Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has said that the Swiss squad will not feel compelled to take a pay driver next season, even though it has been reported as sailing close to financial strife in 2013.
Kaltenborn suddenly appears spoiled for choice when it comes to her 2014 line-up, with the improving Esteban Gutierrez keen to stay on for a second season, Nico Hulkenberg possibly looking to extend his contract if he is rejected by Lotus, Sergio Perez looking for a new home after being axed by McLaren, Pastor Maldonado being touted as a contender following his split with Williams and, of course, teenager Sergey Sirotkin waiting in the wings pending the acquisition of a superlicence.
While Perez, Maldonado and, supposedly, Sirotkin are all expected to be able to bring sponsorship to Sauber, Kaltenborn insists that that will not cloud het judgement when it comes to picking her pairing.
“From the team's perspective, I can say that everything will depend on what our overall situation is and the degree of comfort that we have,” she explained to the official F1 website, “We also have to look at other factors, namely our sources of income. We have to make sure that we are where we want to be - and then we can decide on our drivers.
“And, to be very fair to drivers who bring support along, these are all good drivers that we are talking about, because otherwise they wouldn't be where they are. We have 22 F1 drivers a year - out of thousands of drivers in the world - so please, more respect. In the last two seasons, we have always been criticised as our drivers have often been labelled as pay drivers, which is very wrong. The moment they show performance, that label quickly falls away as, at the end of the day, it is all about performance
“You have to look at who is on the market and available at that time. And the drivers that we've had, we've always believed in their talent. So, first of all, you look at the driver - and we have always done that. And it always worked out in the right way for us, that the people we have chosen were not much later seen as very good drivers. So, first, you clearly look at the talent and at the capability of the driver, and then you look at other factors.”
Not so long ago, Sirotkin was seen as a shoo-in for one of the two seats, his inclusion a requirement of Russian backing needed to bail the team out of a financial hole. In the past few weeks, however, the WSbR midfielder's claim has waned slightly, although Kaltenborn insists that there is not necessarily any change to the team's plans to bring him into F1 at some point in the future.
“There is not really any change regarding the target that we have, which is to bring him into F1,” she confirmed, “But what we always said is that one should not underestimate the challenge of getting a superlicence. People have compared him with the other rookie drivers, which I think is not right as they are coming into the sport in very different ways and all have different racing records. But we also don't have any need to hurry. Our initial plan was to implement the activities primarily after the season - and then let's see how it goes. The chance [of him not racing in 2014] was always there, right from the beginning, so we do have flexibility there.”
Hulkenberg's interest in possibly returning to the line-up also represents something of a U-turn as it was not that long ago that he was making it quite clear that he had not been paid by the team.