Sauber’s 2016 season was heavily compromised by search for new investors as it tried to keep itself afloat. And the outfit not only managed to secure its long-term future, but also pip Manor for 10th place in the standings.
Things weren’t looking bright for Sauber in the first half of the season. Financial problems had taken a toll on the team, with adverse effects visible both on and off the track.
Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was notably absent from races as she frantically negotiated with various investors. Technical director Mark Smith left the squad after less than a year, while employees weren’t paid on-time for several months as uncertainty over team’s future continued.
On track, the C35 was handful to drive and planned upgrades couldn’t go into production due to the aforementioned financial problems. All in all, it looked like Sauber was set for a second pointless season in three year
However, just when it looked like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, Sauber managed to strike a deal with Swiss investment company, Longbow Finance.
With the future of the team now secured, several upgrades were introduced on the car, lifting its performance vis-a-vis its rivals.
When a wet and red-flag interrupted Brazilian Grand Prix threw up an opportunity to score points, Felipe Nasr was there to pounce, securing a plausible ninth place finish.
The result lifted Sauber to 10th place in the championship, ahead of Manor, bringing millions extra in terms of prize money.
The driver line-up
Sauber had one of the most unimpressive driver lineups of 2016 season. Felipe Nasr, who had previously shrugged off pay-driver claims, looked out of shape, often beaten by teammate Marcus Ericsson.
Given that Ericsson’s F1 career so far has been nothing to boast about, it is fair to say Nasr’s season was also mediocre.
However, the Brazilian did manage to score points at home turf in Interlagos, potentially saving his declining F1 career.
Although Sauber’s long-term future is now secure, it is unclear how competitive it will be in 2017. It has made a surprise decision to use year-old Ferrari engines, which is likely to backfire if Toro Rosso’s 2016 season is anything to go by.
However, the hiring of ex-Audi designer Jorg Zander and Toro Rosso’s Xevi Pujolar is a major boost for the team’s technical department. If it stops relying on pay drivers and recruits on the basis of talent, there’s genuine chance that the team can re-emerge as a creditable midfielder.
Away from F1, Sauber will develop its third-party businesses under new ownership to boost revenues and cover losses from its core racing operation. The strategy is similar to Williams and is suitable for a team like Sauber whose state-of-the-art wind tunnel from the BMW days is still one of the best in class.
by Rachit Thukral