It’s the end of an era, as Formula 1 waves goodbye to the Sauber name which has been ever-present since Peter Sauber brought his racing team to the world championship in 1993, after a successful foray in the World Sportscar Championship with Mercedes power.
Aside from a four-year period between 2006 and 2009, when the team was sold to BMW, Sauber has raced as a proud F1 independent. Even during that time, the German manufacturer opted to keep the Swiss name and race as BMW Sauber, with then boss Mario Theissen saying “it reflects the team’s make-up – run by BMW but with a core of 300 Sauber employees”.
Peter Sauber treated the team like family. It’s why he took enormous personal risk when he bought the team back from BMW, when the manufacturer opted to quit, to save the team and secure the futures of the hundreds of staff who had dedicated their life to the operation.
It has been the people that have given Sauber their staying power – only Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Lotus have started more Grands Prix in F1’s history. Their loyalty, through even the most depressing times such as when their salaries weren’t being paid, has been unwavering.
It has yielded some tremendous highs – such as their only victory (when running as BMW Sauber) through Robert Kubica in the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix and a staggering fourth place in the constructors’ championship in 2001, which incidentally was the same season Sauber gave a certain Kimi Raikkonen a shock debut despite having only clocked up a meagre 23 single-seater races.
But there have also been lows. In 2014, they failed to score a single point for the first and only time in their history. Then in 2016, financial difficulties left them on the brink of extinction, only for Sauber to sell up to Longbow Finance in a deal that he said would “secure the team’s future”.
Every time they have had their backs against the wall, Sauber have come back fighting. Friday’s news of a name change is just another example of that – and we had seen it coming. Last year, Alfa Romeo returned to F1 for the first time since 1985 through a title sponsorship of the team.
It was much more than that, though. It was a strategic, commercial and technological collaboration that was only ever going to get bigger. Last year, the car was heavily branded with the logo of the famous Italian car manufacturer, part of the Fiat group that includes Ferrari no less.
The decision to rebrand the team as Alfa Romeo Racing is the natural next step, allowing it to develop a relationship that had already yielded impressive results last year, namely having the fourth-fastest car on pure pace in the final three races of the season.
They will retain the staff, many of whom have been with Sauber since the very beginning, as well the ownership and management. The outfit will remain Sauber in all but name.
That the Sauber brand will disappear from the grid after 26 years is a sad day, but it’s just another example of the team doing what it needs to do to succeed and fight in Formula 1. It’s the Peter Sauber way.