The fifth round of the 2017 Formula 1 championship beckons this weekend with the paddock descending on Barcelona for the start of the “European” leg of the F1 calendar. The trip to Circuit de Catalunya will see Sauber F1 introduce an aerodynamic upgrade to the car, as they hope to open their points tally at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The circuit should not spring any surprises given that its layout has been favoured for testing during the winter and both drivers are eager to see how the developments will pan out over the weekend as we head into busy period of the season:
“We will also bring first modifications to the car, which we will then enhance and further develop within the next GPs. I am looking forward to this weekend being confident that we make another step in the right direction.”
“Considering the race weekend, it will be important for us to introduce some new aerodynamic parts on the car. I am positive that we can further develop the car in order to make progress, and thus improve the performance on track.”
Despite being a well-known circuit, given the extensive testing that takes place there, Barcelona can be tricky to set up for, given the cornering speed differentials seen at different points on the circuit layout. Downforce is an area that Sauber had struggled with in 2016 and hope to improve upon this weekend as the circuit places great emphasis on this area. Both drivers have chosen to go with 2 Hard Tyres, 4 Medium and 7 Softs for the race weekend.
Although the team is at a slight power differential, running the 2016 Ferrari power unit, by introducing upgrades alongside the other teams in 2017, they are light years beyond the gloom that faced them at this point in 2016. While Sauber may not necessarily score any points this weekend, we think the positive steps at Hinwil will see them ending the European leg with points in the kitty.
Despite the 2017 F1 season still being in its infancy, one team has already raised their proverbial hand in respect of the 2018 season.
The on-track action at Sochi saw both Sauber drivers struggle all weekend, however Marcus Ericsson put on, what Monisha Kaltenborn described as, a fighting performance, to finish in fifteenth place ahead of team mate Pascal Wehrlein who brought home the car in sixteenth place.
It was however the off-track activity that garnered attention after the Swiss outfit announced that they would part ways with long time partner Ferrari in favour of a new engine supplier in 2018—Honda.
Honda, who have faced a barrage of detractors this season including two-time world champion and incumbent McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso are looking forward to the challenge that Sauber will bring, according to Katsuhide Moriyama, Chief Officer, Brand and Communication Operations for Honda.
Kaltenborn likewise sees this as yet another milestone in the storied history of the independent team, who celebrate 25 years in F1 during this 2017 season. The move is in line with changes envisioned by the new ownership of the popular team.
While a feature-length debate could be made about the decision and the advantages and disadvantages to both sides, it has led to an interesting, albeit early look at possible 2018 driver line up.
THE McLAREN SIDE AND OTHER MOVES
Kaltenborn has not confirmed any links with the McLaren team; however, if history is to be relied on then it is possible that McLaren may supply Sauber with a gearbox and technical knowledge. This could lead to a driver placement, akin to that utilised by the Mercedes team in recent years. Two names stand out as far as McLaren are concerned:
NYCK DE VRIES
The 22-year-old McLaren Development driver, who is managed by one Anthony Hamilton, is currently racing in the Formula 2 series for Rapax and had been considered for the Ferrari GT programme, but McLaren had retained the faith in their protégé, keeping him in single seaters.
It is faith that seems well-placed, albeit with just the Bahrain F2 round complete, with De Vries finishing in the points in both races, and ahead of his very experienced teammate, giving him 9th place in the championship standings.
Why could De Vries make the hypothetical jump to F1 in 2018? For one, he is incredibly quick and a fast learner who could slot in a role next to the more experienced Ericsson (who is fancied to be retained) with ease. In Hamilton, he has a manager who is au faire with the ever-evolving animal that is the F1 paddock and who could make the transition an easier one that most.
His Dutch nationality could also count in his favour: ever since the arrival of Max Verstappen and the entrance of Heineken into F1, the Netherlands has seen an upsurge in the popularity of the sport, which can only be an advantage to De Vries.
The 2014 LMP2 Le Mans winner is a favourite in the motorsport world and is McLaren’s test driver having been signed in 2012, and is spending the 2017 season in the Formula E series with NextEV NIO.
Turvey’s racing acumen holds him in excellent stead for a possible entry into F1 and he has the intelligence to take on the technical side given that his Masters dissertation is based on F1 aerodynamics. Turvey will bring a wealth of racing knowledge to a team and would need very little time to learn the dynamics of F1.
SHAKEN AND STIRRED?
The Sauber Honda partnership has the potential to shake up other driver moves. The current lineup of Ericsson and Wehrlein have not been paired together for very long, given the latter’s slow recovery from injury.
Ericsson has carried the proverbial can at Sauber through the very difficult seasons of late and is expected to be retained by the Hinwil team as a reward for his hard work.
Wehrlein is the heir-apparent at the Mercedes team, albeit only after and if Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas leave the team. If neither of them do in 2018, his position in the Sauber team would fall under the spotlight. Wehrlein is a talented driver but has been unsettled in F1 with the Manor team falling out of the sport and the Sauber 2018 decision.
In the hypothetical scenario of a McLaren man at Sauber-Honda, could Wehrlein be moved to another Mercedes engine team? The simple answer is an obvious yes, but at whose cost? Esteban Ocon has been placing well for the Force India-Mercedes team and has impressed hugely thus far.
Williams have the unique dynamic of Felipe Massa, who retired and then emerged to replace the moving Bottas, and the rookie Lance Stroll. Wehrlein could conceivably replace Massa at Williams, if the proverbial powers that be are happy to pair relative “rookies” together.
If Wehrlein leaves Sauber, it seems likely that his best fit would be at Williams, rather than upsetting the good pair Force India.
The crystal ball of F1 is one that is foggy at the best of times. Sauber’s decision is not merely confined to that of an engine supplier (which is a debate for another time). It has the potential to affect the driver market much like a domino ripple. In a sport where tenure is as certain as a few seasons ago, this thought, we can assure you, is not lost on the drivers, even this early in 2017.
Sauber have always been the dreamers and chance takers of F1 and the Honda decision is no different. All that remains to be seen is who will take this jump with them.
History has special significance in the world of Formula One.
A comprehensive list of special history making feats is a story for another time, instead and in celebration of the Williams F1 team, we look at their part in the careers of two drivers who each form one part of the only two father and son combinations to have won drivers titles; Damon Hill and Nico Rosberg.
What else can be said about the son of F1 Champion Graham Hill except for legendary. For many, Hill will forever trigger memories of the blue and white colour’s of the Rothmans Williams team, with whom he won his title in 1996. It was the combination of Frank Williams & Patrick Head that gave Hill, then 33, a seat and rest, as they say, is history.
Hill spent 3 seasons will Williams, culminating in his historic title win during the 1996 season. But it was his steadfast determination, guts and tough skin that saw him move from spinning out in his first race to taking three victories by seasons end in 1993.
1994 will forever be remembered as modern F1’s darkest year, the year we lost Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. Senna had been Hill’s teammate and at the wheel of the Williams during the San Marino Grand Prix. Hill, through the storm cloud of grief and anger that fell over F1, lead the team as team leader through what remains a painful wound on the soul of F1 and finished 2nd in the championship to Michael Schumacher.
1995 proved difficult for Hill, but in 1996 he would prove his detractors wrong, by cementing his place in history and becoming Drivers World Champion. While it would prove to be his last with Williams, Hill rewarded the faith that Sir Frank had placed in him, which would be repeated with another driver many years later.
The reigning world champion retired at the end of the 2016 season to the sadness of many of his fans. While his title was achieved under the banner of the Mercedes F1 team, like Hill, Rosberg too had Williams place faith in his young talent.
The son of F1 champion Keke Rosberg, began his career at the Williams team in 2006. His exploits in the Engineering aptitude test aside, Rosberg spent 4 seasons with the team and immediately broke a record in the first season, becoming the then youngest driver to set a fastest lap.
In 2008 he scored his first podium in F1 and also lead a Grand Prix for the first time under the floodlights of Singapore, which ultimately saw him finish in 2nd place.
2009 and his final season, Rosberg single handedly gave Williams 6th place in the constructors championship, earning every point for his team.
Williams had placed faith in a rookie driver, who relied on his intelligence and skill, much like Hill, and gave him a break into F1. More importantly, they kept him in the team based on his skill before he moved to Mercedes and his eventual title.
What, you may ask, is Williams role in these history making title wins? The answer to that is simple: Williams have over their many years in F1 looked to nurture talent and break boundaries by placing their faith in drivers who they could see the bigger brighter future with.
Williams have always had a firm place in the hearts of most drivers for the way in which Sir Frank was unapologetic for his choices in drivers, even when the paddock questioned him. You may say, “well they would have probably got a drive elsewhere”.
They didn’t, their drives were with Williams. The tenure of an F1 driver is one of the most uncertain things about the sport and many a rookie is simply not given the time and support to prove his worth. Williams put faith in both Hill and Rosberg, supported them and saw them gain the experience that was necessary to take their respective eventual titles.
That’s arguably all a driver wants… and a fast car of course!
Sauber signaled the start of what is purported to be a bold new era in F1, with the launch of the C36, their 2017 car.
The livery is striking to say the least and has resulted in more positivity around the Sauber pre-season than has been seen in previous seasons. The blue, white and gold colour combination has reminded many of an era gone by, which is fitting for the 25th year tribute car.
Marcus Ericsson, who has been entrusted with another year with the team, took the car out in sunny Barcelona for Sauber’s official filming day and was happy with the car’s handling.
What do we know?
The 2017 regulations necessitated several changes to the cars, the interpretation of the application of these changes, as expected differ from team to team.
Sauber have utilised the 2016 Abu Dhabi Ferrari power train and explain that the aim is to achieve maximum durability of the powertrain.
A surprise is the direction toward a reduction in weight despite the over weight limit being increased for 2017. Sauber have explained that the radiators, side pods and like have been designed to be as slim as possible.
The point of this you may ask? Simply put the wider tyres (25% wider than in 2016) and the larger front and rear wings could lead to much more drag. Sauber have worked on reducing the drag coefficient by slimming the C36 as much as reasonably possible.
The 4 cylinder engine revs up to 15 000 rpm with a single turbo in each vehicle.
Sauber, with the welcome addition of new sponsors and Longbow Finance, have built the C36 from scratch and will be keen on seeing how Ericsson and Anto Giovinazzi get on with the car in pre-season testing. Giovinazzi is standing in for Pascal Werhlein, the new addition to the Sauber team for 2017, replacing Felipe Nasr, injured his back at the Race of Champions.
If positivity could be turned into points, Sauber are already in the pound seats (pun intended) already. For the first time in 3 seasons, there is a palpable feeling that Sauber will spring a surprise or two as only Sauber can.
If one had to pick a team that became, in the first part of the season at least, the personification of the rollercoaster that is F1, it would have to be the Scuderia Toro Rosso (STR).A change in power unit decision saw a quickly prepared car for the longest season in F1 history. That would be the least of the major changes for the much-loved fan favorite team in 2016.
ALL SYSTEMS GO:
STR started the season with Spanish driver Carlos Sainz and the “kid wonder” Max Verstappen who both immediately got into the swing of things, with a double points finish in Australia, bringing up the last two points paying positions.
As the team rolled on into Bahrain, the Dutch driver brought home the STR in a strong 6th place, ahead of the more fancied teams, which in hindsight was a precursor for the year to come… but more on that later. Sainz however found himself on the end of a retirement, which be bounced back from in China, with a strong 9th place just behind his teammate. The significance of China was not just their finishing positions, but the fights with Mercedes, Ferrari and their bigger sister Red Bull.
Russia 2016 and the infamous “Torpedo-gate” fallout would change the 2016 landscape for STR. The race itself saw a non-finish for both cars, but it was the going-on’s with their former driver Daniil Kvyat in the RBR that would prove to be the bigger issue for the team.
A collision between Sebastian Vettel and Kvyat saw the Russian face a tirade of criticism and the extraordinary decision was taking to move him back to STR and replace him with Verstappen in a Red Bull team swop.
Kvyat went from villain to hero as many F1 fans and pundits supported him, during what was a difficult phase for the young star.
OLD FRIENDS REUNITE:
Sainz and Kvyat had started their professional racing careers together and their reunion at the Spanish Grand Prix saw STR bring home a double points finish with Sainz in a magnificent 6th place and Kvyat in 10th. STR had double reason to celebrate as former driver Verstappen took the win to become the youngest man to win an F1 race.
Kvyat’s “other” home race, like so many drivers is the playground of Monaco. Unfortunately luck did not favour the Russian as a crash with Kevin Magnussen saw him retire. Sainz on the other hand brought the STR home in 8th place.
The Canadian Grand Prix saw Sainz power his way from 20th to 9th which, considering the nature of the Montreal track, was as good as a win in his books. Kvyat meanwhile continued with a difficult run of form ending the race 12th.
Not having any major team shifts for the rest of the season the STR results were:
Austria: Sainz 8th Kvyat – Retired due to mechanical failure
Silverstone: Sainz again 8th while a happy Kvyat brought the car home in 10th
Hungary: Sainz in what must have felt like his customary 8th place wth Kvyat in 16th
Germany: Sainz 14th and Kvyat 15th in a race which saw the lower speed of the STR catch them out
Belgium: Sainz 15th and Kvyat retired
Singapore: Sainz 14th after being hit by a flying Force India and Kvyat a happy 9th
Malaysia – Sainz P11 and Kvyat P 14
Japan – Sainz P 17 and Kvyat P13 both suffered from the STR’s speed deficits compared to their rivals
USA – Sainz P6 and Kvyat 12th on a day in which the Spanish driver staked a claim for driver of the day
Mexico – Sainz P16 and Kvyat P18
LAST THROW OF THE DICE:
Brazil saw a rain dance of note work for Sainz as he crossed the line in 6th place following one of the most bizarre races in F1 history. Kvyat finished P13 after the stop go nature of the race did not suit him
Abu Dhabi was a curtain call to forget as both drivers retired from the race, ending this chapter of F1 for the STR as they, and the other teams march to a new look F1 in 2017.
With both drivers confirmed for 2017 (unless a Rosberg style announcement is made), STR find themselves enjoying the perfect balance of youth and experience. The 2017 boost in engine power should see this team challenge for a podium or two in the not to distant future.
There had been a feeling in the air prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix that the mystery box challenge of the Interlagos track could offer Sauber F1 their first points of the season. On Sunday, that feeling turned into reality as Sauber put aside the struggles of 2016 and celebrated the lifeline of a points finish.
A TALE OF TWO RACES
It serendipitously fell to Brazilian Felipe Nasr, who has had a bad year by his own admission, to bring home the C35 in 9th place and 2 points which takes the Swiss team above Manor in the Constructors Championship and a potential £30 million payout in 2017 if they remain there after the season ender in Abu Dhabi.
The race itself could best be described as organized chaos with multiple red flags in dreadful conditions and multiple crashes as the Brazilian weather lived up to its reputation. While the entire team celebrated the success, it was a tale of two races as Marcus Ericsson crashed out early while on intermediate tyres.
The Swedish driver had up to this point in the season looked the more likely to score Sauber’s points, coming painfully close in Mexico with an excellent 11th place. Ericsson, like many others in the field stopped early to switch to intermediate tyres and looked well on to push for points until a slight touch of the white line before the main straight saw him crash heavily, with the car coming to a rest across the pit entry.
Ericsson, long considered one of the best team players in F1, promised that we would see a “Swedish driver on a mission in Abu Dhabi:
“I am very disappointed. However, Felipe did a great job today scoring two very important points for us. This is great for everyone in the team. I will fight back at the final race of the season at the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi.”
The day however belonged to Nasr who, one a different strategy, remained on the wet tyres and running high up in the points before the multiple stops thereafter. Despite the relatively less engine power of the C35, he held firm for much of the race, only dropping to 9th place toward the end. He was ecstatic:
“I have no words to say how happy I am at the moment. When I saw the weather forecast for today, I knew it could be an opportunity. The opportunity came, and I was ready to go for it. We did an exceptional job today. The team was great informing me about the track conditions, while I was giving them my feedback. It was a tricky race, as the track conditions were very difficult at some points. In the end it was just an incredible feeling”
An emotional Monisha Kaltenborn underlined the importance of these points for the team and fans around the world, many of whom had feared that the Hinwil based outfit would not have made it through this 2016 season.
Abu Dhabi is a very different challenge from Brazil and Sauber would only need to finish ahead of Manor to secure 10th place in the championship. The intervention of Longbow Finance and the possibility of FOM finances next season will go a long way to assuage the fears of the team.
But that is 2017, and for now Sauber are basking in the glory that was Brazil 2016.
A famous television character once said “I love it when a plan comes together”, and the Sauber F1 team would be feeling as if their plan is slowly coming together with the appointment of a new technical director, a strong showing in Mexico and a “home-coming” at this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
Brazil is home to both driver Felipe Nasr and Sauber’s sponsor partner, Banco do Brazil, making the penultimate race of the 2016 season something of a home-coming – one at which they hope to go one position better than in Mexico, where a resilient Marcus Ericsson brought home the C35 in 11th place, just one place out of the points.
Interlagos is a beloved track to the F1 community, due in large part to the technical nature of the circuit which demands both engine power along the two straights and precision braking through the tighter sections. The ever-present possibility of rain makes it a tricky task, but does raise the possibility of points for the taking for both Sauber drivers.
The Autodromo José Carlos Pace requires specific key set up areas that Sauber have identified as engine power, traction and braking performance. The hard tyre makes a return to the Brazil after three years which will bring the possibility of fewer pit stops, weather providing of course.
Both drivers are using the same tyre compounds: one hard, five medium and seven softs, but as the last few races have shown there should be different strategies for both men. Nasr especially will be hoping for a better run of things at home, after the struggles of late.
Almost there! That must surely be the exclamation at the Sauber F1 team factory in Hinwil, after the Swiss team teetered on the edge of their first points finish of the season at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
Both drivers put in a strong performance with Felipe Nasr finishing crossing the line in 16th place, but moved up to 15th after the addition of a late penalty. The Brazilian driver opted for an aggressive strategy at the start, which he had hoped would leap frog him up the order, but which was ultimately undone by the safety car period that bunched the field again.
Nasr opted for a 1 stop strategy which saw him change from the medium compound to the super soft tyre after an impressive 49 laps. He is looking forward to his home race and the possibility of points at the ever tricky Interlagos:
“…I had a damaged front wing as well as a turning vane, which compromised the lap times. Now it is time to think about the next race in Brazil. It is always a great feeling getting back home and racing in Interlagos.”
But ultimately the day belonged to Marcus Ericsson, the Swedish driver putting in what he called his best drive in F1, and it would be hard to disagree.
While he might not have scored points, his 11th place was perhaps, on this occasion, worth far more in the long run. The heart of many a fan skipped a beat when Ericsson suffered, what looked to be a race ending collision at the start when he became the unfortunate collateral damage in an incident involving Manor.
But a quick nose change in the pits and change of tyre saw the Swedish driver head back out and work his way back up the field by sheer determination and skill. Despite a broken floor, Ericsson carried his car to 11th place and the very edge of the points for the first time this season.
The drive will put many of the naysayers on the proverbial back foot as Ericsson has again proven that he can extract the maximum out of the car on his 1 stop race, running a set of tyres from the 2nd lap and pushing forward despite setbacks:
“We kept on going, and I managed to get back into the rhythm, so the pace was still good. Today we were close to the points, but just not close enough. We as a team take a lot of positives from this weekend. It shows again that we are taking steps in the right direction. We will fight back in Brazil.”
Yes, while Sauber can take heart from the performance, they do need to score at least a point in one of the last two races of the season. The rain in Brazil often throws up an interesting race and perhaps the chips will finally fall correctly for Sauber.
Fresh from the news that Dany Kvyat will stay on to partner Carlos Sainz in 2017, Toro Rosso had further reason to celebrate come race day as the Spanish driver stormed his way to an impressive 5th place at the Circuit of the Americas.
Formula 1 fans welcomed the news that Kvyat would be retained next season, after what has been a year for him to mostly forget. The Russian driver, safe in the knowledge that he would deservedly remain at the pinnacle of motorsport, looked to get close to the points based on the practice session running. Unfortunately, the day did not go exactly per plan.
Kvyat had a tangle with Sergio Perez saw him receive a 10 second penalty which forced a strategy change which he ultimately attributed to his finish spot:
“we then had to switch to a one-stop race after getting a 10-second penalty for my incident with Perez during the first lap. This compromised our race”
He however was pleased with certain aspects of his race:
“I have to say we did a very long stint on the Medium tyre and the management was very good. It’s just a shame that we lost the opportunity to fight for some more points today.”
With just three races left in 2016, Kvyat, more than the other drivers it can be argued, will be happy to see the final flag, hopefully with a few points in the bag.
The only thing that made his superb 6th place drive better for the Spanish driver was the wheel to wheel fight with his idol Fernando Alonso:
The battle with Fernando was so much fun! I knew that he would end up getting past me but I said to myself, ‘let’s make it a bit complicated for him!’ I perfectly know how he attacks and how to defend against him, as I’ve been watching him race for the past 12 years… And I think that to be able to keep him behind for all those laps until he just opened the DRS and said ‘ciao, ciao’ was pretty decent!
The impressive element was not just how well Sainz held the race together, but especially the final few laps in which his tyres barely held on to the flag. The driver was clearly and justifiably excited after the race and the infectious feeling will boost the team into the final three races:
“Today’s result is a very special one for myself and the team, it’s a top, top, TOP result!! What a boost and what a way to motivate the team and keep our heads up until the end of the season! I don’t know what this track has, but I just get such a good feeling every time I race here!”
With all well in the TR camp, unlike some of their unsettled rivals, namely Williams, the team can focus on maximizing the full potential of their Ferrari engine car and, of course, the points that come along with it.
Texas 2015 saw Sauber F1 team celebrate their 400th GP with a 9th place points haul for Felipe Nasr. Given that they are the only team yet to score this season, the team would be very happy to have the same result, if not better this year as the paddock heads to the back to back American leg of the F1 calendar.
The track will see the supersofts tyre being introduced for the first time which should throw the proverbial cats among the pigeons on a circuit that is already a difficult one with a tough combination of both fast and slow corners.
Tyre choices: 1 Medium – 5 Soft – 7 Super soft
The Swedish driver has been enjoying the sights and sounds of the Austin playground as seen by his social media posting in recent days. A mechanical issue caused him to retire from the race last year and he is looking forward to redeeming himself this weekend:
“I believe we all remember the rather unusual United States Grand Prix due to the heavy rain in 2015. I am looking forward to going back this year, as I like this track a lot. It is a nice event at the circuit, and, as well as that, Austin is a great place to be”.
Tyre choices: 1 Medium – 5 Soft – 7 Supersoft
Nasr, claimed a memorable 9th place in 2015 and has fond memories of the COTA track.
“Last year’s United States Grand Prix was quite eventful, as the weather conditions led to an exciting race. Finishing in P9 was a nice achievement, bearing in mind that it was the 400th GP for Sauber. Thinking about this year, I am very much looking forward to racing on this great track again. I will do the best I can for us to achieve a similar result to last year, as scoring points is obviously our objective”.
Sauber have just 4 races left in which to score the first points of the season. The COTA track had been kind to them last year, albeit which they did not experience the same setbacks as 2016, and they are hoping that a sneaky point might be on the offer.