A soft spot for Sauber

 

If there's one team in the paddock that continue to surprise me, it's Sauber. A relatively small and independent Swiss team working to a budget that pales into comparison to that of Ferrari or McLaren, they continuously achieve results beyond what's expected of them. I think that's one of the main reasons why I'm such a fan of the whole team. Who doesn't like an underdog? We all like to support one and for me Sauber are Formula 1's biggest underdogs.

They entered Formula 1 back in 1993 under the founder-ship of team owner Peter Sauber. They remained as an independent team throughout the 90's, before being sold to BMW in late 2005. During their stint as an independent the team not only went through numerous engine manufacturers and suppliers (Mercedes, Ford, Ferrari), but also some great drivers of the present and future (at the time they raced for the team). Past drivers include Karl Wendlinger, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Johnny Herbert, Jean Alesi, Nick Heidfeld, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jacques Villeneuve. The Formula 1 careers of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen in particular owe a lot to Sauber who gave the then two young drivers a platform into Formula 1 to display their talents. Kimi has since won the World Championship at Ferrari as well as driving for McLaren and now Lotus; and Felipe has gone on to drive for Ferrari for seven consecutive seasons and coming oh so close to the World Championship in 2008.

Under the ownership of BMW, the team had their most successful period in Formula 1, finishing 2nd and 3rd in the constructors standings in 2007 and 2008 respectively. During the 2008 season the team achieved 10 podiums, including their first ever Formula 1 win at Canada with Robert Kubica at the wheel. It was a remarkable really, given that just a year before Kubica had one of the worst crashes in recent memory around the very same circuit. This success didn't last though and in 2009 the team dropped back towards the midfield, only finishing 6th in the standings. BMW made the decision to pull out of the sport, which left the 'Sauber' team looking like they'd be out of Formula 1. They were saved by previous owner Peter Sauber, who bought the team back from BMW and ensured that they'd remain in Formula 1 for at least the following season.

The 2010 season is when I really started to follow Sauber, mainly thanks to one driver. That driver is Kamui Kobayashi.Kamui Kobayashi is a fantastic overtaker and racer. He makes races exciting, sometimes single handedly, by pulling off some great overtaking moves where other drivers simply wouldn't attempt to. He's not afraid of anyone and will even fight with his team mate if needed.

This past weekend in Hockenheim Kamui probably had the best race of his Formula 1 career so far. Starting a disappointing 12th, Kamui eventually worked his way through the field to end up in 4th position (after Vettel's penalty). In many ways it was a typical Kamui and Sauber race. He started on the medium tyre, as he often does, and made up a couple of places during his first stint. Kamui has a knack of often starting on the medium tyre and making it work for him. His second stint is really where he made up his places though, again running on the medium tyre he worked his way through the field, even re-passing team mate Perez. Kobayashi crossed the line in 5th before being promoted to 4th after Vettel's post race time penalty. Throughout the race Kamui pulled the kind of overtakes which have seen him gain so many admirers since he entered the sport. There's no doubt that he's been out-shined by Perez this season, but from time to time we've seen the Kobayashi of old. Well not old, but more like the drives we saw at Toyota and Sauber (see video above).

Kamui Kobayashi is undoubtedly one of the most exciting drivers in Formula 1 today, but his team mate Sergio Perez is arguably more interesting at this moment in time. Big, big things are expected of the young Mexican and I fully believe he can deliver. Right from his first race in Formula 1, it was clear to me that Perez was one to watch. He managed to somehow pull off a one stop strategy when others were on three stops, yet still managed to finish in the points (although Sauber were later disqualified from the race). The way Perez drove in Melbourne was hugely impressive and set the precedence for what has followed. Although he didn't get too many points last season, it was still a very encouraging first season for such a young driver.

The 2012 season though is where Sergio Perez has really stepped up to the mark. His incredible drive at Malaysia earlier this season was one of the best I've ever seen from any driver. He arguably should have won the race and clearly had the pace to do so but it's understandable why Sauber decided that it wasn't worth risking losing a valuable 2nd place for. A 2nd place for a team like Sauber is a fantastic result and one they should be very proud of. They battled with and were quicker than every other car on the day, which for an independent team is remarkable and largely unheard of. Perez and Sauber knew they had a quick car; and a second podium result of the season at Canada proved that. It was yet another fantastic drive from Perez, again showing his tyre management and conservation skills.

Perez is widely tipped to one day drive for Ferrari; and despite Ferrari saying they don't think he's ready for it just yet, I do. I think he's ready. What he's shown in his one and a half years in Formula 1 has been frankly remarkable and it's no coincidence that it's happened at Sauber. The two previous young drivers to come through the ranks at Sauber, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, haven't done too badly have they? The environment created at Sauber is clearly one that allows young drivers to flourish and Perez appears to be the latest in that line. I've got no doubt that he will one day drive for Ferrari (he is part of their Young Driver Academy) and I still wouldn't be surprised to see him there in 2013. Saying that, I believe that if Massa continues his recent (barring Germany) upturn in form, he deserves to stay in that seat for one more year. I feel Perez can only learn more, gain more experience and mature as a driver whilst at Sauber under relatively little pressure. Yes, a lot is expected of him, but he's in a team that aren't expected to be fighting for victory every week and that should allow him to continue displaying his undoubted talent.

Simply put, Sauber are an extremely likeable team. Under new CEO and part owner Monisha Kaltenborn, the team seem to be carrying on in the right direction. They have fantastic facilities, an excellent technical team and under the guidance of Peter Sauber and Kaltenborn, the team seem very settled. She comes across excellently in interviews I've seen; speaking with such sense and understanding of what the team need to do and are capable of This, combined with the two drivers they currently have are the reasons why I can only admire Sauber as much as I do. Their performances this season have been consistently impressive, largely helped by a car that seems to work on all compounds of tyres. Sauber continue to punch above their weight and fight with the big boys of the sport. Ok, they don't have as big a budget as they'd like, but what they do with it is nothing short of amazing. They have the heart, drive and passion that makes Formula 1 what it is. In a way they're a hark back to the old days, where independent teams were what made the sport so appealing. The team have respect throughout the paddock and are well liked and admired by most, if not all. In Kamui Kobayashi they have one of the most exciting drivers there has been in the past 10/15 years; a man who entertains and fascinates every time he takes to the track. Sergio Perez is for me future World Champion material. I wouldn't be surprised to see him win a race with Sauber in the remainder of this season given the speed of him, the Sauber and sheer unpredictability we've seen at some the races this year. It's teams like Sauber and drivers like Kobayashi and Perez that make Formula 1 the best sport in the world.

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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