April 21st, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - After having the pace to lead part of last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg reflected on a difficult Bahrain Grand Prix weekend:
“It was a difficult and frustrating weekend. It was clear from the beginning that we were not fast enough and that it would be challenging. We are lacking speed and eat up the rear tyres too much so it simply wasn’t enough this weekend. We pitted a bit too late, because we expected to have more problems on low fuel, which in the end we didn’t have. That cost us at least one position. This weekend clearly showed we need to bring some new parts to Barcelona in order to improve our speed and fight for points.”
Hulkenberg moved from Force India to Sauber at the end of last season, presumably in part because Sauber were competitive enough to visit the podium more than once in 2012. In 2013, however, Force India are looking much stronger than Sauber, and Hulkenberg must be wondering when he will have the speed to compete with the front-runners.
Hulkenber's Sauber team-mate, Esteban Gutierrez, is enduring a tough start to his Formula One career. There were those who expressed concerns about his relative lack of experience when it was announced that Gutierrez would race for Sauber this season. So far in 2013 he really has looked like a rookie, struggling to match his more experienced team-mate for pace and making an unnecessary error in the Chinese Grand Prix that ended the race for him and Force India's Adrian Sutil, and earned Gutierrez a grid penalty that relegated him to the back of the grid for today's race.
Gutierrez was immediately on the back foot at the start of the race, with contact on the first lap that resulted in damage to his front wing. The time lost in the pits changing the wing made a race that was always going to be difficult doubly so, and Gutierrez could do no better than 18th by the finish. It will be most galling for Sauber that Gutierrez was beaten by Charles Pic in a Caterham. Although Pic ran an updated Caterham that was much quicker than the older specification used by his team-mate, Sauber do not expect to be fighting over 18th position with the back-marker teams. They expect to be scoring points.
Gutierrez said of his race: “I expected a difficult race and this is what I got. We need to find more speed. On the first lap I had contact down into turn 10, which was really hard to avoid. Apart from that, things were quite ok, but, of course, finishing a race like this is definitely not enough and we need to improve. We have to analyse the strategy and hopefully we will bring some good updates to Barcelona.”
Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal of Sauber, made no excuses for the lack of car performance: “We can’t be satisfied with this race. We knew this track would be difficult for our car, but this cannot be an excuse. It’s important that we gathered a lot of information over the last two races, which we will use as a basis for the development of the car. Nico drove a good race, so it is now our job to provide him with a quicker car. This race was a good example of how exciting Formula One can be.”
It's back to the factory now before the next race in Barcelona on 12 May. The Catalunya Circuit is a good all-round test of a car's performance, which will therefore provide a good indication of the true pecking order among the teams. Sauber will be spending the time before that race ensuring that they bring as much speed as possible to the start of the European season.