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Sauber: A Historic Team

Many teams have changed the shape of Formula One throughout the years; teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. These teams have been very influential into how the sport has grown and have introduced many new aspects to the sport. However, people often forget just how important the little teams have been in the development of the sport. Teams like Sauber, Force India and Lotus are often overshadowed by the bigger teams with more money. Any person or company hoping to come into Formula One, can’t expect to join at the top. They first need to join the small team and work their way up. Whether it is a driver hoping to become World Champion, an engine supplier looking to supply the best engine or a sponsor hoping to get their logo on the fastest car; everyone has to start at the bottom. This is one of the many reasons that the small teams are important. One of the most vital small teams to the sport since their creation has been the Sauber F1 Team.

Sauber played an important role in bringing Mercedes back into Formula One. After the Le Mans disaster that killed and injured many spectators and one driver in 1955, Mercedes-Benz decided to put an end to all of their racing involvements. It remained like this in Formula One until Sauber came along. When Peter Sauber founded the Formula One team in 1993, Mercedes expressed an interest in providing an engine to the car. Unfortunately, that didn’t become a reality, as the team changed their minds shortly before the beginning of the season. However, after scoring seventh position in the 1993 World Constructors’ Championship, Peter Sauber was successful in convincing the engine manufacturer to join for the following season. This was revolutionary, as it led the company to restore their interest in the sport and eventually create their own works team, as well as supply engines to a variety of different teams.

Heinz Harald Frentzen driving the Red Bull Sauber in 1995.
Heinz Harald Frentzen driving the Red Bull Sauber in 1995

Sauber is no stranger to introducing sponsors either. In 1995, the team signed a sponsorship contract with Red Bull. The team was then renamed “Red Bull Sauber”, as the company became the title sponsor of the team. This was nearly a ten year contract that was formed way before the team decided to invest in their own team, Red Bull Racing in 2005. Petronas is another sponsor that was introduced by Sauber. The Malaysian oil company came to Formula One in 1997, renaming the team “Red Bull Sauber Petronas”. The company remained the sponsor of the team until 2006, when they decided to move to the newly formed Mercedes works team. We now see them on the side of the Mercedes car, becoming a large source of funding for the team.

Peter Sauber with Michael Schumacher
Peter Sauber with Michael Schumacher

We cannot forget about the team’s contribution to BWM. As Peter Sauber, the team owner, got older, he decided to find some stable hands for the team. He sold the team to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BWM) in 2006. This is the period in which the team had the most success, scoring a second (2007) and third (2008) in the World Constructors’ Championship. BWM was unfortunately forced to withdraw from Formula One at the end of 2009, selling the team back to Peter Sauber. This was BWM’s only works team and their final success in the sport before their disappearance.

The team has also introduced many different drivers for the first time, many of which went on to be very successful. The most notable of these drivers is Sebastian Vettel. Vettel became the team’s test and reserve driver in 2005, a position that he held until 2007. Coming from Formula BMW, the young rookie ran his first free practice session during the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix, setting the fastest time in free practice two. The 2007 season played a vital role in the German’s career. After Sauber driver, Robert Kubica, was injured during a violent crash in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix, Sauber named Vettel as the replacement driver for the following race in the United States. The 19 year-old made it all the way to the third qualifying session, earning seventh on the grid and went on to claim the record for the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix. This was a record that he would hold until Max Verstappen would come into the sport. Vettel impressed many teams with his performance in the race, finishing in eighth position. This acted as Vettel’s gateway to Toro Rosso. The team contacted Vettel some time after the race and gave him a contract to complete the final seven races of 2007. This would eventually lead to Vettel getting a contract with the Red Bull team and earning four consecutive championship titles, none of which would have happened without Sauber offering him a chance to drive their car.

Kimi driving for Sauber in 2001
Kimi driving for Sauber in 2001

Another notable driver was Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen joined Sauber in 2001, prior to the team’s BWM days. Coming from the Formula Renault 2000 series, his appearance in Formula One was not well received by the team’s sponsors at the time, Red Bull and Petronas. They claimed that the Finn was too young and inexperienced and they did not want him driving the car. The team went against the sponsors’ opinions and signed him as the number two driver, acting as Nick Heidfeld’s teammate. Raikkonen scored nine points in the season, earning tenth in the World Drivers’ Championship and helping Sauber to finish fourth in the World Constructors’ Championship. Raikkonen’s contract only lasted one season, after which he was picked up by McLaren and eventually Ferrari, where he would score his first and only World Drivers’ Championship title in 2007.

Felipe Massa was the new driver that stayed the longest, running three complete seasons before moving on to a contract with Ferrari. The Brazilian came to Sauber in 2002, acting as the team’s number two driver for the entire season, with the exception of the United States Grand Prix that he did not race in. He only scored four points for a 13th in the championship. He left the team in 2003 to act as Ferrari’s test driver, but returned in 2004 to resume his job as number two driver for Sauber. A points scoring system change in 2003 allowed for Massa to score more points in the 2004 season, earning 12 in 2004 for 12th in the championship and 11 for 13th in the 2005 championship. The same year that Sauber was sold to BMW, Massa was able to earn a full-time contract with Ferrari for 2006. One of Brazil’s beloved drivers, may have never got to where he is today without Sauber’s support.

Jacques Villeneuve driving the Sauber in the Canadian GP 2005
Jacques Villeneuve driving the Sauber in the Canadian GP 2005

Robert Kubica was another Sauber alumni, spending most of this career with Sauber. Kubica was signed with Sauber as a test and reserve driver for the first half of the 2006 season. After an accident in the German Grand Prix, Jacques Villeneuve complained of headaches and was forced to miss the next race in Hungary. Kubica got behind the wheel for his first race, finishing in seventh position, but later being disqualified because the car was too light. Villeneuve never returned to Sauber, so Kubica was able to compete the remaining five races in the season, standing on the bottom step of the podium in Italy. With a renewed contract for the 2007 season, Kubica took the number two seat for the team, earning 39 points for the team. It was in this season when he had his violent crash in Canada, resulting in a sprained ankle and minor concussion. Back in the car again 2008, where he earned the team’s first and only race victory in Canada, along with six other podium finishes throughout the season. This gave him a fourth position in the championship; enough to get him the primary seat for 2009. The 2009 season was not as good as the previous season and Kubica was only able to score a 14th position in the World Drivers’ Championship. When the team was returned to Peter Sauber, Kubica found a contract with Renault. This contract was meant to last two seasons, but during pre-season testing for the team in 2011, he took part in a rally race in which he would be badly injured, forcing him to put an end to his Formula One career.

sauber_logoNow it seems as though Sauber may be introducing another future legend into the sport. Felipe Nasr joined Sauber in 2015. The Brazilian looked really good in the pre-season testing and earned a fifth position in his debut, the highest finish from a Sauber rookie and the highest finishing position from all the 2015 rookies. It would appear that Nasr is on the road to being a great driver and it is quite possible that we may see him on the top of the podium this season and the top of the championship in the seasons to come.

With all of the focus for funding on the big teams, everyone seems to neglect the small teams. Small teams are what make the sport go round and with the possibility of losing one, if not more, of these important teams, the sport may be at risk. Companies do not have the money to invest in entering Formula One and the ones that do are not willing to risk it. Small teams are more important to the sport than anyone will ever truly understand. Without them, it is a wonder whether we would see any new people or companies in the sport.

Long live the smaller teams.

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Writer Info about Wesley Branton

Wesley Branton is a Canadian writer. His most notable work is motorsport articles, Formula 1 in particular. His portfolio of writing includes articles with motorsport.com and he is the owner of RacingClothesline.com . He will be keeping you up-to-date with the latest from the world of Formula One.

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