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Heading north - exclusive Q&A with Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn

20 May 2016

Sauber is one of the oldest names in Formula One racing. Yet things don’t always get easier with age, as team principal Monisha Kaltenborn knows well. As rumours continue about their future, the Swiss squad find themselves tenth in the standings, yet to score a point in 2016 - a stark contrast to this time last year, when they held fifth in the table on 19 points. So how do they get back on track? We spoke to Kaltenborn about their season prospects, about Ferrari power, and about the impact of the 2017 rule changes...

Q: Monisha, life doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for the Sauber team. Can you stop the rumours and tell us the real state of affairs?

Monisha Kaltenborn: As you know as a team principal, I do not discuss financial affairs in public and I will not change that. Yes, life is not easy - that is true - and like any other team we are facing quite severe challenges. But we are working hard on solutions - which is the most important thing - and we hope to resolve the situation soon.

Q: Is there any time frame to that resolution?

MK: Ha, I cannot give any specific time - but, of course, for us it has to be as quick as possible. Of course that would also help other teams who are also in difficult conditions, as we are not the only one. We need to work in surroundings that are a bit more favourable towards private teams.

Q: On the other hand we see Haas - undoubtedly the surprise of the season so far. Would their business model be a viable road for Sauber?

MK: I would not want to comment on any other team without knowing all the details. We on the outside see a bit - and whatever it is they are doing a good job. A very remarkable job. At the same time whatever one knows about it from the outside, there are certain ways which we don’t think are the right way. We do believe that it is essential for Formula One that a team turns up as a constructor. You could argue about what that exactly is - but I think that some things should be done on one’s own that makes Formula One…

Q: …like what? Haas say they are making the chassis themselves and then there is not really much else left once you consider the enormity of the power unit. So what should make a constructor a constructor?

MK: I don’t want to go down into all the details, but what you have to make sure of is that the engineering challenge that Formula One should be is there. That is what made the sport not too many years ago very exciting. Look at our own history! There must be things where you can show how much smarter you are than the rest - and the constructor definition gave you not only the obligation, but also a certain degree of liberty to grow your own ideas. Now most things are already determined - yes, like the power unit. So many things are given already, so the areas where you can have your own innovative approach and the engineering challenge are already less. So in the end there is no easy recipe and no straight line to draw. I think we have to bring back that engineering challenge. Looking at the bigger picture, there are many ways to bring the field closer together - and that is what the sport needs. One thing is the financial side - looking at the costs and looking at the income distribution - but you also must not neglect the technical side. If you would allow certain things to be done again - or give more freedom in certain areas, under certain given restrictions - then even smaller teams could maybe come up with ideas that are not a question of money but a question of smartness. That is what we have seen in the past.

Q: The fact that Sauber are running a 2016 Ferrari engine led many to believe that you could be a force on the grid this season. Alas, it is not the case. Is it all in the car?

MK: No, it is not all in the car. It is a mix of all. Our engine supplier has done a good job, but they themselves have to see where they are standing compared to the other engine manufacturers at the moment. They also have a way to go. And looking at our car from the chassis side, we do not yet have all the updates that we want to bring. That will take a bit of time until that comes in - then you will see the real potential of that car.

Q: Your two drivers have at times said the car is almost undriveable. You just said there are improvements in the pipeline: can you give a time frame?

MK: Ha, if you talk about driver comments, my guess is that there are many drivers out there who have reasons to complain about their car. Right now we are working on the front wing. Things will also be coming up on the rear wing. So there are things to come. But you also have to consider the balance between this year’s and next year’s car. We don’t want to be caught again in a situation where as a strategy you put a lot more effort into the current car and have a bit gap the next year. But there is no reason for us to give up on 2016!

Q: What do you make of the 2017 rules? They were passed at the last possible moment: was that too late for the smaller teams? Big teams can more easily put extra manpower on a new project…

MK: It was overall very late. And of course smaller teams face bigger challenges than bigger teams - unless you have already been speculating and having done things before the rules were passed…

Q: …have you?

MK: No. But I think it was a hasty move. We have already expressed our position on that. The whole thing was triggered by the wish to make the show better. And that is rightly important to the commercial rights holder, as it is the show that’s lacking - not the sport, as the sport is an excellent platform. So if I come back to the things that were implemented, I do not see exactly what they are supposed to be doing - but let’s wait and see. It would be completely the wrong approach to trash something already before it has even started. But we also should not be so naive as to think that it will solve all problems. We can live with them - and I would even go so far as to say we should have put more stability in it by making these changes valid longer.

Q: Tenth in the standings surely doesn’t have to be Sauber’s destiny, as the team has proved in the past. What is your best-case scenario for 2016? Right now it cannot get much worse…

MK: Ha, I don’t like to take that approach. It will get better given our history. It will go north.