TEAM PREVIEW: An all-new car and a new name – but will Kick Sauber’s changes spark a fruitful new era?
It’s all change at the team managed by Sauber in 2024, with their previous Alfa Romeo partnership coming to an end after five seasons. Arriving in its place is a new identity – Kick Sauber – ahead of Audi making the outfit their works operation for the 2026 rule changes. Here’s everything you need to know about them heading into the new campaign…
Drivers for 2024
Valtteri Bottas #77: 10 Grand Prix wins, 67 podiums, 1797 points, 222 Grand Prix starts
Zhou Guanyu #24: 12 points, best finish of P8, 44 Grand Prix starts
Valtteri Bottas is one of the most experienced drivers on the 20-strong F1 grid, having made his debut with Williams back in 2013. He scored his first podium finishes while at Grove and then secured a coveted Mercedes seat for 2017, following Nico Rosberg’s retirement.
After he hit double figures in terms of race wins and contributed to five successive constructors’ titles alongside Lewis Hamilton, the Silver Arrows opted for a line-up change in 2022 as they brought in long-time protege George Russell, sending Bottas in the direction of the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team.
With Bottas now aged 34, his wealth of experience in the sport is balanced with the youth of 24-year-old Zhou Guanyu, who debuted alongside the Finn during the 2022 campaign and did enough to secure renewals for both 2023 and 2024.
Bottas exploited Alfa Romeo’s strong start to F1’s latest ground effect era by racking up enough points early in the 2022 season to help them net an impressive sixth in the standings, but 2023 saw the Sauber operation tumble down the order.
In Bottas’ words, while the Swiss team brought their fair share of upgrades throughout the campaign with hopes of building more momentum, the net progress was nothing more than “steady”, while rivals “found big steps, new concepts and innovative things”.
The end result was a lowly ninth in the standings, ahead of only Haas, with Bottas and Zhou scoring a combined total of just 16 points – and finishing a race no higher than eighth – across 22 Grand Prix weekends.
It’s a slump that prompted team chiefs to take action, with the respected James Key taking over from Jan Monchaux as Technical Director to lead a department embarking on an “ambitious” plan for the newly-launched, overhauled C44.
Sauber Motorsport was formed in 1970 by Peter Sauber and, after stints in hillclimbing and endurance racing – which included becoming Mercedes-Benz’s works team and winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the team made it onto the F1 grid for 1993.
Sauber competed under their own name from that debut season until 2005, when BMW arrived with manufacturer backing for what was ultimately a five-year programme, and from 2011 to 2018, when the aforementioned Alfa Romeo partnership kicked in.
In 2024, the Hinwil outfit has been rebranded to Kick Sauber, along with the introduction of a vibrant, green-dominated livery, before automotive giants Audi take over for the 2026 engine regulations and make them their factory outfit.
Sauber’s relationship with BMW brought an instant upturn in fortunes. Having finished eighth in 2005, the bolstered team rose to fifth in 2006 and then leapt to second in 2007, raising hopes of a future championship tilt.
With plenty of podiums under their belt, BMW Sauber took the next step in 2008 by recording a breakthrough victory – and one-two result – at the Canadian Grand Prix, where Robert Kubica memorably led home team mate Nick Heidfeld.
A title triumph remained elusive, though, for while Kubica led the drivers’ standings after that Montreal win, his and the squad’s challenge faded as the season wore on, with more and more resources diverted to the 2009 rules reset.
One key goal for 2024
Given Bottas’ comments about the team’s underwhelming car developments last season, one of the main priorities for 2024 needs to be getting the revised technical department firing on all cylinders again.
If we take last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, there was less than a second between pace-setter Max Verstappen and slowest runner Zhou in the first segment of qualifying, and just over six-tenths between P1 and P18.
This highlights the fine margins involved in modern-day F1 and, with further field convergence expected as the current ruleset moves into its third campaign, it will take a strong base and effective upgrades to consistently be on the right side of those.
Only time will tell if the vibrant, green-and-black C44 will make as much of an impression on track as it already has off it...