March 12th, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Keilloh).- Saying 'Sauber' in a word association test with an F1 fan would likely elicit responses in the following areas: midfielders, solid, stoic, dependable, upstanding, non-contentious, somehow perennial. A rock in the middle of the F1 whirlpool. Nothing wrong with that, indeed the sport needs its sort.
Nevertheless, somehow after several years as a fully paid up member of the piranha club its founder and former Team Principal Peter Sauber, probably uniquely, is virtually without an enemy in the paddock. Even the name is appropriate - Sauber means 'clean' in German.
There has been the odd variation from this norm: such as plucking Kimi Raikkonen from Formula Renault to give him his F1 debut in 2001, as well as the C31 of 2012 that on occasion could sail through the field like the rest were parked. But they've been the exception.
However last year too Sauber threatened to vary from character, and this time not in a good way. The team that had for as long as anyone could remember been highly fastidious got behind on its supplier payments, as well as in the retainer of its star pilot Nico Hulkenberg reportedly. This devastated Peter Sauber, a man who had dipped into his own pocket in order to save the team and its 400 jobs in 2009; a man who had always prided himself on running a steady ship; in doing things the right way.
Sauber it seems was just the latest team to suffer from a sport that struggles to attract sponsors and has a financial model that concentrates wealth well away from those who are not among the few at the top. And if even Sauber can be bitten by it...
This year however the team financial plight has been eased apparently by investment from several Russian companies (though, against some expectations, it hasn't resulted in 18-year old Sergey Sirotkin getting a race seats, him getting a reserve role instead). Plus the 'Bernie money' for the excellent 2012 points haul will be on tap this campaign too.
Things for Sauber didn't necessarily appear too flush early-on in testing, with the C33 in Jerez in Gary Anderson's words looking 'born a bit premature'.
It was rather challenging for its drivers to keep under control, lacking as it did both front and rear end grip (understeer in turns turning into snap oversteer).
Adrian Sutil left Force India to join Sauber while Esteban Gutierrez goes into his second season with the swiss team.
It also looked to have unstable rear braking (there have been problems with the brake-by-wire system, possibly not entirely solved), and that the Ferrari power unit appeared more torquey than the Mercedes hardly helped. Sutil and Gutierrez both had crashes. And worse a new chassis had to be produced, possibly due to a front suspension or engine-mount pickup problem.
Another regret for Sauber, at least in the immediate term, is that is that it doesn't have a Mercedes engine. And more traumatically it is a couple of its nominal rivals in the constructors' fight - Williams and Force India - that are among those given a serious boost by the German power.
It can hardly be denied either that swapping Nico Hulkenberg for Adrian Sutil on the driving strength leaves the team down compared with 2013 also.
But while the team isn't overloaded with cash it does boast a good technical team as well as a wind tunnel (a legacy of the BMW days) that's one of the best there is.
Therefore, the team can be counted on to develop competitively as the campaign proceeds, as it did last year when it recovered from a tricky first half to be a consistent presence well inside the top ten (sometimes with both cars) after the summer break, thanks in large part to an effective exhaust solution.
The updates have been fairly rapid in their delivery in pre-season too, and they appeared to sort a lot of the car's handling problems.
The machine looks to be reliable too, with Gutierrez sixth in the testing mileage list and Sutil eighth. And while an engine problem on the penultimate day meant that it could only complete a single lap, the team more than made up for it on the following, final, day, the two drivers getting 177 tours between them, which is reckoned to be some kind of record for the age of single car testing.
Most place the Saubers just outside the top ten on pace, which should make them well-placed to score points via attrition from the off if they can make it to the finish themselves. And you can expect the team to be suitably stoic from there.