13 August 2013
Sauber rescue deal not yet signed off?
With key signatures still missing from its agreement with supposed Russian saviours, Sauber's future remains shaky ahead of next weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.
The hopes and prayers of Sauber's Hinwil workforce appear to be no nearer being answered after it emerged that key signatures are still needed to cement the team's Russian rescue package.
It was almost a month ago – 15 July to be exact – that the Swiss team issued a statement announcing that a consortium of Russian businesses had agreed to pump much-needed funds into its account, but not a single Euro has been seen in the weeks since then.
According to sources in Germany, the deal is still awaiting key signatures at the Russian end, including that of current president Vladimir Putin. Die Welt claims that both eponymous owner Peter Sauber and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn have made several trips to Moscow in a bid to hurry the deal along as, without Putin's agreement, the Hinwil squad's future is in grave doubt. Meanwhile, another German newspaper, Bild, claims that the board of the National Institute of Aviation Technologies has voted against its part in the rescue package.
It is increasingly likely that, unable to pay its bills, Sauber could see its supply of Ferrari engines cut off, rendering it unable to compete when the 2013 F1 season resumes in Belgium next weekend. With other creditors, including tyre supplier Pirelli, also keen to be paid, the team's debts are reported to be around €80m, with Ferrari reckoned to account for a quarter of that amount and looking for an immediate €7m to ensure that its supply line remains open.
Lead driver Nico Hulkenberg is also amongst those waiting for payment, with around €2.5m thought to be outstanding, while Bild am Sonntag also claims that both current team-mate Esteban Gutierrez (€1m) and former Sauber pilot Kamui Kobayashi (€2.5m) are allegedly also out of pocket.
The €400m rescue bid – involving the Investment Cooperation International Fund, the State Fund of Development of North-West Russian Federation in addition to the National Institute of Aviation Technologies - was initially reported to hinge on Sauber's willingness to promote World Series by Renault midfielder Sergey Sirotkin to an F1 seat in 2014.
The 17-year old, however, has yet to even test an F1 car. With a record that peaks with the 2011 Formula Abarth European title and third overall in last year's Auto GP World Series, it remains unclear that he will even be granted the necessary FIA superlicence, adding another question mark to the viability of the agreement.
Sirotkin's role in the deal is explained by his father, Oleg, being director general of NIAT. However, Sirotkin Sr's position at the head of the company is now being reported as uncertain and, without the momentum he brings to the rescue, his exit could be key to Sauber's survival.
Although Kaltenborn has tried to buy the team time by claiming that it was only a matter of time while answers were found to Russian red tape that was delaying the rescue, Sauber himself has now called for silence while the matter is resolved.
Meanwhile, some 400 jobs remain in jeopardy at Hinwil, and could ultimately hinge on Sauber finding an alternative saviour. Bild am Sonntag suggests that former Midland and HRT team boss Colin Kolles has made enquiries about acquring a stake in the Swiss squad in exchange for bringing in new sponsorship.
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