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Steadying the ship at Sauber - exclusive Monisha Kaltenborn Q&A

11 Aug 2016

It’s been a season of mixed fortunes for Sauber so far - on the track the team have struggled, and languish bottom of the standings, but off the track the Swiss stalwarts have gained much needed stability, with the arrival of new owners. So where do Sauber go from here, and how bright is the future? We sat down with team principal Monisha Kaltenborn to get the inside line…

Q: Monisha, Sauber is now without Sauber - what does that mean?

Monisha Kaltenborn: Ha, Sauber is definitely not without Sauber. Sauber is still carrying the name - because for us Sauber is a brand. We are the fourth-oldest brand in Formula One today, so that is a lot to be proud of. It is a huge legacy - so we continue to be that - and from that perspective there is no change. What is correct is that the founder of the team and the company - Peter Sauber - has retired from his functions, but importantly that the brand is there.

Q: Will there be a double-barrelled name like Sauber-XYZ in the near future?

MK: Well, if I remember the rules correctly on the chassis side, I think that there will not be a name behind Sauber - but I do certainly hope that there will be a name in front as a title sponsor! (laughs)

Q: How far along are you with that?

MK: We are working very hard on that. And that is not easy, but if you can again show stability and confirm that to potential partners, that is in itself a big help.

Q: The understanding is that the new owners are backers of Marcus Ericsson - even if Marcus pretends he has no idea about it. But the vicinity between the offices of Longbow Finance and (Ericsson backers) Tetra Laval is too close to be accidental…

MK: Well, our new owner is Longbow Finance. They are a company engaged in financial activities - and typically the investments are managing investment portfolios and doing private equity…

Q: They are a very private equity firm, with no names revealed from their management board - and not even an internet presence…

MK: …private equity - whatever it is. They have been active for more than 20 years in this business, so that should be long enough.

Q: But will that mean that Marcus Ericsson will have a drive ‘forever’? Until his pension?

MK: Well, one thing has nothing to do with the other. Our driver decisions will be taken in the way they are usually taken and we will announce when we have come to a conclusion.

Q: What made Sauber so attractive to Longbow Finance - and not to previous interested parties? The team is currently bottom of the standings…

MK: The answer has to be in view of where they plan to go, and that explains the reason in what they saw in us to be able to go there. Their clear intention is first of all to stabilise the situation - stabilise the group - and then strengthen and grow our engineering services. To broaden the third-party business with the services from our engineering side - to commercialise the technologies that we have, the know-how that we have. We have been doing this a long time - and that’s where they are seeing a bigger potential. To see how one Swiss company interacts with another Swiss company in high-tech based in Switzerland - technology that is unique in Switzerland. This part is not dependant on where we stand in Formula One.

Q: These topics were extensively discussed before the take-over?

MK: Yes, we have discussed that. And for us together the engineering services - the high-end technological elements - are key elements in our strategy together.

Q: What did you offer them precisely to get them hooked?

MK: Everybody knows the kind of infrastructure that we have. We are very much leading in the aerodynamic services, in simulation and software development - and in 3D we are also very strong. That can be taken to other racing series - or even in other areas where you can apply these procedures outside the world of motorsport. We are already out there in the market with certain things - and that is where Longbow Finance sees the potential.

Q: So the plan is to take Switzerland further than chocolate and watches…

MK: To a certain extent - in our little bit of motorsport - we have done that, and now we have a new owner who attributed to us the competence in exactly these areas - and that together we will be able to carry this competence to markets outside F1. 

Q: Are the new owners banking on the EU verdict for team financing?

MK: No, because you cannot bank on these things. But what I can say is that the new situation is not going to change anything in our position regarding that.

Q: Whatever the reasons were for Longbow Finance coming aboard, the fact of the matter is that the start of the season has been poor for Sauber. What can we expect for the second half?

MK: It is indeed not a good season - but we still do have some things that we already have prepared and that we will implement in the next couple of races…

Q: Shouldn't all your efforts already be going into 2017, as it wouldn't make sense now to throw good money after bad? Whatever gain there might be from finishing P10 in the constructors’ championship, surely the cost of that would be greater and would be better directly invested into 2017?

MK: Now that we have a stable basis it is much easier to plan and eventually move back to where we belong: in the midfield. But also to be very honest: finishing in P11 is no option!

Q: What will change in the team structure in the future? Will you stay as team principal?

MK: Nobody knows what will happen in the future. For now I am continuing in the function I have: on board level, as team principal and CEO.

Q: In terms of accidents, your drivers have proved pretty costly this season. Almost every second race one car has gone bust. How long can a team bear that?

MK: Ha, I don’t think that it is that bad! (Laughs) If you look at the last races I would probably have to agree - but that is only half the picture. In racing you probably tend to focus more on the racing spirit than from a monetary perspective. And I do not want to go down the road of thinking of how many more cars we can afford to lose. That wouldn’t be good. Because the simple answer is: we don’t want to lose another car. That is not an option.

Q: So thinking about the costs, will both drivers stay in 2017?

MK: Our driver line-up we will announced in due course and I’ll not enter into any speculation.

Q: Where do you see Sauber in 2017, with the new owners onboard?

MK: Clearly much further up than we are right now. No question marks or second thoughts about that.