Exclusive Q&A with Saubers Monisha Kaltenborn 11 Feb 2013
2012 was a good year for Sauber - they reached the podium on four occasions and, with a little more luck, might have won a race. But things havent stood still at the Swiss squad. 2013 marks Monisha Kaltenborns first full season as team principal and last week she watched their C32 machine - arguably the boldest new car on the grid - make its debut at Jerez. Following a productive four days testing, Kaltenborn discusses Saubers exciting new driver line-up, her hopes for 2013 and the challenge that will come with 2014s rules shake-up
Q: Monisha, it seems that just as Sauber were making serious progress, you are having to start all over again in 2013 with two new drivers and two new driving styles to come to terms with. How can a smaller team best deal with that?
Monisha Kaltenborn: It is not such a radical change compared to some of the previous years. With Esteban (Gutierrez) we have a driver who we know, which makes a difference. We have not only followed and supported him, we have also worked with him effectively during his young driver days, so you do have an advantage over somebody you dont know at all. With Esteban we know his strengths and weaknesses, as we have seen him develop over the years. He, on the other hand, knows by now how the team works and what we expect. That makes a big difference, so you are spared the phase of getting to know each other. With him it is about moving on to the next phase where he is now the race driver, which he wasnt until now. With Nico (Hulkenberg), of course you have a new situation, but here we have an advantage compared with previous driver line-ups in that he is already an experienced driver. We realised that when he came to us, that the adaptation process is much shorter as both sides know very well what they want and you just have to find your common ground. So no, the change is not as radical this year as it may sound.
Q: Sauber have nurtured many young talents who have then left the team. In other high-profile sports transfer fees are paid. Should we have something like this in Formula One racing?
MK: No, I wouldnt really support such an idea from our perspective. For us, the push would rather be on ourselves: to develop a car that is competitive enough so that drivers stay with us. We should be competitive enough that drivers see their future with us. What we have already achieved is drivers coming to us - we dont go out looking for drivers. All drivers who have been through our team have all come to us. That already is quite an asset for the team. Now we need to take the next step.
Q: Can small teams afford to sign young talent if that talent doesnt come with money?
MK: All these discussions about pay drivers have lost ground a bit for me. What we see is that many partners or sponsors support drivers from the very beginning. A good example is Sergio (Perez). He has been part of the Escuderia Telmex, which is a racing school. They have been supporting him from the very beginning and it is natural that when he enters the pinnacle of motorsports, they come along. You have so many top drivers out there who have also brought along their partners who have supported them right from the beginning. You dont talk about pay drivers in lower series because it is normal that a driver has partners that support him. So why not use the same standard in Formula One? Then you wouldnt have all these pay driver discussions. Sure, it would be good for Formula One to look more closely at the costs. We have to do something. Over the years we see that the economic climate is also getting to us. And not just to the smaller teams, but the whole sport. In this environment we cannot expect to always have a high level of income from the commercial rights holder. We really have to find a way to react to this.
Q: There will be more rookie drivers in 2013 than there have been in years. At the same time some very experienced drivers have moved out of Formula One racing because they didnt have any financial backing. What does that tell you?
MK: It is, in a way, worrying if that really is the reason they had to move out. That would not be a good development because Formula One needs to have the best drivers and not necessarily the ones with the money. But then one also has to be fair to the young drivers coming in and not immediately label them as pay drivers. There has always been fluctuation on the grid and nobody was harping on about pay drivers. Everybody who comes into Formula One is on a high level and if there are only a limited number of seats, then of course every team is looking for the best option. Who wouldnt?
Q: With Nico Hulkenberg you have somebody who has a proven track record. What do you expect from him this season?
MK: We expect him to maintain his performance, especially after what we saw last year. That impressed us a lot: how he got his chance and took the opportunity. This is something that we were lacking last year. Our efficiency in this respect was not very high. In him we see that strength - that he will make use of the potential that our car hopefully will have. Last year we heard from so many sides that we had huge potential - we just couldnt utilise that and translate it into points. We expect Nico to do that and, in a way, also give guidance to the engineers with his experience.
Q: Kamui Kobayashi has made way for rookie Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber this year. Kamui was very inventive with his online campaign to get some backing behind him. Were you surprised that no sponsor was found for him, the most successful Japanese F1 driver in history?
MK: Yes, it was surprising. Kamui, when he came to us, came with no sponsors, nothing. But we were convinced of his talent and it was, for us, the right step. He showed some great performances with us: his podium in Suzuka was such an emotional affair - he moved that whole crowd in a way I have never seen before. He was a great team player - he did so much for the team spirit - so it is surprising when such a pleasant person like him cannot get any support from such a motorsport-loving nation like Japan. This again should be a sort of warning that we maybe need to change something. When you have a race in a country and you have a local hero it helps Formula One to be successful there. But I have also to clarify that we never made any promises to Kamui for 2013.
Q: 2012 was a very positive year for Sauber - can the team deliver a repeat this season?
MK: I hope so - indeed, I hope for a lot more than last year. The major reason for that is first and foremost the car: we have based it on the 2012 car and have focused a lot on eliminating any weaknesses we felt it had. Secondly, the team: we have stability and continuity in the team which is a huge asset. On top of this we have two drivers who we think can really utilize this potential. We are set up well!
Q: Many teams have pointed out that 2013 is actually a transition year, with the need to remain focused on the current car whilst simultaneously working on the very different 2014 machine. What is the situation at Sauber?
MK: We too have already started developing the 2014 car like most of the teams. With our limitations we face a bigger challenge than some of the others in finding the right allocation between the current car - and being competitive - and working on the new car. I just hope that this juggling will not cause us any disadvantage. The trick will be to understand how much of your resources -in terms of both manpower and funding - you put into each car, and when to do it.
Q: Is there a plan in place whereby if you are not as successful as you would like this year, you will abandon 2013 development early for the sake of 2014?
MK: No. A private team cannot afford that. The consequences of our future will depend on this years result. There is no reason to believe we shouldnt be competitive. My guess is that the cars will become closer again due to the relatively stable rules. It is then that you have to have an edge over the others.
Q: The general opinion seems to be that 2014 will be a very costly year, with the new engine and everything that comes with it. Does that frighten you?
MK: Not really. (laughs) What I do believe is that 2014 will be much more dominated by the drivetrain side rather than the chassis side. If I look at where we started with the rules and where we ended up, very sensibly many things have been put back a little. But there are so many open questions on the drivetrain side and I think that will be the deciding factor in the next season - who has an advantage with a better or worse drivetrain. That will be the challenging factor. As for the costs, clearly one has to say that if the engine is going to be a cost driver, then the manufacturer of the engines has to think what they want from the sport. Either they want customers for the engine or not. If they dont want customers then they maybe end up with three or four teams, and I would even go so far as saying that even if each of these teams runs five cars they will not be able to sustain the benefits you are getting from Formula One currently. I dont only mean the financial benefits, I also mean the image. The engine manufacturers have a certain responsibility there, but they are also benefitting from that as well.
Q: Do you think the engine manufacturers understand that?
MK: I dont know. But that is not my problem.
Q: Three wishes for 2013?
MK: That we have a successful year, that we continue to establish Sauber as a brand, and that we further utilize our knowhow in other areas where we apply it in third-party businesses.
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