Peter Sauber – The Man Behind The Legend

It is a paradox that a man who hails from a country which has banned racing for decades should go on to become a revered name in motorsport. However, it is perhaps in fitting with who this man is at heart; a pioneer, a courageous visionary with an innovative spirit that, still today, permeates the history of Formula 1. That man is of course, Peter Sauber.

The F1 paddock recently celebrated the long awaited news that Sauber F1 team had finally obtained the financial backing which they so richly deserved. I, like many then soon realized that Peter Sauber, the man literally behind the name, was to retire as head of the group he built. It is a bitter sweet feeling to have the name Sauber remain in F1, but not the man behind it.

I am certain however that Peter would be the very first to say that this is nothing to be sad about, history has again been made, with Peter Sauber again at the forefront of it.

“a slight fairytale feel….”

Without regurgitating the history of the team (which incidentally can be found in detailed summary on the team website), the story is one that does have a slight fairytale feel to it; a man who went from being an electrician to a car salesman to racing pioneer.

His fierce independence had been evident from the day he began building the very first Sauber the C1 in a basement, which took on the Swiss hill climb for a decade that saw a victory in 1974.

The motorsport having truly bitten him, Peter Sauber continued to accelerate his vision through to the legendary Le Mans until in he decided to take his vision to the pinnacle of motorsport – Formula One.

I often like to draw parallels between Sauber and the ignition of my own love for F1; they both started in 1993! Sauber made their debut at what would turn out to be the last South African Grand Prix (side note: for now!) and the rest as they say is history.

“beyond the words…”

Why am I writing this piece, you may ask, if we can simply read about Peter Sauber elsewhere? My answer is simply that beyond the words on paper, the photographs & trophies, lies a man who, like many of us, is simply a motorsport fan.

His contribution to motorsport and indeed our beloved F1 can and should be measured far more than the headlines and history books. His eagle eye for talent spotting brought into our realm young drivers who would go on to be champions, icons, cult figures and beloved heroes.

The current grid may have Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr in the driver’s seat for Sauber, but a cursory glance at their counterparts will reveal just how much of an impact Peter Sauber has had on F1, with several drivers having started at or driven for Sauber at one point, a track record that would be rather difficult to beat.

If F1 is to be regarded as the ultimate balance between innovation, technology and talent, then Peter Sauber, arguably, is the epitome of this. His constant innovation brought Red Bull and BMW to the paddock among other greats, not the least of which was Mercedes. His decision to appoint a female team principal in the resilient Monisha Kaltenborn certainly shook up the generally male dominated pit wall.

His dedication to fierce independence and the family of staff at Hinwil often saw him at odds with the powers that be, yet it would be difficult to find a person who will speak ill of him. It is perhaps the greatest testimony to his legacy that his name continues to remain with the team, despite the new ownership.

“…what can I say that hasn’t been…”

Peter Sauber’s calm steely determination saw him take a basement built idea to the ultimate stage, with many players entering and exiting along the way. I ask myself, what can I say that hasn’t been said already?

It is both difficult and easy to answer; difficult because so much has been written about him, and easy because his steady presence reverberates today. I think perhaps the only way to pay tribute to the man regarded as one of, if not the best, talent hunter in F1 is to simply say

THANK YOU PETER SAUBER, YOU WILL BE MISSED.

-Rhea Morar

Photo Credits: (c) Sauber – D. Reinhard

Robert Kubica: Formula One’s Lost Champion

Since their introduction into Formula One in 1993, Sauber have been seen top drivers rise through their ranks and go on to have glittering careers in the sport. The Hinwil team gave 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen his route into the sport way back in 2001, while Felipe Massa spent three seasons there before his switch to Ferrari nearly bore him a title in 2008.

But neither of those names raise such a mixture of pride, happiness, intrigue and ultimately sadness in the way that Robert Kubica does.

Kubica took Sauber’s only victory in his three-and-a-half years following a mid-season promotion in place of Jacques Villeneuve in 2006 before a move to Renault in 2010.

The big Pole’s big chance came at the famous Hungarian Grand Prix of 2006, when he replaced Villeneuve because of injuries sustained in the previous race. As Jenson Button took his maiden win, Kubica raced to seventh place, but was disqualified because of technical irregularities. Nevertheless, a star was born as Sauber announced his promotion with immediate effect after the race, after Villeneuve quit.

Just two races later Kubica made his first piece of history, as he became the first Pole to lead a Grand Prix and then the first Pole to make the podium with a third place at the Italian Grand Prix, after qualifying sixth and showing excellent pace all weekend. He was not to pick up any more points in the remaining rounds of the season, with two further ninth places the best results for the remainder of the season.

2007 started indifferently as a retirement in Australia and 18th in Malaysia was followed up by three solid points scores as BMW Sauber emerged as the big challengers to the dominant duo of Ferrari and McLaren.

However, his 2007 is more remembered for a horrific accident at the Canadian Grand Prix.

While battling with Jarno Trulli’s Toyota on the approach to the hairpin, the two made contact and Kubica’s car was more of a rocket as he launched towards the wall, with a 185mph impact sending him back over the circuit. He came to rest at the hairpin, and despite earlier reports suffered a sprained ankle and concussion that forced him to miss the US Grand Prix.

That paved the way for a young Sebastian Vettel to make his name as a point-scoring debutant, and Kubica was not to be affected as he returned for the French Grand Prix and rattled off six straight points finishes on his way to a solid sixth place in the World Drivers’ Championship.

2008 was to be his and Sauber’s strongest year, as he remained a factor in the World Championship battle until the penultimate round as BMW Sauber became a real force. After retirement in Melbourne, Kubica wasn’t out of the top four for the next six races, including his famous victory at Canada.

A year on from where he had that infamous accident, Kubica was one of few steady heads in a race more akin to Wacky Races instead of an F1 Grand Prix. After Hamilton had taken both himself and Raikkonen out of the race in the pit lane after a Safety Car, Kubica was promoted to the lead of the Grand Prix once other drivers had pitted.

It was a lead he was not to relinquish, as teammate Nick Heidfeld took second place to complete a memorable 1-2 for BMW Sauber. That result put Kubica level on points with Championship leaders Lewis Hamilton and Massa.

With huge technical changes coming for 2009, Sauber switched their attention to developing 2009’s car shortly after. Kubica was to make the podium twice more with third place at the European Grand Prix where Valencia’s street circuit debuted, and at the Italian Grand at which Vettel took his first victory.

This was to be both his and Sauber’s best season, as 2009 fell well below expectations.

After a late collision with Sebastian Vettel in Australia as they battled for second place, Kubica was to take seven races to score his first points of the season with seventh place in Turkey while Sauber themselves only had six points from six races courtesy of Nick Heidfeld’s third place in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix.

Kubica was only able to climb to 14th in the World Drivers Championship due to a strong run towards the end of the season, where he scored 15 points from the last 8 races including a second place at the Brazilian Grand Prix (Current points system wasn’t introduced until 2010) in BMW’s final podium in F1, as they pulled out of the sport.

Sauber were to be rescued by Peter Sauber once again and had a solid season in 2010 as a privateer, with Kamui Kobayashi finishing 12th in the standings. Kubica meanwhile joined Renault and comfortably outpaced Vitaly Petrov, on his way to eighth in the standings. He would pick up two podiums in what would tragically be his final season in Formula One.

In February of 2011, Kubica was taking part in a rally close to his home in Italy when on the first stage, he crashed heavily into a barrier, which penetrated the cockpit and struck him. He suffered a broken shoulder, arm and leg and lost part of his right forearm and damaged his right hand. In April of that year, he was released from hospital in Italy to continue his recovery, although a return to Formula One was a tall order despite successful use of the Mercedes F1 team’s simulator.

It wasn’t to be until 2013 that Kubica gave up on a return to Formula One, citing limited functionality of his right hand in tight open wheel cockpits. Kubica now competes in the World Rally Championship, having won the second tier of the Championship in 2013.

A man once considered by Ferrari to lead their Championship charge, Kubica is a driver that had a more than promising career in Formula One cut short by the ruthless business that is motorsport. The Pole will be remembered for his speed, courage, late-braking and ultimately the potential that was left unfulfilled.

In a different world, through Kubica, Sauber would have produced another World Champion.
Jack Prentice

Sauber’s Unsung Heroes

Since 1993, Sauber has seen a vast array of drivers pass through the halls of Hinwil, not least including past and future champions such as Jacques Villeneuve, Kimi Räikkönen, and even – albeit just for one secret test in 1997 – Michael Schumacher.

But what about the others – the fan favourites, the uncrowned talents? As our Sauber Week celebrations continue, we take a look at some of the stalwart faces from the Hinwil team’s history.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen

Heinz-Harald Frentzen has been a part of the Sauber story almost from the very beginning. He joined the team for his debut season in 1994 and became the de facto team leader after Karl Wendlinger was seriously injured in a crash at Monaco. A first podium for himself and Sauber followed in 1995, before Frentzen’s performances earned him a call-up to replace Damon Hill at Williams for 1997.

Frentzen would return to Sauber in 2002 as a one-off replacement for Felipe Massa, and then as a full-time driver in 2003 whilst Massa served a year in reserve with Ferrari. Frentzen matched up well against talented young teammate Nick Heidfeld and went on to take another podium at the United States Grand Prix; but that would prove to be his last both with Sauber and in F1, as new signing Giancarlo Fisichella and the returning Massa left Frentzen without a drive in 2004.

Johnny Herbert

When Johnny Herbert joined Sauber in 1996 the team had already built up a reputation as consistent points-scorers, but a troublesome Ford-Zetec engine meant Herbert’s only points of the season came with a third place in Monaco behind Olivier Panis and David Coulthard.

Nevertheless, fortunes improved with new Ferrari-Petronas engines in 1997, and Herbert took his second podium for the team along with five other points finishes. After an unrewarding 1998 season alongside Jean Alesi – who took Sauber’s fourth podium in four years in Belgium – Herbert left Sauber for Stewart and was replaced by Pedro Diniz.

Nick Heidfeld

Few drivers enjoy quite the association with Sauber as Quick Nick Heidfeld. The German joined Sauber way back in 2001 and made an immediate display of talent, not only taking a podium in only his third race for the team in Brazil, but also consistently outperforming emerging talents Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa during their own Sauber days.

After briefly jumping ship to Jordan and Williams, Heidfeld returned to Hinwil in 2006 after signing with the new BMW-Sauber works team and enjoyed the most successful spell of his F1 career, racking up eight podiums from 2006-09 and finishing as high as fifth in the championship in 2007.

Despite losing his seat at the end of the 2009 season, Heidfeld rejoined Sauber one final time to replace Pedro de la Rosa for five races at the end of 2010. But, unable to match the results of the BMW days, Heidfeld was not retained for 2011, thus bringing to an end a total eight-year relationship with the Sauber team.

Kamui Kobayashi

When the struggling Toyota team pulled out of F1 at the end of the 2009 season, Kamui Kobayashi became yet another talented driver to have his career threatened by the global financial crisis. But late hope came in an offer from Peter Sauber to join his newly repurchased team, and in 2010 Kobayashi lined up alongside Pedro de la Rosa for the first of what would be three years with the Hinwil team.

At Sauber, Kobayashi quickly established himself as a fan favourite with displays of rapid qualifying pace and superb overtaking under braking, his 2010 season alone earning him the esteemed praise of Murray Walker as “without a doubt Japan’s best [F1 driver] yet”. Highlights included a fifth-place finish at Monaco in 2011, a front row start for the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, and even a maiden podium that same year on home soil at Suzuka – to date, Sauber’s most recent trip to the F1 rostrum.

James Matthews

Before F1 – Sauber

 

In the last two decades, motor racing fans have grown up with the name Sauber being part of the Formula One family. From their first appearance in 1993 at the South African Grand Prix to the present, they have competed in over 400 Grand Prix. But what about before? Before the hustle and bustle of the F1 circus?

They didn’t just appear on the scene out of nowhere with a V10 Sauber badged Ilmor engine bolted into their C12 chassis and backing from Mercedes-Benz. No they most certainly did not. They brought with them a wealth of racing experience.

Sauber had a past life, one which existed since the 1970s. It was a life of a different kind, but just as thrilling. I’m going to take you back in time, before 1993.

Before Formula One, Sauber raced Sportscars. Before Formula One, Sauber won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Peter Sauber began building sportscars in the 1970s. He would in the next decade go on to run turbo-charged Mercedes V8 engines as Sauber became the official Mercedes-Benz factory team.

In his parents basement, Peter Sauber built the C1. It was made of a tubular frame and powered by a Ford Cosworth engine. He drove it in the 1970 Hillclimb championships, but it was Friedrich Hurzeler who drove the same model to victory in 1974.

Sauber had, in 1973, built three C3 spec chassis for their customers. This was designed by Guy Boisson and competed predominantly in the Swiss Sportscar Championship. In 1975 Boisson was joined by Edy Wiss and together they created the first aluminium chassis. This was called the C4 and only one was ever produced.

The Sauber C5 was next and it carried a two litre BMW engine. Driven by Herbert Miller the car won the 1976 Interserie Championship. It was in the following two years that the C5 would see action at the greatest race in the world. Sauber entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1977 driven by Swiss pair Eugen Strahl and Peter Bernhard the car led its class before retiring. The following year they returned with the same two drivers being joined by Marc Surer who would go on to make 82 Grand Prix starts in Formula One. Unfortunately they succumbed again to the gruelling race and had to retire the car.

The focus changed for the team and Sauber began to build chassis for Lola Formula Two cars. Their three drivers finished first, second and fourth in 1979. One driver would become a team manager and later team principal for the A1GP Team Switzerland, Max Welti.

Together with Welti, Peter Sauber developed the M1 Sportscars and in 1981 they would see the car win the 1000km Nurburgring driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck and Nelson Piquet. The team were still involved at Le Mans that year. They entered their BMW M1 as Wurth-Lubrifilm Team Sauber. The car driven by Dieter Quester, Marc Surer and David Deacon would sadly face the same fate as their previous attempts and not finish.

Sauber would return to sportscar racing in 1982 with the C6. It was the first car to be tested in a wind tunnel and they had teamed up in sponsorship with BASF. It was during these tests that Peter Sauber built a friendship with Leo Ress who would become an important part of their journey into Formula One.

The team once again returned to the legendary French race in 1982 as supplying the chassis for the BASF Cassetten Team GS Sport using a Ford Cosworth, four litre, V8 engine inside its Sauber SHS C6. Both cars did not finish and so it was onto 1983.

As a team again in their own right, the Sauber Team Switzerland pitted their C7 with BMW M88, three and a half litre engine up against the dominant Porsche’s. This task was given to Diego Montoya, Tony Garcia and Albert Naon. The team finished 9th overall, a remarkable achievement given the performance of the Porsche cars in the day.

It was in 1985 that Sauber teamed up with Mercedes-Benz.

The team won the 1989 World Sportscar Championship with a Mercedes-Benz M119, five litre turbo V8 engine. Their drivers who made this winning transition were Jean-Louis Schlesser, Jochen Mass, Mauro Baldi and Kenny Acheson. In their cars they won every race but the Dijon-Prenois race.

1989 would also offer the greatest of all victories. After trying for a decade, Peter Sauber’s Mercedes-Benz “Silver Arrows” would conquer the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The C9 would finish first and second with the #63 car driven by Jochen Mass, Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens finishing five laps in front of its sister car the #61 driven by Mauro Baldi, Kenny Acheson and Gianfranco Brancatelli. The third Sauber C9 of Jean-Louis Schlesser, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Alain Cudini would also finish fifth.

Sauber had achieved something that for the last decade had eluded them. They were now written in history as winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The success would not stop there and in 1990 they retained their title in the World Sportscar Championship but this time they were joined by two, young stars. Karl Wendlinger and Michael Schumacher. Wendlinger would win at Spa and Schumacher in Mexico. Michael Schumacher would also finish second at Dijon-Prenois and the Nurburgring. Two stars were born. They returned in 1991 but this was not a championship winning season but they still managed wins in the C1 class with Schumacher and Wendlinger at Autopolis.

Whether your journey started when Sauber were in Formula One or if you remember the heady days of sportscar racing, it is with a warm smile and glint in the eye that we can look back and say thank you.

Through their highs and lows, their smiles and tears there is one thing they will not be taking away from Sauber’s history and that is they are winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Thank you to Peter Sauber for sharing his dream with us. Thank you for sharing the “C” models which have bore the letter of your wife Christiane throughout the years. Thank you for giving us Sauber.

Thank you for the memories.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

BMW-Sauber: A Love Story That Didn’t Last Long

Sunday, 16 March 2008 Australian Grand Prix Albert Park Melbourne Australia. Nick Heidfeld (GER) in the BMW Sauber F1.08 This image is copyright free for editorial use © BMW AG

|

 

BMW-Sauber: A love story which didn’t last long

BMW (Bavarian Motors Wors) made its first appearance into the world of Formula 1 in the 1950s and 1960s. Their history as an engine supplier started in 1982, where BMW supplied the Brabham team, which was owned by Bernie Ecclestone. The result of this agreement was Nelson Piquet’s victory in the Canadian Grand Prix in 1982.

The following year, Nelson Piquet won the Drivers’ Championship with the BMW-powered Brabham BT52.

At the same time, BMW also supplied ATS, Arrows, Benetton and Ligier with the BMW M12/13 inline-four turbocharged engine. The M12/13 was producing more than 1350 bhp.

A few years later, Brabham decided to withdraw from F1 and BMW also withdrew their official engines. Arrows was still supplied by BMW with engines but under the “Megatron” badge.

Robert Kubica BMW Sauber F1.07

Andrian Newey’s decision to move from Williams to McLaren in 1998 and also Renault’s decision to quit from Formula 1 at the same season, left the Williams exposed. Renault was Williams’s engine-supplier since 1989.

Williams had to look for a new engine supplier and BMW was the ideal candidate for that time. In 1999 Williams made a six-year agreement with BMW, with one condition: that they had to have a German driver in their team. Hence, Williams announced Ralf Schumacher as their driver. The following season, R. Schumacher and P. Montoya won four Grand Prix with the FW23, and Williams finished third in the Championship. In 2003, Williams achieved to finish second in the Constructors’ standings and Montoya finished third in the Drivers’ Championship with four victories. It was one of the most successful seasons for BMW-Williams.

The June of the same year, Williams and BMW agreed to extend their deal until 2009. But whilst everyone waiting for better results, Williams performance dropped rapidly and they finished fourth at that season and fifth in 2005.

The results created a crack, between Williams and BMW. In June 2005 Frank Williams said to Autosport: “Our partnerships in the past with Renault and Honda have been more successful and co-operative, you never had this constant finger-pointing. We do not constantly ask why BMW had some 150 engine failures in 2000 alone.”

BMW took the decision to start their own team in Formula 1, and they made an offer to purchase Williams, but they refused their offer. Hence, BMW had to aim at another team. This team was Sauber.

That summer, BMW spend $100 million to acquire 80% of Sauber. The teams split their responsibilities, Sauber had to design the chassis and run wind tunnel test in their Hinwil factory, while BMW was responsible for the design of the engine.

The following season, 2006, Sauber-BMW signed a deal with Nick Heidfeld who used to race for Williams. Jacques Villeneuve joined him and the two were the main drivers for Sauber, whilst Robert Kubica signed a deal as the third driver.

The first results were not satisfied and many assumed that BMW used Formula 1 in order to test technologies which they could transfer to their public cars.

Villeneuve scored the first points for Sauber in the second race of the season, in Malaysia. The next race was held in Australia, Nick Heidfeld finished fourth, ahead of his team-mate. In Hungary, Robert Kubica replaced Villeneuve and since then Robert remained as the second driver for the rest of the season. Two podium finishes followed that season, the first one was in Hungary, where Heidfeld finished third. The second podium achieved by Kubica in Italy, where the Polish driver finished 3rd.

At that year, Sauber finished fifth in the Construction’s standings, ahead of Toyota.

The following year, Villeneuve announced his departure from Sauber and Kubica was his official replacement. It was Sebastian Vettel’s turn to sign a deal with Sauber as a reserve driver.

BMW-Sauber considered as the third most powerful team on the grid, behind Ferrari and McLaren. Nick Heidfeld started the season with three consecutive fourth-place finishes, whilst his team-mate Kubica had three top-four finishes and three retirements in that season.

Heidfeld finished twice on the podium. In Canada, he finished second, while in Hungary he finished third. Also, Vettel finished eighth in the USA.

In 2007, Sauber-BMW finished 2nd in the championship and scored 101 points.

Sauber’s second position and high performance in 2007 set the bar high for the next season. Everyone in the team hoped that either Heidfeld or Kubica will manage to win at least one race during the season.

In the season premiere in Australia, Nick Heidfeld finished second, and just a race later, in Malaysia, it was Kubica’s turn to finish second and score another podium for the team.

Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber F1.07

In Canada, Sauber-BMW felt for the first time, how it is to be a winner. Robert Kubica qualified second, behind Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren and at the end of the race he managed to take the chequered flag first, a year on from a horror crash at the same circuit. Nick Heidfeld, started the race from the eighth position, but he finished behind his team-mate and they scored the first 1-2 for Sauber-BMW.

At the end of the season, BMW-Sauber finished third, behind Ferrari and McLaren.

In 2009, BMW-Sauber faced some serious problems. Before the start of the season, Sauber hoped that they can challenge Ferrari and McLaren for the title, but the season didn’t go as they planned.

The team focused on the new regulations and the tried to upgrade their aerodynamic package and also invested almost everything into the KERS system. The results were disappointing, at the first half of the season, BMW-Sauber had less than ten points. New upgraded packages for Kubica and Heidfeld never arrived, due to some huge financial issues.

All these issues meant the team was only 6th in the constructors championship and relationships between Sauber and BMW were not the same as they used to be.

In July, of the same year, BMW announced their departure from Formula 1 and the German group decided to focus on the commercial sales and improve the quality and design of their commercial cars.

Sauber took the decision to buy BMW’s shares and in 2010 Formula 1 decided to allow to Sauber to race in F1.

“When I decided to take over, I had to make the decision in a short period of time, I was led purely by my gut feelings, which is something you should try to avoid. If it was a purely logical decision, you wouldn’t have done it, but, in the end, I didn’t have a choice because Hinwil would have been closed down.” Sauber said.

Now Sauber uses Ferrari’s engines and their two drivers are Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.

At this point I would like to thank BMW for their help and also to mention that all the pictures are courtesy of BMW.

Victor Archakis @FP_Passion