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On the Grid: Sauber F1
The Swiss team that has started a number of careers
Posted Aug 04, 2011 by Chris White
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Founded in the 1970s, the Sauber F1 team come from Switzerland and are named after founder and team principal Peter Sauber, who built the team up to finally arrive in the Formula One world championship in 1993.
Having not won a race as an independent team, the Sauber brand was sold to BMW in 2005, competing as BMW Sauber between 2006 and 2009. During this period, the team did win that elusive race, with Robert Kubica taking the top step on the podium in Canada in 2008, which remains the team’s only win to date.
The team’s future was thrown into doubt at the end of the 2009 season, as BMW withdrew from Formula One, until Peter Sauber bought back the team and they were allowed to continue in the championship.
Peter Sauber made his name building sports cars in the 1970s, competing in hill climbing and then the World Sportscar Championship. In partnership with Mercedes, the team won the 1989 Le Mans 24-hour race, before making the move into Formula One in 1993 – finishing fifth in their debut race in South Africa with JJ Lehto behind the wheel.
Despite being backed by Mercedes in that debut season, the Germans were not officially a part of the team. In the 1994 season, however, this collaboration was recognised, as the team changed to Sauber Mercedes, with Heinz Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger as the two drivers.
The partnership with Mercedes ended in 2004, and the team were supplied with Ford engines from the 1995 season. Due to reliability issues and a lack of power compared to their rivals, the deal only lasted two years before Sauber started using Ferrari engines and gearboxes built by Sauber Petronas Engineering – named after their new title sponsors.
In 2001, the team employed a virtually unknown Finnish driver, called Kimi Raikkonen, who was to go on and become the world champion in 2007 at Ferrari.
BMW bought the team in 2005, and the new BMW Sauber team began 2006 with Jacques Villeneuve and Nick Heidfeld in the two driving seats. When Villeneuve left the sport in 2007, Robert Kubica took over in his seat, and lead the team to their first race victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008, the same venue where Heidfeld recorded the team’s previous best finish of second in 2007.
Sauber bought the team back again in time for the 2010 season, and immediately moved back to using Ferrari engines, where they have remained ever since. Pedro de la Rosa was signed to partner Kamui Kobayashi as the two drivers, and while Kobayashi retained his seat for 2011, de la Rosa has been made the test driver, and has been replaced by Sergio Perez.
To date, the team sit in sixth place in the championship, with Kobayashi scoring the team’s best finish of the season, fifth place in Monaco, while Perez came home seventh at Silverstone.