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Exclusive Monisha Kaltenborn Q&A: Sauber slump temporary

06 Aug 2014

With zero points from 11 Grands Prix, 2014 is proving a tough season for Sauber. By the team’s own admission the Ferrari-powered C33 is ‘not one of the better cars’ they’ve built, and neither Adrian Sutil nor Esteban Gutierrez has been able to trouble the top ten.

But Sauber’s 2013 campaign was also a slow burner - seven points in the first half but then 50 in the second. Could this year see a repeat? We spoke to team principal Monisha Kaltenborn to find out…

Q: Monisha, to be frank it has been a terrible season for Sauber so far. Was there anything positive that you could take from the first half of 2014?

Monisha Kaltenborn: If you look at the performance itself - I think with all the optimism you can imagine (and I have a lot of optimism) - I cannot see anything positive. What I think we have to keep in mind is why we are where we are today. That goes back to last season where we took a decision to continue on that year’s car, knowing full well that this would mean taking a considerable risk on the new 2014 car, and the development of that car in light of the massive changes which were coming up. We took that decision and it turned out to be the right decision for last season, but we didn’t expect that we would be facing as many issues as we are now.

There are many things on top of that. You can only change the things you can control and we have to be critical of ourselves there. With all the restrictions we had, and with the comprises and certain delays that come with being an engine customer, maybe we focused differently so we really felt these kind of compromises that we had to make. And then, of course, added to that you can see that this is definitely a very powertrain related season. There is one powertrain out there - and unfortunately it is not ours - that has a huge competitive advantage over the others.

We couldn’t anticipate so many of these factors in combination - and that led us directly to the situation we have now. The only positive I can take is that we’ve managed to get through a very tough time - we are not where we want to be, but we are here. And we have good reasons to believe that things are getting better.

Q: What is your emergency plan - in case it takes a bit longer to ‘get there’?

MK: Ha, the emergency plan is pretty simple: scoring points, a point. Yes, we’ve had a very rough start, but looking at our side - the chassis side - we have made steps and introduced improvements. It’s just that when the gap is so big you don’t immediately see that improvement from the outside, nor in the performance or in points. We have to keep to our path. The advantage compared to last year is that there is not such a massive change for 2015. What you do now can be used next year. I also can say that from the powertrain side our engine supplier has been doing a lot and I know that they are absolutely flat out in wanting to make improvements. So we will get there together.

Q: We can see that Ferrari are also struggling to some degree, so in theory using their power unit must have a significant influence on your situation…

MK: It is one of the major factors, but I don’t think it is as easy as saying it is somebody else’s fault. We always have to look at ourselves first and, being very honest about it, this car is definitely not one of the better cars that we’ve built. This has its reasons and we know them. Yes, the engine is a major factor - the driveability of the engine - but because it wasn’t right from the beginning that doesn’t mean that you give up. We have a very long lasting partnership with Ferrari and in all these years we’ve gone through good and not such good times, but you stick together and get through it.

Q: How is your relationship with Ferrari right now? We have seen visible tensions between Red Bull and Renault - is there something similar between Sauber and Ferrari?

MK: I am not really aware of the situation between Renault and Red Bull, but ours with Ferrari is a close and very open relationship…

Q: …so no pointing of fingers?

MK: We’ve never done that. If we have times when maybe things didn’t go so well, I can very openly say that there. And we’ve always managed to get through these times together. I am very sure that if I am unhappy and dissatisfied, then my colleagues at Ferrari have double that amount of frustration, so I don’t need to worry about that. The important thing is that they see the road ahead and know what to do, and I have full trust and confidence that we will get out of this slump.

Q: You are pretty much where Williams were in 2013 and they have proved that a sudden ‘resurrection’ is possible. Do think this will happen sooner rather than later at Sauber?

MK: I am absolutely confident that we will move back up again. It will take a bit of time. We are moving in the right direction - and, of course, I hope that things change in this season - so I take it event by event. We had our chances in the last few events but haven’t made use of them. We have to make sure in the race that we don’t make mistakes when these opportunities come up.

Q: You say you have made too many mistakes in the races. Can you give some examples?

MK: In Austria we made the mistake at the pit stop and that resulted in the driver being penalised - these kinds of things just shouldn’t happen. Similarly, when you look at what happened in Monaco where we were actually on a quite certain route to a points finish and then lost both our cars. Very similarly also in Silverstone, and maybe at the last race, we could have grabbed a point… but, of course, that is always speculation. We are seeing that chances are there - and as we are not happy with our competitiveness, it is important to be there. Whenever something unforeseeable happens in the race you must make sure that you are there. That’s what we have to focus on - being there!

Q: Your driver line-up is probably not delivering what the team expected - and vice versa. How are you dealing with that issue?

MK: There are not two sides here. We are a team that consists of many different team members and the drivers are part of the team. If you want to see it as the drivers being one group and the team another, then to make any serious assessment of your drivers I would first like to be in a position of having a car I am satisfied with. Then I would be in a position to make reasonable assessments. But we don’t have that now. So I don’t think it is the right time for us to say we are happy or not. Apart from issues on the technical side, where we are has also resulted from mistakes from the drivers and the team. So it’s no use pointing fingers and saying that it’s more them than us - we are in it together!

Q: What about you reserve driver Giedo van der Garde? He’s been doing well on the Fridays when he’s been in the car? Is there any prospect of him getting a race outing with the team?

MK: The situation with our drivers is as we’ve announced it: Giedo is our test and reserve driver - and in the unlikely event that something happens to one of our two race drivers then Giedo, as our reserve driver, would step in. What was very good to see is how quickly Giedo adjusted to the new car since he got in it for the first time in Bahrain. We know how difficult the new cars are to drive - particularly our car is not easy to drive - and he adapted to it very well. Maybe he wanted a bit too much at the Silverstone test [where he crashed heavily] - that was of course not ideal and work we really don’t need - but otherwise he has been doing a good and solid job. The feedback that he is giving is good and solid.

Q: With Caterham we have seen a team switching owners mid-season. How secure is Sauber’s ownership structure?

MK: The ownership structure is very secure. We have a very transparent structure that is limited to two people - that is openly known.

Q: What is it that could help a team like Sauber progress in the second half of the season? And what steps are you taking to make that happen?

MK: We are looking at different areas that we need to improve - on the aerodynamic side of the car, we can do more on the set-up, and bring new bits and pieces to every race. As a team we have to avoid the mistakes that we’ve been making. On the powertrain side our possibilities are limited, but I am sure that something has already happened there. And, of course, with a team like ours it’s always a question of funding - looking at the possibilities that we have, the infrastructure that we have and the abilities that we have. If you have sufficient funding you can immediately put this into development, and with us that always then shows in performance. These are the issues that we are working on.

Q: Sauber are tenth right now, so at least in one of the valuable top-ten positions. Is that the minimum result you want to secure this season?

MK: I definitely want more - whatever is possible. I don’t accept the position we are in and we have to get ahead. I am confident that we will.

Q: What’s the worst-case scenario? Finishing 11th?

MK: There is no worst-case scenario. I don’t look at that!