For those of you who have only been watching Formula 1 in this futuristic turbo-hybrid era you’d probably assume that Sauber are a backmarker team. After all, they’re usually seen lauding around at the back of the grid with very rare flashes of brilliance, much like Minardi were before they were taken over and souped up with Red Bull muscle and finance.
But that hasn’t always been the case, as recently as 4 years ago Sergio Pérez claimed a brilliant second place at the Italian Grand Prix and could’ve overtaken Lewis Hamilton for the win if the race continued past 53 laps. Compare that with this year where they’re the only team not to have scored a point yet and it’s a very stark contrast.
So what went wrong?
In short; money, or more lack thereof.
Sauber are, after all, an independent team. Which means that they’ll generally have less funds to spend on upgrading their car than the big manufacturer teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault.
After the change to V6-turbo engines in 2014 (which cost they’ve rarely looked like scoring points and often haven’t. They’ve had just 11 points finishes from 110 starts since 2014 and all of those were in 2015. The funds that presumably normally would’ve been spent on upgrades to the car are being used to buy the extremely expensive Ferrari power units that propel the car forward. In addition to that they now seemingly require two pay drivers, not one, like they previously used to.
The lack of a title sponsor also doesn’t help. Before BMW there was Petronas and Red Bull both of whom it’s fair to say have moved on to bigger teams. Petronas being the title sponsor of Mercedes and Red Bull owning two teams.
Has this happened before?
What has happened to Sauber is not unique to them nor F1, every team goes through peaks and troughs, regardless of the sport that they are competing in. Between 2006 and 2009 Sauber was BMW’s factory team (much like they were with Williams previously) and after the German car giant pulled out of the sport at the end of 2009 the team have struggled, particularly on the financial front.
^ The 2010 Sauber C29’s livery was almost completely devoid of sponsors.
But just two years later in 2012 they achieved 4 podiums courtesy of Perez and Kobayashi.
Why does this all matter so much?
You may be asking yourself why this is important, why does a run-of-the-mill team like Sauber matter when there’s ten other teams in F1? They’ve been in the sport for over twenty years and seeing an established name such as theirs leave the sport would put off other groups wanting to join. As well as this the huge start-up costs involved in F1 these days puts off new teams wanting to join.
Some would argue otherwise but I believe that F1 needs the big car manufacturers as much as the smaller independent teams. The main reason for this being that manufacturers are purely in the sport for brand, image and advertising purposes (apart from perhaps Ferrari but they’re unique). If they wanted to they could leave at any time and invest the money in a new range of sports cars. The independent teams are there for one reason, to race.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Nobody can say for sure but with the new Swedish owners they have I believe so. For the first time since probably the start of the year Sauber brought some aero upgrades to Belgium after the summer break and don’t forget they have a solid Ferrari engine in the back. But new owners usually go one of two way when you’ve been in troubled times. Revitalisation or devastation. All you have to do is look at Manor and Caterham’s contrasting fortunes for that. Manor now have a decent chassis, the best engine and two Mercedes development drivers in their pair of cars. Caterham no longer compete in the sport and had to crowdfund to even make it to Abu Dhabi in 2014.
More immediately, though, their car for this year is a dog and will do very well to score any points at all. If Sauber focus their efforts solely on 2017 they could be back in the points paying positions sooner rather than later.