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Kate Walker: Sauber seeks to bounce back

10 July 2013

In her latest exclusive feature for Crash.net from within the F1 paddock, Kate Walker – a woman not afraid to ask the probing questions that everyone wants to know the answers to – takes look at the current issues surrounding Sauber...

In Formula One, sometimes it's the little details that make you wonder.

Over the German Grand Prix weekend, word in the paddock was that Sauber had released Nico Hulkenberg from his contract with the team, thanks to their on-going financial struggles. A similar version of the same story was that the German racer had broken the contract himself, due to unpaid wages.

Either way, it wasn't pretty – Sauber were in financial schtuck, and Hulkenberg was driving because he wanted to race, not because it was his job to.

Sauber are not the richest team in Formula One. Since BMW pulled out at the end of 2009, the team has been owned by founder Peter Sauber, although he gave a one-third stake to team principal Monisha Kaltenborn in May 2012. Despite well-known deals with Chelsea Football Club and a number of well-known Mexican brands including Telmex and Cuervo Tequila, the Swiss racers are not rolling in cash.

But while Sauber have become accustomed to racing on a low budget, they have also managed to survive. Previous seasons have seen the Hinwil outfit competitive in the early stages, losing out as the year goes on to teams with more generous development budgets. But the early successes have been enough to boost coffers, to keep Sauber going.

This season has been somewhat more challenging for the team. Like McLaren and Williams, the Sauber engineers have found themselves running a 2013 car that is significantly less competitive than its predecessor, thanks to a multitude of reasons that will include the odd design dead-end that is still being ironed out as the season reaches its mid-point.

The uncompetitive start to the season makes it hard to attract sponsors, making it harder still to find the money to identify and fix the problems.

Despite the challenges, however, Sauber are rumoured to have found themselves a significant source of funding, believed to be via a deal with Russian natural gas giant Gazprom. Sauber's existing link with CFC is thought to have paved the way for negotiations to begin following Gazprom's recent sponsorship of Chelsea.

If the rumours are true, it is a vindication of Sauber's Club One, a B2B concept launched by Sauber in 2010 that presents members with the opportunity to use Formula One as a backdrop for business and networking – with relative anonymity if they prefer.

While there is no doubt that Sauber are suffering in the short-term, with Peter Sauber having spoken openly about his team's financial difficulties, the auspices were positive in Germany.

The gossip might have been about Hulkenberg's contract, but the eagle-eyed spotted an addition to the team's PR department, a new hire whose very presence implied a firmer financial footing to come...


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