Why Sauber will fall back in 2013

Not a lot to choose between them

The mid table teams can yo-yo around quite a lot, and I’ve heard many F1 drivers in retirement rue various decisions made to switch teams. Last year Force India finished the season on 69 points and Sauber with just over half as many points on 44. Here is the final table for 2011 and where we are in 2012 right now.

Final Table 2011 3 races to go 2012
1 Red Bull 650 1 Red Bull 407
2 McLaren 497 2 Ferrari 316
3 Ferrari 3
3 McLaren 306
4 Mercedes 165 4 Lotus 263
5 Lotus 73 5 Mercedes 136
6 Force India 69 6 Sauber 116
7 Sauber 44 7 Force India 93
8 Torro Rosso 41 8 Williams 59
9 Williams 5 9 Torro Rosso 21

Quite an interesting read. Although the season is not yet finished there could be a switch between McLaren and Ferrari, but based on the past several races it’s unlikely the others will change. Having said that Mercedes are not developing the car at all and given a couple of very strong results from Sauber they could yet overtake them.

Yet if you go back further than 2011 it is not hard to argue that next year Force India will be better than Sauber.

The drivers for the two teams are nose to tail too.

10 Perez 66
11 Kobayashi 50
12 Hulkenberg 49
13 Di Resta 44

This is then at best very limited move for Hulkenberg and the old adage, ‘better the devil you know’ (as Lotus described their decision to re-sign Raikkonen) is never more true than in F1.

Force India closing in

Sauber have been ahead of Force India all season, and clearly were the mid-ranking team that adapted to the new tyres quicker than the rest with some epic 1 stop races early season that stole a march on the others around them. That initial advantage they have been able to maintain.

However, if you look at the gap between the two over the past 5 races

at the end of Monza S’pore Japan Korea India
Sauber 100 101 116 116 116
Force India 63 75 81 89 93
Difference 37 26 35 27 23

You can argue Perez has had a bit of a nightmare since signing for McLaren, but Kamui scored a 15 point 3rd place in Japan which in a way counters this. Prior to now the closest force India have been was following Valencia when they were 16 points adrift of the Swiss outfit.

Different approaches to a season

The difference between the teams maybe the way they spend their budget. I know Sauber invest more on the concept and early iterations of the car design. This was evident this year particularly with the rule changes banning off throttle blowing of the exhausts.

They developed aero solutions that mimicked the banned technology far better than their rivals with clever exhaust air flows straight from the drawing board. They were so good that even 1 or 2 of the larger teams were copying them.

Force India don’t have quite the creative genius that Sauber do, but they have had more money and given an idea from others they have spent well and caught up as the season has progressed.

As I mentioned above, Sauber exploited early the rule changes from 2011 to 2012, but for 2013 this opportunity is very limited indeed. Force India work out of the old Jordan factory in Silverstone and I’ve been told much of their equipment is due for an upgrade before 2013. Mallya even stated on Monday to the Indian Telegraph that he was considering how best to invest the last tranche of Sahara investment – some $30m plus – identifying equipment and tooling as high on the agenda.

Finance rules – as always

So on to funding. Running an F1 team from a financial perspective is like riding the biggest roller coaster in the world. Take Williams for example, nearly half of their budget this year is from the sponsorship Maldonado brings and were he to leave, knowing the sponsor that would definitely cease immediately as a source of revenue from the team.

Sauber are in a similar predicament. Around half of their budget is from the Carlos Slim the world’s richest man and from his telecom’s company Telmex. it is almost certain they will replace one mexican, Perez, with another, Esteban Gutierrez who is currently their test driver.

This clever succession planning will retain their benefactor and his funds for at least another year. thejudge13 has tracked the difficulties of the Force India boss and benefactor, Vijay Mallya, and the precarious nature of his empire’s finances (“Force India: How the tower of cars will collapse” – LINK). Yet even if the Mallya empire fails, Force India will find a buyer because it is in a far superior state than when Mallya bought its previous incarnation the defunct Spyker.

On the up side for Force India, having a billionaire backer is not the same as having billionaire shareholders and a billionaire (sorry now $800 m’aire) boss who sits on the pit wall. The deals Sauber and Williams strike with their funders tends to be up front and agreed before the season begins. Mallya et al do have the potential to get extra cash into the team on a ‘ when needed’ basis.

So for the purposes of this proposition, regardless of its owners, Force India should be funded no worse and most likely again better than Sauber in 2013.

Reasons to stay

As I alluded to earlier, the natural cycle of F1 alone may mean Force India does better than Sauber in 2013 then add to this the small regulation changes that limits the advantage of Sauber’s inventive design skills. Then we have the better funding and improved tooling and equipment in the pipeline for Force India plus the ‘better the devil you know’ principle.

Were Sauber to lose the funding from Telmex for 2014 they would have to employ 2 pay to drive pilots, anything after the one year contract for Hulkenberg would then be more precarious.

Most interestingly I did hear yesterday that the Force India contract offered to Nico was for 1 year, with an option for the driver to make it 2. If true, this is a very generous offer from a team like Force India and for a driver with only 2 years F1 experience.

Suggesting that Sauber is by default the Ferrari young driver team is somewhat naive. No one has moved from Sauber to Ferrari after Massa 7 years ago. Since then Heidfeld, Kubica, J Villeneuve, Vettel, De la Rosa and Perez have all left the Swiss team – not to Ferrari. 1 Massa swallow doesn’t make a summer.

So why did Hulkenberg leave?

1) It may well be he has been spooked by the Mallya financial trauma’s and fears for the team’s future – he is well read and a rounded young man and unlike others in his team living in the F1 bubble – he probably has a better grasp on the $billions of debt both his bosses are in.

2)It could be that he’s been out of F1 for a year, managed to do a hit and run outperforming his established team mate – time to move on in case the Scot returns the favour next year.

3) If Sauber do appoint rookie Esteban Gutierrez, the Hulk will most likely outperform his team mate again – thus building year on year credibility (I should be a driver’s agent).

Yet I suspect this is not the case. Hulkenberg has received firm assurances direct from Ferrari that he is their man to replace Massa for 2014 and learn his craft further as Alonso’s understudy. If you weigh the pro’s and cons this has to be the influencing factor that has persuaded Nico to jump ship.

A word of caution

Taking Ferrari’s word for anything has not always worked out, ask Alan Jones who had a contract to drive for Ferrari in 1978. When he arrived in Italy he was surprised at the lack of reception from the team. Jones was quietly taken aside and it was explained they had signed Gilles Villeneuve since they gave him a contract and would he mind awfully if they tore their agreement.

Anyway as is the case in F1, when one door closes another often opens. Jones went to Williams just as they were developing the ‘ground effect’ technology and went on to win the driver’s title in 1980.

What is agreed by most in the paddock is that Nico is a potential world champion in the making. On that basis alone ‘the Hulk’ is backing himself whatever the outlook; and more often than not, the cream will rise to the top.

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11 responses to “Why Sauber will fall back in 2013

  1. Please desist from posting such interesting content during office hours. I have work to do and you keep distracting me! 🙂

    • lol. Its like buses, on a good day for comment and analysis – the news comes in 3’s – then nothing.
      Sods law tomorrow when my fingers need a rest – Lauda will sack Brawn, Lewis will then resign for McLaren and Vijay will run out of money (ooops that last one happened already) 😀

  2. Force India work out of the old Jordan factory in Switzerland and I’ve been told much of their equipment is due for an upgrade before 2013

    Does Switzerland have a NN postcode now ? 🙂
    However your main point is more relevant. When EJ went in just before the British GP he didn’t need to be shown round as so little has changed since the place opened in the 90’s. Having been in the Merc site this week, the facilities don’t bear comparison which says a lot for those working at ‘the factory’ for sure..

    Great site btw

    • Like the fact they mentioned equipment and then drone on about being able to monitor Hulk more closely due to the Ferrari Sauber young driver programme – tosh!

  3. Brilliant explanation, thanks for linking back to this article in today’s (Dec. 11) post. Feel free to regularly call attention to older, still-relevant articles for those of us who missed them the first time around!

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