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Spain points a ‘massive’ morale boost for Sauber after tough start

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Sauber Formula 1 techincal chief Jörg Zander feels that Pascal Wehrlein’s run to eighth place in the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago acted as a “massive” morale boost to the team after a tough start to the season.

After years of uncertainty, Sauber’s long-term future was secured last summer when the team was taken over by Longbow Finance, allowing it to go on a recruitment drive and bolster its staffing levels.

The team opted to stick with 2016-spec Ferrari power units for the 2017 season ahead of a new deal with Honda for next year, putting it on the back foot compared to its rivals.

Sauber endured a bumpy start to the year when Wehrlein was injured through the off-season and forced to miss the first two races, as well as struggling to battle for points early in the year when the 2017-spec power units would not be so far ahead.

Wehrlein managed to bounce back in Spain two weeks ago after the team perfected a one-stop strategy to finish eighth, giving the team its best result in two years.

“There was obviously a massive boost for the morale and motivation of the team. We actually didn’t expect us to be there in Barcelona,” Zander said.

“The upgrade package which we planned for Barcelona, we moved to this event. So somehow things seem to have been turned upside down. As you know, we didn’t have Pascal for the first two races, so we had to go with [Antonio] Giovinazzi and, of course, that introduced quite a bit of a change to the operational side.

“So we had a very young, new driver into the car, which we needed to get adapted. But obviously from a development point of view, we do understand that the car is behind, compared to our defined competition, which is the midfield, primarily because we started pretty early in the season to develop that car.

“So we have to try and catch-up. But the parameter we fight here, of course, is time and it’s difficult to gain time over the competition. They have a certain time available as we have, so there’s not any difference.”

Despite finding stability, Sauber is still a significantly smaller operation compared to many of the teams in F1, with Zander appreciating the challenge this creates.

“The thing is, of course, about resources, and these resources, we’re just about to configure and to adapt,” Zander said.

“We have made plenty of recruitments but these are all new people so there is a human factor involved, with regards to getting more out of this operation.

“These are the kind of difficulties that we are fighting at the moment.”

Sauber signs multi-year technical partnership with Honda from 2018

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The Sauber Formula 1 team has confirmed that it will join forces with Honda from 2018, enjoying a power unit supply from the Japanese manufacturer as part of a multi-year technological partnership.

Sauber has faced an uncertain future in F1 since BMW ended its factory support at the end of 2009, with the team working with Ferrari as a customer outfit from 2010 onwards.

Sauber was saved from collapse after a takeover by Longbow Finance last summer, and has taken another big step towards securing its long-term future by agreeing a deal to be powered by Honda.

“This extensive strategic and technological realignment creates a new basis for the team,” a statement from Sauber reads.

“This Swiss-Japanese partnership will certainly unveil future opportunities for the Sauber F1 Team and Honda, and constitutes a cornerstone for our F1 future. The Sauber F1 Team thanks Ferrari for many years of collaboration in good as well as difficult times.”

The deal marks Honda’s first foray into a multi-team supply in F1 since 2008, having solely powered McLaren for the past three years after returning to the sport.

“It is a great honor for the Sauber F1 Team to be able to work together with Honda in the coming seasons. Our realignment is not just visible through the new ownership but also now with our new technological partnership with Honda,” Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said.

“We have set another milestone with this new engine era, which we await with huge excitement and of course we are looking for new opportunities.

“We very much look forward to our partnership with Honda, which sets the course for a successful future, from a strategic as well as from a technological perspective. We thank Honda for making this great partnership happen.”

Katsuhide Moriyama, chief officer, brand and communication operations, at Honda added: “In addition to the partnership with McLaren which began in 2015, Honda will begin supplying power units to Sauber as a customer team starting from next year. This will be a new challenge in Honda’s F1 activities.

“In order to leverage the benefits of supplying to two teams to the maximum extent, we will strengthen the systems and capabilities of both of our two development operations, namely HRD Sakura and the operation in Milton Keynes.

“We will continue our challenges so that our fans will enjoy seeing a Honda with dominant strength as soon as possible.”

Wehrlein releases photos of injury recovery after F1 comeback in Bahrain

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Pascal Wehrlein has released three photos showing his recovery from neck and back injuries in the winter, calling it “history” after making a successful return to Formula 1 in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Wehrlein suffered three broken vertebra in an accident at the Race of Champions in January, forcing him to miss the opening two races of the new season.

After regaining fitness, Wehrlein returned with Sauber in Bahrain last weekend, enjoying an impressive charge to 11th in the race that saw him narrowly miss out on a debut point for the Swiss team.

Despite facing criticism from some corners for deciding to miss the races in Australia and China, Wehrlein hit back by releasing three pictures of his recovery, showing the extent of his injury that required him to remain in a brace.

“I am very satisfied with how the weekend went, being in P13 in qualifying and now finishing the race in P11,” Wehrlein said.

“It was a tough race, as we decided to only make one pit stop. The result is the maximum that we could have achieved today.

“It is obviously a pity that we have missed this point by only one position. Nevertheless, I am already looking forward to the next grand prix.”

F1 Sauber driver Wehrlein hits back at critics over absence

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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein has hit back at critics who questioned why he missed the first two races in Formula One.

Wehrlein will finally make his debut for Sauber at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, after Italian Antonio Giovinazzi replaced him at the season-opening Australian GP and then the China GP last weekend.

The 22-year-old German injured his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

But there was confusion surrounding the initial driver switch in Australia because Wehrlein competed in the first two practice sessions at Melbourne, leading to speculation.

“I don’t care too much what the others say. They didn’t know my situation,” Wehrlein said on Thursday at the Bahrain GP.

“If you don’t know what injury someone had, you shouldn’t criticize him. It’s quite simple. If it was just some muscle pain or anything else, do you think Sauber would accept me to not drive?”

Wehrlein is confident he will be fit enough to race on Sunday.

“I’ll be fine in the car. No pain, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The track is also quite flat, not many bumps.”

Wehrlein impressed at times last year with Manor Racing during his F1 debut season, finishing 10th at the Austrian GP for the team’s only point.

Antonio Giovinazzi apologizes to Sauber after China qualifying crash

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Antonio Giovinazzi has apologized to his Sauber team after crashing out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday in Shanghai.

Giovinazzi made his F1 debut two weeks ago in Australia as a last-minute replacement for Pascal Wehrlein, who continued to struggle for fitness following his Race of Champions crash in January.

The Italian was one of the stand-out performers in Melbourne, almost reaching Q2 and finishing 12th in his first race for Sauber.

Giovinazzi was drafted in to replace Wehrlein again for this weekend’s race in China, and looked set to ease through to Q2 in qualifying before crashing out at the final corner, running wide at exit before careering sideways across the track and into the wall.

The shunt brought out yellow flags and ruined a number of drivers’ late qualifying laps, allowing Giovinazzi to make it through to Q2. While he could take no part in the session, Giovinazzi still qualified 15th.

“For me it was a disappointing ending to qualifying. It was all good until the last corner of my final lap,” Giovinazzi said.

“I was already in Q2 and improving my lap time, but I pushed a bit too much, touched the grass in the exit of the last corner and then lost the rear of the car.

“I apologize to the team for what happened. Tomorrow I will do my best to put in a good performance.”

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.