Sauber are entering their third season since returning to independent team status following the departure of BMW.
They moved up the order in 2011 but face a challenge to continue their progress this year in the face of stronger midfield opposition.
Continuity in their driver line-up will help their cause, with Kamui Kobayashi remaining alongside Sergio Perez.
Car 14: Kamui Kobayashi
In his second full season last year, Kobayashi shook off his reputation for wildness yet continued to distinguish himself as one of F1’s best wheel-to-wheel racers.
Heading into his third season of Formula 1, Kobayashi’s future prospects are limited by how far he can take the Sauber – or whether he can attract the attention of a front-running team.
The problem is, he’s up against another driver in the same team who’s trying to do exactly the same thing. And towards the end of last year Kobayashi found it increasingly difficult to contain his ever-improving team mate.
That will make for an intriguing contest between the two this year.
Car 15: Sergio Perez
A dreadful crash in Monaco disrupted Sergio Perez’s rookie season. He later admitted the after-effects of the crash stayed with him longer than the two races he missed,.
Even so, despite the occasional wild moment, he had a very strong rookie campaign. Ferrari have shown serious interest in Perez, who is on their development programme and had a test in their F2009 last year.
He has even been tipped as a potential replacement for Felipe Massa in 2013.
Competition for the seat will be fierce but displacing Kobayashi as team leader would be the best way for Perez to mark himself out as a legitimate candidate.
Sauber have a reputation for starting championships in better form than they finish them, one which is generally deserved.
Peter Sauber said the team need to perform more consistently this year: “We?óÔéĽÔäóre aiming to start the new season as strongly as we did in 2011, but then also to maintain this level of performance throughout the year.
“Our goal is to finish regularly in the points so as to put ourselves in a significantly better position in the world championship.”
Last year the team lost ground mainly because they couldn’t make the exhaust-blown diffuser concept work as well as their closest competitors could. They ended the season under serious pressure from Toro Rosso.
The loss of technical director James Key three days before the launch of the Sauber C31 is a setback. However Perez believes the team are heading into the new season in better shape than they were in 12 months ago.
He told Autosport yesterday: “I think we know our car a lot better than we did last year at the start of the season.
“We know of course that Melbourne will be a surprise for everybody, it was like that every day [in testing] I think, but we more or less know where we are going to be and how competitive we are.”
The C31 is outwardly similar to their 2011 car. Key differences include more tapered sidepods, tighter packaging at the rear of the car, and of course the near-ubiquitous stepped nose.
It remains to be seen whether, like its predecessor, it will be similarly kind to its tyres – which could prove useful given the softer compounds being used this year.
In a tight midfield contest, Sauber’s slightly more experienced driver pairing, compared to rivals Force India and Toro Rosso, could count in their favour.
Sauber’s championship form
Sauber raced as BMW-Sauber between 2007 and 2010 (they retained the name in the final year despite BMW’s departure at the end of 2009).
Sauber in 2012: Your view
Do you think Sauber will make progress in 2012?
Who will come out on top between Kobayashi and Perez?
Have your say in the comments.
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Image ?é?® F1 Fanatic/Jamey Price