At the end of 2012, Sauber’s most successful season ever, the team hired the increasingly impressive Nico Hulkenberg to lead its driver line-up.
Hopes were high the team could build on their improving form and enjoy an even better campaign. The result was a crushing disappointment for the team.
The team were nowhere in the first half of the season and Hulkenberg quickly made plans to move on. Despite a late-season rally by Sauber, Hulkenberg returned to Force India, who also beat them to sixth in the constructors’ championship.
Worse, the team which has been rebuilding since BMW’s withdrawal at the end of 2009 ran into financial problems. Details about it falling behind on supplier payments became public knowledge.
An investment deal was eventually struck with three Russian companies which has led to the placing of Sergey Sirotkin in the team’s reserve driver roster. That he has not – as originally suggested – become part of their race driver line-up is probably for the best. For while Sirotkin has shown some promise in the junior categories a promotion to an F1 race seat looked premature.
Instead Sauber have played it safe with their driver line-up. They’ve kept the faith with Esteban Gutierrez, who endured a tough rookie season alongside Hulkenberg last year, but brings support from Mexican sponsors.
Seeking an experienced driver to fill the gap left by Hulkenberg, Sauber chose the man he replaced at Force India – and who was beaten by team mate Paul di Resta last year.
Adrian Sutil may not be an inspiring choice of lead driver, but the team need him to do his ‘solid midfielder’ thing and bring home the points.
Sauber steadily increased the mileage on their C33 throughout testing. Particular attention has been focused on its new brake-by-wire system which has proved problematic.
But after suffering serious problems in two of the last five test days – requiring a change of chassis on the first of those and failing to run at all on the second – they bounced back in style on the final day completing over three grand prix distances worth of running.
To begin with at least, Sauber’s fortunes in 2014 will be closely tied to that of their engine manufacturer. While Ferrari are nowhere close to being in the kind of dire straits Renault are, they do appear to be a clear second behind Mercedes.
The C33 seldom headed any of its Mercedes-powered rivals in testing. At this stage they look likely to begin this year as they started the last one, scratching to make it beyond the second phase of qualifying.
How well they progress after that be determined by whether an underwhelming driver line-up can exceed expectations, and whether the new influx of cash flows smoothly enough for the team to keep pace on development.
Sauber’s F1 record
Over to you
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