Sauber by Tony Greene
There was a time when Sauber could have easily been considered ‘the best of the rest’. At the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the only teams to finish with more points were Ferrari and McLaren and, thanks to Mecca’s expulsion from the ’07 championship, the tiny Swiss squad finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in the World Constructor’s Championship all those years ago. Five or Six years usually doesn’t seem like such a long time…unless you’re a Formula One Team.
Flash forward to the end of 2013 and Sauber appear to have firmly joined the ranks of mid-field. Between 2009 and 2013, Sauber have finished 6th twice, 7th twice and 8th once. Across those five seasons, they have only managed one podium courtesy of Kamui Kobayashi . Last season found them score eleven points scoring finishes, with all but one coming from Nico Hulkenberg, who would himself finish 10th in the year end Driver’s standings. Meanwhile, much touted rookie teammate Esteban Gutierrez could only manage to come home 16th on the strength of six points gained with a 7th place finish in Japan.
Thanks to the massive rules changes going into 2014, making predictions, in my own humble opinion, will be like trusting a groundhog to accurately tell you when to pack the mittens away for the winter. Along with Marussia, Sauber will be one of three squads using Ferrari’s version of the new 1.6 liter V6 turbo, the third being the Scuderia themselves, of course.
Though his performance in 2013 did anything but set the GP world on fire, Gutierrez will return for a second season at Sauber. Hulkenberg is on his way to Force India where he will be swapping seats with Adrian Sutil. The new German in the squad has been with the same team since stepping into F1 back in 2006 as Midland’s test driver. He moved up to a race seat the following year as the team became Spyker and stayed on as Spyker became Force India. Across six full seasons, Sutil’s best finish is 9th in 2011, though he is a fairly consistent finisher in the points.
So where do I feel these changes will leave Sauber for 2014? Right where they are now. I see Sutil finishing with about the same results as Hulkenberg did last year, maybe eight to ten points paying finishes. With a full year now under his belt, I do see Esteban upping his game, though not by much, due to the team’s overall performance. I’ll give him three to four Top Ten finishes at year’s end.
So overall, I predict the following for Sauber and it’s driver’s for 2014:
Lotus by Dave Mortimore (MIE)
For the team that over delivered in 2013 things do not look so rosy. With funding issues so bad that they struggled to pay staff, let alone drivers in 2013 it is debatable how much money was available to develop the 2014 car. The team kept developing the 2013 car far longer than other outfits as they were chasing second in the constructors’ championship. With the early departure of Kimi Räikkönen they dropped to fourth, as even the emergence of Romain Grosjean could score them enough points.
Forced to take Pastor Maldonado for the cash he brings, this is a team that is perhaps lacking in driving talent. Whereas Grosjean emerged in the last half of 2013 as a front runner, Maldonado still has to show any consistency despite being the one that has actually won a race. Given the success that the team has had in taming Grosjean, this may be the best team to try and turn Maldonado around. Evidently he has the speed in the car, he just doesn’t seem to play well in traffic.
So the team appears to have funding difficulties, and inconsistent drivers. What can we expect in 2014, personally I believe Grosjean will deliver to the cars potential, but this will be firmly midfield at best given the lack of apparent financial support. Maldonado I expect to suffer and we saw in Austin 2013 how he reacts when he is outperformed by a team mate.
However if the team manages to produce some top six results then this will point the way for the FIA’s desired cost controls. The team has already outperformed its budget in 2013, if it continues to do so in 2014 it will richly deserve the credit it gets. Similarly, if Maldonado makes the improvement that we saw from Grosjean in 2013, then Eric Boulier deserves credit for his ability to bring the best out of drivers (perhaps he should take Lewis Hamilton under his wing?).
In short, I expect a worse performance from this team in 2014 (fifth or sixth in the constructors’ championship), and the best that they can hope for is a few giant killing performances from Grosjean although a win is extremely unlikely, and the possibility of taming Maldonado.