Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn has said that the return of Mexico to the F1 championship calendar will not exert any pressure on her 2014 line-up.
Having been bailed out of a tight financial situation by money from Russia, Sauber finds itself facing the prospect of running the inexperienced Sergey Sirotkin next season – provided the WSbR driver earns a superlicence – meaning that one or both of its current drivers will have to make way.
While Esteban Gutierrez insists that he is already in talks with the Swiss team, Nico Hulkenberg has been linked with a couple of alternative rides, although both appear to hinge on Kimi Raikkonen's decision on 2014. The German's admission that he had not been paid by Sauber sparked revelations about the team's finances, and his position in the team could also come under threat from the likes of Felipe Massa and Jules Bianchi, who could end up at Sauber due to their Ferrari links.
Kaltenborn, meanwhile, insists that Gutierrez was a part of Sauber's development programme long before Mexican money got involved in the team, but stopped short of revealing if a decision had been made regarding its 2014 line-up.
“We started our relationship with Esteban much before we actually got into contact with Telmex, because he came into the Formula BMW programme and, from there, he progressed with the team,” Kaltenborn confirmed.
“So there are two different issues. As far as our driver line-up is concerned, we know that we would like to have Sergey next year as our driver, but he still needs a superlicence and that's something which you should take seriously. People shouldn't think that we just feel that he's just going to get it. We are convinced he can do it, and we will do our best to prepare him, but there still is a big step. If that all works out, we will see what options we have and announce that in due course.”
Should Sirotkin be confirmed, however, it may raise question marks over Gutierrez given the level of experience – or inexperience – that would leave the team with. Similarly, Bianchi may be ruled out on similar grounds, leaving Hulkenberg and Massa – should the Brazilian wish to carry on in F1 if he is dropped by Ferrari – as better options for the midfield outfit.
Despite the implications for her line-up, Kaltenborn admitted that returning to Mexico for the first time since 1992 was good for F1 as a whole.
“It's very important, not only for us a team but for F1 itself, because we know that Latin America, and America in general, is a very important market, so it attracts new partners as well,” she explained, “As far as our partner is concerned, it just shows that the strategy they have with motorsport is being implemented step by step. It was about the drivers coming into F1 and the next logical step is hosting a race there. So I think it's a great step.”
Having run Sergio Perez for the past two seasons, Sauber knows what to expect in terms of support from Mexico, and Kaltenborn is already looking forward to the prospect of racing in the country itself.
“In Austin last year, we felt like it was a home grand prix,” she noted, “You could just hear people chant Checo's name, so I'm sure it's going to be a great atmosphere.”