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Exclusive Q&A - Monisha Kaltenborn on Sauber’s rejuvenation

28 Apr 2015

Last season was the worst in Sauber’s long history - 19 races and not a single point scored. Already, however, 2015 couldn’t be more different - a better car, a more competitive Ferrari power unit, and an all-new, young and hungry driver line-up has brought 19 points from four races. Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn talks to F1.com about the Swiss team’s turnaround…

Q: Monisha, obviously miracles do happen: from zero points in 2014 to fifth in the standings right now. How could that happen?

Monisha Kaltenborn: Miracles do hardly happen in Formula One. Where we are now is the result of hard work, a lot of endurance, a lot of patience and a lot of motivation. 2014 was an exception in our history and definitely no benchmark for this team - to limit us to 2014 is simply not fair.

Q: But fifth in the standings is quite a head-turner…

MK: …but we are only past our fourth race. We shouldn’t over-interpret this kind of standing. We are up against teams who have far more possibilities to develop and we are certainly limited in that. But yes, we feel happy and content where we are.

Q: You said of last year’s car that it was not one of the better that Sauber has built. How would you rate the C34?

MK: Last year’s overall package was not competitive. The car itself was not that bad - but also not the best we’ve built. With the 2015 machine we do have a lot of potential, as we are so far not there where we want to be. Equally a part in our standing has to do with the power train - the significantly improved drivability of the power train. Our supplier has done a great job. So bring a better car and an improved power train together and you have a better overall package.

Q: Ferrari have made a huge leap forward - it seems most of the pace deficit from last year has been eliminated. Has the cooperation with Maranello been more intense this year to make the Sauber run better with the Ferrari power train?

MK: Not really. We have a very long-standing partnership with them and of course you have ups and downs along the way, but nothing fundamental has changed in that relationship.

Q: Sauber took a risk with drivers this season - one rookie and a team mate with only a year’s F1 experience at a backmarker team. You could never have guessed that it would turn out to be such a good decision…

MK: I think those hard and fast rules of earlier days that two experienced drivers are good, or a mix of one experienced one and a rookie - all these rules don’t apply any more. We have seen last year how experienced drivers have reacted to these cars. It is difficult for me to say whether these cars are easy to drive or not, but certainly we have seen that they need adaptation, and some drivers - and this possibly has something to do with less experience - can adapt quicker to these kind of cars than those with many more races under their belt. We have opted for a change - and yes, it was the right decision.

Q: What can you say about your two youngsters?

MK: From their personality they are very different. South America and Scandinavia are worlds apart. But both are very motivated and talented. Even if their minds have different approaches, the level and quality of feedback that they give is absolutely comparable. And what is so refreshing is the attitude that they bring along. They are so eager to do things and get somewhere.

Q: Felipe Nasr is currently P8 in the standings and right now is the leading rookie. Did you ever guess he would be such a find?

MK: Rookies are full of surprises, yes. But we have been watching Felipe for quite some time and yes, be had ups and downs in his career. The overall impression was always that the potential is there and it is just for us to bring that out. We’ve done that with other drivers successfully, so we think we can do it with him as well - and that equally applies for Marcus. Just look how much confidence is now in him! That speaks also for the surroundings we can offer the drivers.

Q: What qualities can you attribute to each of them?

MK: They are true racers. One is more quiet, one is more outgoing, but you feel the racing spirit in them both. They are both out to fight for their position and fight for the team. They are both absolute team players. They give the team a tremendous boost!

Q: What is hiding within them? The race winner’s gene? The world champion’s gene? 

MK: They are true racers - and that is what you need first of all. I think neither of the two is happy being second best. Where that takes them who knows, but that is what you need as a basis.

Q: There is talk about rule changes in 2017. Where do Sauber stand in this discussion

MK: Everybody will agree that Formula One has to represent the cutting edge of technology. We also all have to accept that the power train has been the major cost driver - and we actually never wanted to get back to these times that power trains cost that much. The whole issue was made exponentially bigger by the fact that there was such a big discrepancy between the different power trains - and one dominating so much. The concepts that are being discussed are very interesting in view of that. The key element has to be that there is parity among the engines. You also have to bring the fans into this discussion. No matter what you think about the noise being relevant or not, any issues brought up by the fans - and if there is a chance to change this - then bring them in and find out what they want and then let’s see if it is doable.

Q: When you are nowhere in the standings it is rather difficult to attract sponsors - has the team’s sudden resurgence eased that situation?

MK: It is definitely easier to attract sponsors, but to close the deal remains difficult. Of course it is very important that with a good result you have the chance to talk to more people - you get their attention and their time - but the economic environment still remains difficult. Of course overall life is easier with good results.


Q: It will be tough for you to hold on to P5 in the table - where do you see Sauber in the pecking order further into the season?

MK: The only thing I can say for certain is that we won’t be at the bottom of the pecking order! Everything else: let’s wait and see - I don’t want to get engaged in speculation.