August 5, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmett).- Yes, I know, I have touched on this subject already this season but until something changes at Sauber, they will remain an important talking point.
So here goes.
The much loved and well-respected team is in a predicament – and I mean, serious trouble. To sit behind Marussia in the constructors’ championship is troubling in many ways. I write this shortly after the Hungarian Grand Prix, an event which could prove to be crucial for the Swiss outfit.
As much as I was focusing on the front runners at the Hungaroring, some of my attention fell to the Sauber duo as they continue their comeback attempt. Tenth place in the championship could see them in a vulnerable state and susceptible to hiring money over talent.
Three world champions, each with their own sporting legacies – Kimi Raikkonen, Jacques Villeneuve and Sebastian Vettel - have all spent time under the guidance of Peter Sauber. Now the team responsible for some of the grid’s best known talents may head towards a new and, perhaps not entirely beneficial, direction in 2015.
Their name is synonymous with Formula 1, the two simply fit together and the accompanying story is inspiring. A former car salesman becomes a Team Principal after first building a racing model in his childhood basement. Ultimately, Peter Sauber is one man who has defied the odds with a Formula 1 career spanning two decades.
However the squad, which is now run by Monisha Kalternborn, could struggle to survive in their current form if drastic improvements do not befall the team after the lengthy summer break. Three points is all they require for now, three measly points. One eighth place finish in Spa would gift them with four and a fairly comfortable lead over an ever-improving Marussia F1.
These changes and a jump to ninth in the championship standings need to occur right after the summer halt. Why? Honestly, they cannot afford to lose concentration. Teams in their situation will usually return from the summer break focusing on 2015 and resigning themselves to a poor season of results. Just like Ferrari and Caterham who appear to be looking elsewhere.
Momentum for the top teams has stalled; now is the time to pounce.
Sauber need to ponder their current season and sort out their crisis. To do this, the driver line up may need altering. In this regard, their experienced driver Adrian Sutil is the natural casualty. It would not be a surprise to see Sutil pushed out and reserve driver Giedo van der Garde joining the fray. Sauber remain, as ever, tight-lipped on their situation but it is clear that something needs to be done.
Although Van der Garde’s hopes may have been dented by a poor showing in free practice, which saw the mechanics facing several hours of work to fix the damaged Sauber, he is still the most likely contender for a seat. He is not a rookie, not a pay driver or both, in the case of Sergey Sirotkin. Speaking of Sergey, I maintain that he is really not as awful as many will want you to believe and he is winning races in F1 feeder series, Formula Renault 3.5. Rest assured though, Sirotkin will not be thrown into the Sauber without any warning. Even times like these do not require such desperate measures. Yet.
Thus, Van der Garde is your contender; he may bring enough to keep the team afloat and knowledge of developing cars, thanks to his lacklustre days at Caterham.
Is he the best driver waiting in the wings? No, absolutely not but he is arguably the solution to Sauber’s problems as this crucial time. Remember, three points is all they need.
Ultimately, Sutil should be making fewer mistakes than he is and was signed to provide consistency and experience for his team mate, one Esteban Gutierrez.
Twenty-two-year-old Gutierrez is sometimes fairly anonymous in the paddock and on the race track, his name only usually appearing in conversation when discussing pay drivers. His youth and hefty financial backing ensure that he is perhaps not a fan favourite either. Was Gutierrez introduced to Formula 1 too soon? Perhaps. However his initial signing with Sauber was not purely based on money, the Mexican has shown some promise in his racing past.
He is further aided by the recent announcement that Mexico will host a Grand Prix with duties starting as early as 2015. Granted, Perez is perhaps the most talented and recognisable of the two but their native country is making a big statement by securing a place on the F1 calendar; it is thinking to the long-term future.
This is a future, Sauber are fighting to maintain.
The halfway point in a season is important. The first set of races determines the direction each team will take for the following weekends. They are closing in on that much-coveted point but, until then, difficult times lay in store.
Not one person in the paddock wants to see Sauber fall. They are a team with great historical value and a lingering independent feel. For as long as their engines fire up in anger, they remain a long-standing symbol of meritocracy.
Come on Sauber, sort it out. Please?