F1 » Sauber F1 Team
Formerly a successful sportscar entrant and constructor, Sauber built a strong relationship with Mercedes prior to graduating to Formula One in 1993.
The Sauber sportscar team was responsible for launching the grand prix careers of Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger, amongst others, as it operated the famed Mercedes Junior team of the early 1990s.
Austrian Wendlinger moved into F1 with the team in 1993 and was joined by Finn JJ Lehto for the team's debut year, which yielded several good grid positions and fifth place in its first appearance. The team claimed sixth overall in the Constructors' championship and, with Lehto moving to Benetton, signed former protege Frentzen for year two.
The team suffered its first major setback at Monaco in 1994, when Wendlinger crashed heavily in practice. The Austrian was to remain in a coma for several weeks. Despite overtures from Williams for him to replace Ayrton Senna, team-mate Frentzen stayed loyal to Sauber, but another blow was to follow. Funding from a new financial magazine never materialised and the team came close to folding.
Somehow Sauber survived and, although it lost its Mercedes engine supply to McLaren, continued to produce respectable results with works Ford engines. The Ford deal went as quickly as it had come, however, when the fledgling Stewart team announced that it had signed an exclusive five-year deal with the American giant. Fearing that its performance may be compromised, Sauber instigated an on-off agreement with Ferrari, which eventually saw the previous season's specification engines arriving in Switzerland.
With the Ferrari powerplants badged in deference to Malaysian title sponsor Petronas, Sauber secured the services of two-times GP winner Johnny Herbert to partner Frentzen. Despite flashes of potential, the team again finished in seventh position in the Constructors' championship, with Herbert's podium finish in Monaco the high point of the year.
Herbert stayed at Hinwil for 1997 but, when Frentzen departed for Williams, the English driver was joined by a series of partners. A lack of development failed to capitalise on seventh place on the grid in Australia. Another solitary podium finish - this time in Hungary - was not enough to lift Sauber above seventh place overall.
For 1998, Herbert was joined by former Tyrrell, Ferrari and Benetton driver Jean Alesi, as Sauber fielded the most experienced line-up of the season. The Petronas-Ferrari engines showed greater potential, but the team failed to put together a series of good results and, with tensions rising between the drivers, was forced to rely on a solitary third place at Spa as its high point of the year.
The rift with Alesi saw Herbert move on at the end of the season and, for 1999, the fiery Frenchman was joined by Pedro Diniz. Unlike many of his predecessors, team boss Peter Sauber said he signed the Brazilian for his talent rather than his wallet, and Diniz prospered despite an unreliable car. Alesi, however, fell out with the manager who favoured him twelve months earlier and announced he was quitting as early as the Hungarian GP.
Replacing the Frenchman wasn't easy, but Sauber eventually plumped for Ferrari stand-in Mika Salo. The Finn brought knowledge of the F399 to complement the team's supply of former Scuderia engines, and both he and Diniz showed well in testing.
Dull as ditchwater was one journalists take on Sauber's 2000 season in which the obligitary six points were scored in a number of fighting drives, all by Salo. The Finn easily outpaced the increasingly erratic Diniz, who hung up his helmet at season's end to move into management.
Salo too, moved on, the lure of a Toyota berth in 2002 proving more than enough persuasion for one of F1's nicest men. Left with two seats to fill, Peter Sauber took a gamble, and hired the youngest line-up in F1. If Nick Heidfeld was a surprise choice after a dismal debut season with Prost, however, the arrival of Kimi Raikkonen was greeted with a mixture of delight and scepticism.
The Finn had romped to the British Formula Renault crown in 2000, and then impressed in testing. With other teams casting envious glances in his direction, Sauber acted quickly to snap him up - and angered his main sponsor in the process!
Red Bull's Dieter Mateschitz had hoped to place protege Enrique Bernoldi in the second seat, and took some of his funding to Arrows when the Leafield team offered the Brazilian a drive, but, even with Raikkonen having only 23 races under his belt and four more to prove himself in F1, Sauber wasn't overly concerned.
What was more worrying was the departure of designer Sergio Rinland on the eve of the team's launch, but even this did not stop the team from being bullish after testing.
Two cars in the points in Melbourne was followed by a podium for Heidfeld in Brazil, before a string of regular scoring finishes propelled the team into the top four. Both drivers ended the year in the top ten of the individual championship, proving Sauber's hunch was correct.
Sadly for the Swiss team boss, the duo's performance in 2001 naturally led to one of them being snapped up by McLaren - and it wasn't Mercedes protege Heidfeld!
With Raikkonen gone - in exchange for some nice new German tractor units - Sauber promptly revisited virgin territory and signed Euro F3000 champion Felipe Massa. The 20-year old had also romped to his title, but had less of a reputation than Raikkonen.
With Heidfeld determined to prove that McLaren got the wrong man, and Sauber out to build on the success of 2001's C20 with the C21, the 2002 campaign held much promise for a team, which, incidentally, also earned an extension of its Red Bull deal.
2002 was by no means a bad year for the Swiss team, however compared to 2001, it was always likely to be disappointing by comparison. In the end the team scored eleven points, seven from Heidfeld and four from Massa, and clinched fifth in the Constructors'. No podium positions came their way though, and the team's best result was a fourth place finish at the Spanish GP in April.
By the end of the year team boss, Peter Sauber had lost patience with Massa, who despite being fast, was erratic and rather accident-prone. The Brazilian saw out the season though, only missing the US GP, after he became the first driver to receive a ten-place grid penalty for an offence in the previous GP. Returnee Frentzen thus raced at Indianapolis, after leaving Arrows and it was Heinz-Harald who replaced him in 2003, lining up alongside his fellow countryman, Heidfeld, who stayed with Sauber for a third successive year.
The start of the 2003 campaign was ok, with both drivers notching up points finishes in the opening three races, two for Heinz-Harald, and one for Heidfeld, after that though the team went into a big lull, punctuated only by a eighth place finish at the European GP, before a double finish at a rain affected US GP saved the day, when Frentzen came home third to take the teams only podium of the season, and Heidfeld fifth.
Overall the team finished the year sixth in the Constructors', which wasn't half bad considering the squad beat works efforts, Jaguar and Toyota and was only 7 points behind BAR-Honda in fifth.
The following season saw a complete change in the driver line-up, out went Heidfeld and Frentzen, and in came Giancarlo Fisichella, and returnee, Felipe Massa, who after a year testing for Ferrari, was somewhat more polished.
In 2004, Peter Sauber's team again utilised the Ferrari engine, however they also opted to use the same gearbox, further confirmation that the relationship was solid. Added to this, the team's new state-of-the-art 50 million dollar full-scale wind tunnel paid dividends as the season wore on.
In total, Sauber scored points more often than not - on 12 out of 16 attempts - to finish the year easily sixth in the constructors' on 34 points, behind only Ferrari, BAR, Renault, Williams and McLaren. Their best finish came at the Belgian GP, when Fisichella and Massa combined to finish fourth and fifth.
In 2005, Massa remained at the team, but Fisichella left to return to Renault, with Sauber picking up Jacques Villeneuve - who had inked his deal before the end of his 2004 sabbatical - on a two-year deal.
Despite his lack of form in two races as Jarno Trulli's replacement at Renault in 2004, and a slow start to his relationship with Sauber, the 1997 world champion weathered the storm to end the season at least on a par with his younger team-mate, although Massa had the upper hand in both championship position and points scored - the pair finishing 13th and 14th overall with eleven and nine points respectively.
Making the most of the team's switch to Michelin tyres, Villeneuve scored Sauber's best result of 2005, with fourth in San Marino, but still had to battle to keep his seat in 2006, after Massa had been snapped up by Ferrari.
At the root of Villeneuve's problems was the arrival of BMW, which decided to launch its own assault on F1 following its split with Williams. Quickly entering a deal to acquire the entire Sauber operation, bringing an end to Sauber’s own F1 team after 215 years, the German giant spent the second half of 2005 gearing up for its first season as an entrant, bringing former Williams driver Nick Heidfeld in as its first signing.
Although he maintained his two-year deal stood, Villeneuve had to wait until the very end of the year to be confirmed alongside Heidfeld, who was effectively returning to the team that rescued his F1 career at the turn of the century.
BMW's first bespoke chassis, the BMW Sauber F1.06, appeared to be a sensible piece of kit, designed for a season team principal Mario Theissen insisted would be used to gain experience rather than chase immediate success.
In the end, however, the team probably exceeded its expectations - although helped by the comparatively poor seasons suffered by Williams and Red Bull - and finished the campaign as the fifth best operation, despite the deal between BMW and Sauber coming together too late to allow the Bavarian giant to have much say in the car's design.
The year was not without upheaval, however, with driver changes and technical wrangles to keep the management busy.
After the drawn-out process that eventually led to his confirmation, Villeneuve appeared to be closer to the top of his game than in previous seasons, but the Canadian's campaign lasted only until the summer, when pressure to face off against test driver Robert Kubica led to the 1997 world champion deciding to walk away.
If Villeneuve and Heidfeld had proven equally matched during their spell together, with JV claiming sixth places in Bahrain and San Marino and Heidfeld a best of fourth in Australia, Kubica's arrival gave the German a wake-up call, the Pole transposing his testing pace into more of the same given a race role. Both drivers benefited from developments made at Hinwil - although the 'twin tower' air deflectors were quickly outlawed - and each claimed a podium by the end of the year.
While Heidfeld's third place in Hungary was perhaps the result of freakish conditions and rare retirements for the frontrunners, Kubica carved himself a piece of history at Monza with a similar result in only his third appearance. The German eventually wound up ninth in the standings, with 23 points, while part-seasons saw Villeneuve and Kubica occupying 14th and 16th, with seven and six points respectively.
Having shown his pace at the end of 2006, BMW wasted little time in confirming Kubica to the second race seat for 2007, with Heidfeld staying on as nominal team leader.
Like in '06, BMW enjoyed a good year and while the outfit was no match for Ferrari or McLaren, the F1.07 was easily 'best of the rest' and in the end the Swiss-based concern took second spot in the constructors' - albeit only after McLaren were kicked out.
Both Heidfeld and Kubica performed well, finishing fifth and sixth in the drivers' championship, the former getting the edge over his team-mate and scoring 61 points - 22 more than his Polish rival, who ended the year on 39.
Nick also notched up the teams' only two podiums, claiming second spot in Canada and third in Hungary.
Kubica in contrast had a bit of a tough start to the season and struggled to adapt to the Bridgestone tyres. He also suffered a monster crash at the Canadian GP, which forced him to sit out the event at Indianapolis. After that though he bounced back, taking eight points finishes in total from the last 10 races.
In the end BMW scored 101 points and while promisingly that was almost double that of Renault - who were next up, similarly, Ferrari were way ahead in P1, with 204 points.
BMW’s plan for F1 called for it to close the gap on the sport’s top two in 2008 in order to start challenging for wins, but pre-season testing suggested that it may fall short of its ambition as both Heidfeld and Kubica struggled for pace in the basically all-new F1.08.
Frantic last-gasp developments had the car back on track in time for Australia, and events in Melbourne conspired to give Heidfeld one of four second-place finishes he would rack up in the year. The quiet German was generally not a match for his team-mate in qualifying, losing out 13-5 over the season as he struggled to get the car to his liking, but produced some combative race performances, notably at Silverstone – where he sliced through the field – and Spa, where he gambled on tyres late on and came away with another piece of silverware.
Kubica, meanwhile, suffered misfortune in Melbourne, but proved to be the biggest thorn in the side of Ferrari and McLaren – until Montreal. There, having already racked up the team’s maiden pole in Bahrain, he banished the ghosts of his 2007 shunt with a masterful run to victory, adding to another impressive performance, taking second, in Monaco. Once the win was in the books and its driver on top of the standings, however, BMW appeared to take its foot off the gas, focusing on Heidfeld’s qualifying woes and leaving a frustrated Kubica to vent about lost championship chances.
After the impressive results gained in 2008, BMW headed into 2009 being tipped to fight for the championship but the opposite proved to be true.
The team was slow to adjust to the new regulations in place and having missed out on a potential podium in Australia after a clash with Sebastian Vettel, it would take until the Turkish Grand Prix in June for Kubica to pick up his first points finish of the year. Only one podium finish would go the way of the Pole, with a fine second place in Brazil being the only high point of a trying season.
Team-mate Heidfeld secured a podium in the rain-shortened race in Malaysia but the German also struggled for results and more often than not, found himself out the points scoring positions.
Mid-way through the season had come the bombshell that BMW was to quit the sport, casting the long-term future of the team in doubt. A planned sale to Qadback Investments fell through when it became clear that funding wasn’t in place, with the team losing its place on the grid.
Named as reserve for 2010, the team eventually secured its slot when Toyota pulled out, with Peter Sauber reclaiming control. The Ferrari-powered C29 would be driven by Kamui Kobaashi and Pedro de la Rosa but both drivers struggled for results early on with an unreliable package.
The appointment of James Key as technical director helped matters and Kobayashi secured numerous points finishes through the second half of the year. Things didn’t go as well for de la Rosa however, who scored just once before being dropped after the Italian Grand Prix. Heidfeld returned to the team and scored twice to help the team to eighth in the championship.
Kobayashi returned for 2011 but Heidfeld didn’t do enough to earn a drive as GP2 graduate Sergio Perez was instead given the chance to impress. The pair should have scored in Australia before being disqualified for a technical infringement but Kobayashi would then go on to score six successive top ten finishes. Results tailed off as the year went on but the Japanese driver returned to the points in the final two races of the season as he helped Sauber to end the year seventh in the standings.
Perez meanwhile picked up five points finishes after an impressive debut campaign that showed his potential. A heavy crash in Monaco which forced him to miss race day – and then the Canadian Grand Prix – did affect his confidence but he did more than enough to retain his drive alongside Kobayashi for 2012.
Sauber’s season didn’t start in the best fashion with technical director James Key departed shortly before the new C31 was launched, but it was quickly apparent that he was leaving behind a car that was capable of challenging for regular points.
Perez produced a stunning drive in Malaysia to push Fernando Alonso for victory, settling for second place after a mistake late on, and added further podium finishes in Canada and Italy – making his strategy pay in style on each occasion. Kobayashi also earned his first podium finish with a fine third place at Suzuka, where he saw off the challenge of McLaren’s Jenson Button to send the Japanese fans wild with delight.
The end result for the team was sixth place in the championship standings after a much improved performance on twelve months earlier, although it could have been more had the pair not failed to score on eight occasions – including three zero scores in the final five races when beating Mercedes was a real possibility.
Spa was also particularly tough after Kobayashi and Perez started second and fourth, but were caught up in an accident at turn one.
At the season’s end however it was all change for the team with a new driver line-up in place for 2013. Perez’s performances were enough to see him snapped up by McLaren as a replacement for Mercedes-bound Lewis Hamilton, while Kobayashi lost his drive as Sauber elected to promote test driver Esteban Gutierrez into a race seat alongside new signing Nico Hulkenberg.
With F1’s first female team principal Monisha Kaltenborn now at the helm after taking over from team owner Peter Sauber mid-season, the Swiss team will aim to impress again in 2013, with big things expected from Hulkenberg in particular given the strong way in which he brought his time with rivals Force India to a close.