Arguably the most significant development for Sauber in 2017 came after the season had ended.
Following months of speculation, the team confirmed a major new sponsorship and engine branding deal with Alfa Romeo. This arrangement strengthens long-running ties between the team and Alfa Romeo’s fellow Fiat Chrysler Group brand Ferrari, who will continue to supply the team’s engines and throw in development driver Charles Leclerc next year.
Sauber team stats 2017
|Best race result (number)||8 (1)|
|Best grid position (number)||11 (1)|
|Non-classifications (technical/other)||9 (3/6)|
|Laps completed (% of total)||2,040 (84.86%)|
|Laps led (% of total)||0 (0%)|
|Championship position (2016)||10 (10)|
|Championship points (2016)||5 (2)|
|Pit stop performance ranking||10|
However at mid-season Sauber was poised to go in a completely different direction. An engine deal with Honda was announced for 2018. But the move fell apart as Monisha Kaltenborn, who had been team principal for the last five years, was shown the door in June. One month later came the announcement that the Honda deal was off.
The departure of Kaltenborn, who had been with the team since 2000, demonstrates how far the team has split from the previous administration. New team principal Frederic Vasseur is running a squad which looks increasingly like a Ferrari B-team.
This progress was not matched in the team’s on-track performances. Lumbered with year-old power units, Sauber finished tenth in the championship again, but Manor’s departure means that is now last place.
A superb eighth for Pascal Wehrlein in Spain and his tenth place in Azerbaijan were the team’s only points scores. They then continued the unfortunate trend of dropping their sole points-scoring driver (as was the case with Felipe Nasr last year) and retaining Marcus Ericsson, who hasn’t reached the top ten since 2015. Though to be far to Ericsson, he did wave Wehrlein through in Baku when asked.
Sauber found themselves propping up the grid more often than not. The hopes that starting the season with an old engine would give them a solid platform to build on were largely not realised.
It didn’t help matters that Wehrlein missed the opening two rounds due to an injury sustained during the Race of Champions. After returning to the cockpit to test, he then embarked up on the Australian Grand Prix weekend only to withdraw at the 11th hour. Antonio Giovinazzi filled in as best he could despite only driving the track for the first time three hours before qualifying. This was an episode which should have been handled better.
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The pieces are in place for significant progress to be made next year. Besides the Alfa Romeo deal, Sauber also welcomed back technical director Jorg Zander in January. His departure from Audi’s shuttered WEC team didn’t happen early enough for him to influence the design of the 2017 car, but he quickly set about preparing the team for 2018.
While they didn’t make good on their goal of establishing themselves in the midfield this year, next year should mark a change for the better.
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