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.
Photo Credits: (c) Sauber – D. Reinhard