As many as seven drivers are under serious consideration for the two race seats at Sauber in F1 2010, it emerges – with long-time McLaren-Mercedes test driver Pedro de la Rosa and well-backed GP2 Series graduate Vitaly Petrov believed to be in with the strongest chance.
Peter Sauber bought his eponymously-named outfit back off BMW last week, thereby securing the future of the Hinwil-based concern in the wake of the collapse of the Qadbak Investments deal, after the man behind the bid was exposed as being a convicted fraudster and the promised money never materialised [see separate story – click here
The 66-year-old may have previously expressed his frustration at being unable to contact drivers whilst uncertainty shrouded the squad's future, but it has been reported by respected Swiss newspaper Blick
that de la Rosa, Petrov, BMW-Sauber favourite Nick Heidfeld, Toyota refugee Jarno Trulli, Lewis Hamilton's former McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, out-of-work ex-BMW test driver Christian Klien and star 2009 debutant Kamui Kobayashi are all in the frame to fill the two Ferrari-powered cockpits next season, once the FIA gives Sauber the green light upon the resolution of the ongoing Toyota legal wrangle.
A decision is expected to be made by Christmas, with de la Rosa popular for his experience – and looking for a drive after his Campos Meta 1 ambitions fell flat due to a lack of funding – and Petrov fitting the bill for a younger, less experienced but quick driver who can potentially bring sponsorship to the table. According to Blick
, the 2009 GP2 series runner-up – who has also been linked with the second berth at Campos – can lay his hands upon as much as €7-€10 million, an advantage that Sauber well recognises cannot easily be dismissed.
“If we signed Petrov, the Russian market would open up to us in 2011 – that is worth reflecting upon,” he acknowledged, adding in an interview with German-language publication Schweizer Fernsehen
: “There are experienced drivers like Nick Heidfeld [and] Jarno Trulli, and Pedro de la Rosa lives in Zurich and would be close by.”
Whilst discounting former Sauber star and 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen as a viable option – with the Finn expected to sign for Citroën's World Rally Championship (WRC) effort any day now [see separate story – click here
] – Sauber added that he personally does not intend to sit 'for the next three or four years on the pit wall', as he now seeks new investors and team management.
The Swiss reluctantly stepped back into the limelight to rescue the operation he founded and brought into F1 in the first place 16 years ago, having recently held only a 20 per cent stake and a backseat role as a consultant during the BMW era. Though the team will necessarily have to shed some jobs to survive, the fact that it has survived at all, he underlines, is the most important aspect of all.
“Probably Hinwil would have closed and all jobs would have been lost,” he confessed. “The wind tunnel – one of the very best in Europe – would be redundant. It would have been a crying shame.”