According to media reports, Pedro de la Rosa will be unveiled as Sauber's second driver in F1 2010 in the next few days, as team founder and owner Peter Sauber lamented the loss of former title sponsor Petronas to Mercedes Grand Prix, and hinted that he intends to remain in charge for the foreseeable future.
Sauber re-acquired the eponymously-named outfit that he first brought into F1 back in 1993 after BMW elected to pull the plug on its support last summer and the initial Qadbak Investments deal collapsed. Having successfully been granted the final grid slot for next season, he then recruited star 2009 debutant Kamui Kobayashi to be one of his two drivers in 2010 – but the identity of the young Japanese ace's team-mate remains unclear, with experienced, long-time McLaren-Mercedes test and reserve driver de la Rosa, BMW-Sauber stalwart Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella, Christian Klien, Anthony Davidson and Vitaly Petrov all having been linked to the cockpit in recent weeks.
However, authoritative Swiss newspaper Blick
suggests that the mystery might well soon be cleared up, with de la Rosa – who last competed at the highest level at the end of 2006, in-place of Juan-Pablo Montoya – in-line for the seat, barring 'an earthquake in Hinwil', where the team is based. The Spaniard – who will turn 39 next month – lives in Zurich, close to the Sauber HQ, and El Mundo
has reported that McLaren requested he decide his future by the end of last year.
de la Rosa himself has denied that a deal has been done, but Sauber has confirmed that Kobayashi's team-mate will be 'an experienced man' with 'new knowledge for the team' – seemingly ruling the eternally underrated Heidfeld out of contention. The 66-year-old has also expressed his disappointment if not his surprise at Malaysian oil giant Petronas' departure to join the reigning F1 World Champions after a decade-and-a-half of its colours being nailed to the Sauber mast.
“We knew that Petronas wanted to be with an automobile manufacturer,” he told Swiss weekly newspaper NZZ am Sonntag
. “I am disappointed but not surprised. It has no direct impact on the budget for 2010, but of course it hurts. More money is always better, although of course we will try to have a title sponsor.”
With 2010 fully-funded, Sauber added that he has turned his attentions to planning for the medium to long-term and the next three-to-five years, whilst insisting that re-naming the team now that BMW is no longer involved is not an issue that is particularly high on the agenda, being 'one of my smallest problems'.
“The team is currently called the BMW Sauber F1 Team, because we registered ourselves as such with the FIA, and that's how we will line up,” he explained. “It is not decided at present when we will submit an application for a change of name.”