It’s fair to say Sauber are a team that many fans have a soft spot for, so their decline into one of the grid’s backmarkers in recent years has been difficult to watch. Going into their 25th year in the sport, you have to assume the levels of expectation are fairly low, having only just pipped Manor to an all-important 10th last year with Felipe Nasr’s 9th place finish at the penultimate race in Brazil (the team’s only points in 2016).
Having finished 6th in the championship in 2012 with 126 points and 3 podiums, Sauber are an example of how the finances in Formula One continue to favour the elite to the detriment of independent teams. Sauber’s popularity is as a true underdog.
One thing the team were able to do since the break from BMW in 2010 is continue to attract drivers capable of the sort of consistency they needed to mix it with the others in the midfield, such as Sergio Perez (2011, 2012) & Nico Hulkenberg (2013), who were able to achieve the most from the machinery at their disposal. You feel for the last two seasons however, thanks again in part to the lack of resources, that their driver personnel has been short of what was required also.
Felipe Nasr impressed in lower formula, and was able to score some vital points for the team as mentioned above, but consistency and questions surrounding his temperament and position as a team player eventually became his undoing. Marcus Ericsson equally struggled for pace in what in truth was a poor car, managing a best of 12th in 2016, but was at least more consistent than his slightly erratic teammate, beating him 12-9 in qualifying, and in races they both finished, 9-5, which is presumably why he’s been kept on. Without sponsorship though, you have to wonder if this year will be his last in F1 if he fails to impress again.
Nasr’s sponsorship issues forced Sauber’s hand, and although the lack of money will be felt, you have to believe they have done well to secure the services of Pascal Wehrlein as his replacement. Wehrlein will be hurting after his Force India snub, and although another year at the back beckons, you’d have to have him as favourite to outperform his Sauber rival, even against someone in Ericsson who is accustomed to the team. If a points finish is within their grasp, Wehrlein needs to take it, for both his and Sauber’s future. His Mercedes development driver rival Esteban Ocon will be showing off his talents further up the field, Wehrlein needs to remind Mercedes of his talents too.
For Sauber as a whole, it looks like being a season of at very best taking chances that are presented to them through other teams profligacy. They’re still using a Ferrari engine, and their chassis isn’t likely to worry those in front, so opportunities will be few and far between. As mentioned in other previews, the midfield appears hugely competitive this season, Sauber are likely to be short of this standard and probably Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso and Renault make it eight cars in total fighting for four points positions. As a result, it’s hard to see Sauber celebrating anything other than their 25th year anniversary in 2017.