Sauber: six races from disaster


Sauber have just six races to score points and haul themselves up the constructors' standings. If they don’t, disaster could await.

2014 currently represents the Sauber team's worst season in Formula 1. The Swiss squad have never reached round 14 without registering a World Championship point, nor have they finished as low as 10th in the constructors’ standings.

But with six grands prix to run that is exactly the situation they find themselves in. There is still time to save the season, but it is fast running out.

Finishing 10th and on zero points would be a disaster for the Swiss team, who have been open about their shortage of funds for some time now. When Adam Parr wrote his headline-grabbing 'eight teams in F1 next season' tweet it is fair to assume that one of the three drop-outs he had in mind was Sauber. The reduction in FIA prize money could hurt them badly.

On one hand, the team are victims of circumstance. It is not Sauber's fault that suppliers Ferrari produced a distinctly average engine for 2014, while the rival Mercedes unit is the class of the field. If you put the German manufacturer's powerplant in the back of their car, Sauber would almost certainly have scored plenty of points this year.

Nevertheless there are seven non-Mercedes teams, but Sauber are one of only two not to register a point. While their Ferrari motor isn’t a world beater, fellow customers Marussia recorded two points with it in Monaco.

Their drivers must also take their fair share of criticism for the team’s plight. Both have been very disappointing thus far given their respective resumes. Adrian Sutil has driven 122 grands prix and spent almost his entire career in F1’s midfield. He should be perfectly placed to lead Sauber through a season like this, keeping morale up and grabbing the odd point here and there.

But the German has looked almost completely anonymous in the C33. There have been decent showings - notably Hungary, where he started and finished 11th - but that’s not enough from a man of his experience. Yes he is bringing money, but the team still have a right to demand more.

In theory, Sutil’s experience should be complimented by the raw pace of Esteban Gutierrez, who entered F1 with am impressive record in the junior categories. He was an F3 Euro Series race-winner, the inaugural GP3 champion in 2010, and finished third in GP2 in 2012. Those are not the achievements of a bad driver.

However he was poor for much of his rookie campaign last year, only saving his blushes by putting in a strong drive at Suzuka to secure seventh. Even so, he ended the season with six points to team-mate Nico Hulkenberg's 51.

And this year Gutierrez seems to have taken a step back. His pace has been poor and the mistakes alarmingly frequent. Worst of all, he threw away a great chance at points in Monaco, opening the door for Marussia to score instead. That is partly why Sauber are in such dire straights. He is extremely fortunate that Caterham's Marcus Ericsson only finished 11th that day; had the Swede been one place higher, Sauber would be dead last right now.

You are left to wonder whether Sauber really want either driver in their cars. Gutierrez was hired to keep the team's Mexican sponsors happy when Sergio Perez left for McLaren, but while Perez has undeniable talent and brings money, Esteban seems to do only the latter. There's certainly talent there, but it's not been unearthed yet. Sutil meanwhile seemed a safe pair of hands with the added benefit of funding, but he has not lived up to billing this year.

Still, it is these two who Sauber must reply upon to pull them out of the mire. If they can’t, the team’s financial situation could become so dire that team owners Peter Sauber and Monisha Kaltenborn need to cede control at the end of the year.

Even if Sauber can score points investment is vital, and it is believed that Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll is interested in buying into in the team. However Sauber must be cautious: just 12 months ago a group of Russian investors were all set to plough their cash into the squad, but it never materialised, leaving them to fight on alone. They still have Russia's Sergey Sirotkin on the books as a junior driver, however, and it would be no surprise to see him in a full-time seat next season.

But all hope is not lost for 2014. F1's next engagement is a night race on the streets of Singapore. Attrition there has often been high, which may give Sauber a shot at sneaking into the top 10 on endurance rather than pace. This is followed by Suzuka, Gutierrez's sole points finish of 2013, which could boost the young Mexican's confidence.

But it will still not be an easy task for Sauber to break into the top 10. With eight Mercedes-powered cars, Red Bull, Ferrari and Toro Rosso all clearly ahead of them in the pecking order, they will be battling with Lotus to pick up any scraps that fall.

If they can't then F1 may be seeing the dying days of one of the sport's great privateer teams, the outfit that brought Red Bull into the sport and handed Kimi Raikkonen his grand prix debut. If they disappear there will certainly be nostalgia for Sauber. Unfortunately, no one misses you until you're gone.