But, the team’s new Technical Director for 2017, Jorg Zander, has stated in a recent Q&A released by Sauber themselves, he wishes for the team to “establish [them]selves in the mid-field.” This comes after Sauber endured its 2nd worst season (only surpassed by the infamous 2014) since their inception in 1994.
Zander said, if the team is to reach this “optimistic” goal in 2017, it will rely on a successful implementation of a “development plan.” However, one of the drawbacks to this is the lack of high quality data next to midfield teams. Instead, the team’s “reference is at a lower level than the ones of our competitors,” putting them on the back foot from day one.
However, things are already looking more positive for the team, and a reassuring Zander said the team “are on plan with the C36,” and “current development is heading in the right direction.”
If everything is on target like Zander says, then Sauber’s 2017 car, the C36, will make its on-track debut during February’s pre-season tests. The 2016 season was somewhat marred by the failure to reach this goal,. The absence of Sauber’s car from the first 2016 pre-season test in Barcelona cost the team up to four days of development over their rivals.
Missing tests, actually, became somewhat of a running gag in 2016 as monetary concerns led the team to also pass up on two, four day, in-season tests following the Spanish and British Grand Prix’s respectively. Regulations say four of these eight testing days must be completed using a development driver and Sauber’s strained financial situation meant they couldn’t afford to hire one, illustrating the peril they suffered through.
In fact, before the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix, the future of Sauber looked uncertain as reports of unpaid salaries refused to go away. Fortunately, sponsorship deals with Chinese gaming companies were hastily made and the team was guaranteed to see out 2016.
But, a fully backed 2017 campaign wasn’t made certain until the penultimate round of the 2016 season, held in Interlagos, Brazil. Hometown hero, Felipe Nasr, finished 9th, scoring the team’s solitary two points for the season. Such a result meant they jumped fierce rivals, Manor F1 Team, in the Constructors Championship – earning upward of 30 million USD in the process.
“After the frustrations and fears of the recent turbulence, everyone is now much more motivated,” Zander admitted. “The team wants change, stability and direction and that is what we strive to achieve together.”
Although it will be possible to gain stability and direction in 2017, results could be a little harder than usual. The financial strain of 2016 left a large indent in the team, forcing them to seek out a 2016 Ferrari power supply for 2017 to help cut costs. This will also have no in-season development.
Zander, however, isn’t overly worried, remarking, “at the beginning of the season the chassis, as well as the reliability, will make the difference.” History could also be his ally in the case, as a hit-the-ground-running mentality helped kickstart Sauber’s 2015 campaign. Whilst other teams and manufacturers were still ironing out kinks, Sauber were ready and waiting. Thus, in the opening round, held in Melbourne, Australia, the team scored a 5th and 8th place out of the 11 finishers.
Unsurprisingly, Zander sounds very optimistic about repeating such a similar result. (Sauber did score those 2015 points after a 2014 season that produced none). Plus, 2017 promises to be a true surprise as the sport dabbles with unknown limits of downforce. Zander believes Sauber is “a name in Formula One that can spring surprises once in a while,” but will they spring one in 2017, and will they really reach the mid-field?