the next step - is that something is happening very soon.
Q: With the commercial rights holder having reached agreement with the majority of the teams - including Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and McLaren - the new Concorde Agreement looks a done deal. Where are Sauber in that scenario?
MK: We have reached an agreement with the commercial rights holder. I will not talk about any further details, but we have our agreement.
Q: How is the financial situation right now at Sauber?
MK: The Swiss never talk about their finances or their budget! (laughs) We, on the other hand, have also openly said that we are not satisfied with our sponsor situation because we have high targets and to achieve them you need appropriate funding. We still need to work on that side of things, as of course the more funding you have the more you can develop - and it shows on the track. In this respect we definitely over-delivered last weekend! (laughs) I have said before that when we look back we practically never had enough money to do what we really wanted to. The question is always how big the gap is - sometimes it is bigger, sometimes it is smaller
Q: You are a lawyer, so youre trained to be a logical thinker. What would you say is the illogical side of Formula One?
MK: Ha, funny question. The answer is that it is a sport! Of course, we are business entities - we have to run things professionally and look at the commercial aspects - but at the end of the day its a sport, so its all about emotions. So sometimes you have to take steps that you would not take in a normal business and you have to take certain risks. We evolve so much every year, which makes the comfort zones rather marginal. If there is something new in the paddock we also have to go for it to gain the benefits from it - by whatever means. It is a very different challenge, as it is so unpredictable - and in the end so irrational.
Q: So, we are agreed that Formula One is a tough environment, but what still gets your back up?
MK: If people try to find excuses in the team. That is the worst thing for me. Mistakes can happen, but one should not look for excuses. True, that is not specific to Formula One, but among the teams we are all sensible people, so why is it that on so many issues we cannot together find a position that is the best overall for all of us - and the sport - even if it may not be the best for everybodys individual interests?
Q: Coming back to the track action, Sauber had a difficult 2011, but now you seem to be back on course with Sergio Perezs fantastic podium last weekend. Where has this come success come from?
MK: Well, the second half of 2011 was definitely painful for us with the change in position of the FIA. That was when we suffered a lot. But taking into account that we have been here for 20 years - we are the fourth-oldest team on the grid - we have not forgotten how to build good cars, despite some difficulties lately. It took a while for the team to settle down after the BMW departure - and now its rolling! (laughs)
Q: There have been endless rumours that Sergio Perez will move to Ferrari - and that Felipe Massa could return to Sauber, the team he started his F1 career with
MK: After last Sunday there is so much speculation around that we do not want to entertain or engage in. We do not know anything about it. We announced our driver line-up last August. That is our position and I think right now there is nothing more to say.
Q: There are still two flyaway races to go, meaning little chance for any team to make big changes to their car. So where do you see Sauber once everyone heads back to Europe in April?
MK: I certainly hope that we can keep up this momentum! (smiles) I am pretty confident that we are moving in the right direction and hopefully we can maintain this level. It has been a wonderful start to this season so far and knock on wood it will stay that way for many, many more races to come.
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