MAKING THE NEXT STEP
THIS will be the third year without works support for Sauber, since BMW withdrew from the sport at the end of 2009. Resources have always been limited for the Swiss team as an independant, but Peter Sauber will never give up. The question is, can they make a significant jump up the grid in 2012.
The recent departure of technical director, James Key has to been seen as a blow to the team’s hopes. Although he would have had significant input on the new car, there is a worry that a lack of progress could see the team stagnate or even slip towards the back of the midfield. Despite finishing fourth in the 2001 championship on a shoestring budget, Sauber have a habit of starting a season strongly, then falling backwards as the year progresses – even during the BMW years. Development is something they keep getting outraced by and therefore, it must be frustrating for the drivers, knowing that despite their hard efforts, it might lead to very little.
At least the drivers remain for 2012 and it is a talented line-up. Kamui Kobayashi is spectacular to watch and defintely, Japan’s greatest racing driver in Formula One. Kobayashi went off the radar in the middle part of 2011 and probably didn’t establish himself as a natural team leader. However, his tenth place in Abu Dhabi and ninth place in Brazil was crucial to Sauber staying ahead of Toro Rosso in last year’s constructors championship. Kobayashi has a tendency to either be breathtaking or lacklustre. He needs to make a breakthrough this season and become a more consistent driver for the whole season.
Once again, he will be partnered by the Mexican, Sergio Perez. Perez’s form was one of the highlights of 2011. In his rookie season, he often put Kobayashi in the shade and many fans, including myself had him down as rookie of the year, despite Paul di Resta’s natural consistency at Force India. He was tough to pass, solid in qualifying and despite making some basic errors in judgement regarding the rules, showed a lot of potential which has him earmarked as a future Ferrari driver. Sadly, Sergio’s 2011 season will probably be remembered more for the horrifying accident he had in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix. However, he has his place on the grid on merit, not just through being wealthily backed by Telemex, one of Sauber’s key sponsors.
For me, Sauber need some form of investment, even if it isn’t from a manufacturing background. The team is good and will probably challenge for lower points finishes on a regular basis, but they only seem to do that and not threaten for serious points results. It will be upto Kobayashi and Perez to deliver and if they really do have lengthy careers in the sport, outdrive the car’s capabilities on a regular basis. We’ve seen what’s happened to the likes of Jaime Alguersuari, Vitaly Petrov and Adrian Sutil – if you don’t look like a future winner, you are more likely to miss out on a drive. I’m afraid Key’s abrupt departure will probably mean another season of mediocrity for a popular outfit.
JAMES Key has left the Sauber Formula One team on the eve of the launch of their 2012 car next week. Key, who joined Sauber midway through the 2010 season from Force India has moved onto pastures new as the Swiss team restructure their technical department.
On his departure, Key told Planet F1; “”I’ve enjoyed the past two years working at the Sauber F1 Team. It has been a very intense and interesting time, in which we had to manage the transition from a much larger team to a smaller one, and everybody handled that very well.”
In his time with the team, Key has managed to downsize the team and keep it as a competitive midfield contender since BMW withdrew works support at the end of the 2009 season. The team finished seventh in the constructors championship last season, although they struggled in the second half of the season through a lack of development. Key has taken on a new role in the UK, although this has not been specified. Rather than bring in a specialised replacement, Peter Sauber has revealed that it will be shared responsibility now between Sauber’s leading engineers.
The Sauber challenger will be launched in Jerez on Monday, with Kamur Kobayashi and Sergio Perez remaining as drivers for the second successive season.