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Sauber bail-out dependent on Sirotkin superlicence?

28 July 2013

Sauber's critical $305 million investment from a group of Russian investors may be dependent on 17-year-old Sergei Sirotkin being granted a F1 superlicense by the FIA, reports in the European media suggested on Sunday.

It's been widely reported that a race seat at Sauber for Sirotkin is part of the deal bringing much-needed cash to the team which is believed to owe around $100 million to suppliers, including Ferrari who supply the team's engines and who are believed to be owed 19 million euros by Sauber.

However the details of the arrangement have not been made clear, with some reports suggesting that Sirotkin might be set for more of a test and development driver role in 2014 rather than a full race seat. Sirotkin's father, Oleg, is Director General of the National Institute of Aviation Technologies, which is one of the group of Russian investors bailing Sauber out.

However an article in today's Die Welt suggests that the requirement to put Sirotkin into a race seat is much more immediate and central to the deal going through than previously thought, with the German newspaper stating that the bail out money Sauber desperately needs won't start flowing unless and until Sirotkin has the superlicense required to allow him to drive in a Grand Prix.

The FIA is responsible for awarding superlicences, and does not do so lightly especially following recent criticism that some drivers such as Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez have been raised to GP status too early in their careers.

Normally the FIA would require a proven record of racing experience in relevant series, and although Sirotkin claimed the Formula Abarth European Series in 2011 and finished in third place in the 2012 Auto GP World Series with two wins over the course of the year, he's since recorded only one podium position in ten races so far in this year's Formula Renault 3.5 Series. By contrast, when Kimi Raikkonen received his superlicence to race with Sauber in 2001 it was only on a probationary status and was granted on the basis of his having already clinched two wins in Formula Renault.

That could make the FIA hesitant about clearing Sirotkin for race duty in the near future, and in the meantime it's understood that the Russian investors are prepared to supply only a minimal 10 million euro line of credit to enable Sauber to pay the most critical bills and keep the team afloat.

But with Ferrari now said to be nearing the end of their patience and demanding the immediate payment of at least half the outstanding mount for engines before supplying any more, the viability of the team may be in question.

Die Welt says that without confirmation of Sirotkin's superlicence, the crisis may come as soon as the end of August - which could mean that the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps may prove to be the last race outing for Sauber as an F1 team if the crisis can't be headed off in time.

Ironically, the Belgium GP takes place on the same weekend that Sirotkin turns 18.


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