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

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