RACE DEBRIEF

    Kick Sauber have gone bold for 2024, but behind the fluorescent green colour scheme and razzmatazz of their launch at London’s iconic Guildhall, there lies an operation that has plenty riding on the coming campaign.

    Last season was an irritation for the Sauber-run Swiss operation. Their form was patchy. There were a few highs, like qualifying in Hungary and Las Vegas and a double points finish in Qatar. But otherwise, there was very little to celebrate as they ended the year ninth in the constructors’ standings – three places down on the previous campaign.

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    They are a team in transition but they had hoped last year would have been better as they look to build some momentum ahead of Audi’s arrival in 2026, when they will become the German manufacturer’s works operation.

    Behind the scenes, work is going on at pace to bring the Sauber’s Hinwil operation up to scratch. Infrastructure is being improved, software and hardware overhauled, processes refined and made more efficient.

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    Kick Sauber's C44 car was unveiled during their launch event in London

    They have been on a recruitment drive, too, with sources saying several senior personnel with recent experience working at F1’s biggest teams having already signed on the dotted line and are anticipated to join over the course of the year.

    The Sauber-run team must do better this year, in part for motivation but importantly to prove to Audi that the team can deliver their end of the bargain with the chassis (as the German manufacturer focuses on producing their first Formula 1 power unit).

    So, it’s no surprise that the team have completely overhauled the C44 – a project that was started by the previous Technical Director Jan Monchaux and finessed by his replacement James Key, who returned to the team last September.

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    The Red Bull influence is clear – and they’ve taken the bold call to move to a pull-rod suspension (only Ferrari and Haas now use push-rod), which is a significant project for a team that is still several hundred personnel short of the big teams.

    The development plan is aggressive, with large parts expected to be ready in time for the first race – with more coming for the following races. CEO Andreas Seidl and his Team Representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi want their team to get used to operating like a big team, which includes design and manufacturing parts faster and more efficiently. This year will be a good test of where they are at.

    “We have been working on all the areas to avoid the up and down of last year,” Alunni Bravi tells me. “The car will be important, it needs to have more potential – and be more predictable when conditions change in terms of track temperatures and grip level. We have seen we have made a step [on the data]. What we cannot know now if this step will be enough to keep with our competitors.”

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    Form key to attracting big names in future

    Showing progress this year is also important because Seidl wants his operation to be attractive to the best drivers on the grid.

    Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu’s respective contracts expire at the end of the season and, while they will be given every chance to prove they deserve a seat at the table, Seidl is naturally looking at the market – which exploded into action when Ferrari signed Lewis Hamilton for 2025 last week.

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    That threw Carlos Sainz, whose seat Hamilton will take, into the mix. Seidl worked with the Spaniard at McLaren and rates him highly.

    Securing his signature would be a real shot in the arm and it’s believed it’s an avenue Seidl is pursuing. He will know Sainz has options, namely Mercedes, Aston Martin, Alpine and Williams, so he’s got a fight on his hands to secure him.

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    Andreas Seidl worked with Carlos Sainz at McLaren and rates him highly

    Can Bottas and Zhou retain their seats?

    Bottas has been a very important part of the team since he joined in 2022, the Finn utilising his experience from Mercedes – where he was a key cog in their world championship-winning machine – to help drive the team forward both behind the scenes and on track.

    “Valtteri is very experienced, we know he is able to extract all the potential of the car,” says Alunni Bravi. “Valtteri is an important element. He helped our team to go into the right direction in the last two seasons.

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    “This year, he has to help us to extract all the potential from our package. He is able to do so, and he is committed and determined to do so.”

    Does Bottas want to stay? Well he’s made no secret of wanting to be part of the Audi project come 2026 – but he will know he has options elsewhere if that doesn’t happen. Plenty of teams will want his experience and a return to Mercedes can’t be ruled out.

    Valtteri Bottas praises the potential of the C44

    His targets for this year are to be “consistently in the points for the whole season and sometimes hopefully competing for podiums”. Whether or not he is able to achieve that, understanding the reasons behind why they either hit or miss those targets will shape whether he wants to stay or if the team want him.

    “Every season is extra important, but maybe it is extra, extra important when it’s a contract year – and that’s obviously the case for many drivers, including myself,” he says.

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    On the other side of the garage, Zhou is preparing for his third season in Formula 1. The team back him – but they want to see him level up this year if he wants to prove he deserves to stay with the team beyond this campaign.

    “Zhou is a very talented guy,” says Alunni Bravi. “It was not a surprise for us to see him performing from the very first day. In the last two years with us, he has shown constant growth.

    “Now he needs to do the next step if he wants to establish himself as a top driver. We want him to be more aggressive and more confident that he can fight for the top positions. He needs to be more consistent but always have this aggressive approach.”

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    Zhou is all too aware of what he needs to do. “Year three is a very important year,” he says. “I need to make sure I give it everything I have and making sure the team sees the way I’m growing as a driver.

    “I need to change a little bit my approach, try to be a bit more aggressive, that’s the target I set for myself. For the last two years, I tried to minimise my mistakes, try to keep my nose clean.

    “But this season, I want to be attacking a lot more. Hopefully that will convert into a great season.”

    Fascinating times, then, at Kick Sauber. Can the car deliver an upturn in performance? Can Bottas and/or Zhou do enough to keep their seats? Will Seidl snatch a big name to delight the Audi bosses? Watch this space.

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