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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Sauber

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Rounding out MotorSportsTalk’s team-by-team preview ahead of the new Formula 1 season, we look at Sauber, the minnow team which bounced back from years of instability to find some strength in 2016.

The arrival of new owners Longbow Finance gave Sauber the chance to rebuild and recruit after a number of losses in the preceding years, while Felipe Nasr’s charge to ninth in Brazil offered a boost in prize money as the team jumped above Manor to P10 in the constructors’ championship.

Sauber now heads into 2017 looking to continue its recent gains, with the new faces at Hinwil eager to make an impact. The goal is now to thrive, not survive.

DRIVERS

9. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden)
94. Pascal Wehrlein (Germany)

CAR

Sauber C36

ENGINE

Ferrari 061

TEAM CHIEFS

Monisha Kaltenborn (CEO/team principal)
Jörg Zander (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Sauber may have only scored two points, but it both survived the year and was able to secure some much-needed financial backing that kept the team in business. The on-track performances were what we’d expect from a backmarker team, filled with a number of highlights. Marcus Ericsson’s performances through the year were of particular note in the latter half of the season, despite the Swede going under the radar.

What went wrong in 2016: Sauber’s struggles still left its drivers unable to compete on-track, particularly in the run-up to the takeover when updates for the car were hard to find. Sauber failed to get anywhere near the midfield runners in the dry, but again, it perhaps could not have been expected to given the circumstances.

What’s changed for 2017: A number of new faces are at Sauber following an extensive recruitment process. Ex-Audi LMP1 technical chief Jörg Zander has joined the team, while former Haas strategist Ruth Buscombe arrived last fall and is a big, big asset on the pit wall. Pascal Wehrlein has also been signed from Manor, replacing Nasr after his backing fell through, but the team will be racing with the 2016-spec Ferrari power unit. That won’t help come the end of the year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: In all honesty, it’s hard to see Sauber finishing anywhere but last this year. The rest of the field simply has resources that are too deep to give the Swiss team much chance. Early gains can be made in the first few races when the impact of a year-old power unit will be felt less; some points would be good. But really, this is again a year to battle on and continue to fight for a better future.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: Sauber can’t really expect much this year. It’s great that the team is on its feet again, and some of the personnel it has on board gives it strength. But the rest of the pack can simply outspend it. The only team it can get close to this year is Haas, I think, and that’s only if the American team gets things seriously wrong this year. P10 in the constructors’ championship with a couple of points – let’s say picked up by Ericsson early in the year – is the ceiling for Sauber.

Tony DiZinno: It’s hard to think of Sauber as the underdog and last team because they’ve been here 25 years, their reputation is of overachieving and they’ve given so many young drivers their start. Yet with Manor’s absence, it’s Sauber that enters as the 10th place team from 2016, but determined to advance from that this season. Marcus Ericsson has become that dependable, career midfielder as the Swede looks to his fourth season. More pressure is on Pascal Wehrlein, the Mercedes junior passed over by his manufacturer to replace Nico Rosberg and by Force India to replace Nico Hulkenberg. Ericsson may not be as easy a target to beat as Wehrlein might think. A couple points finishes should occur for this team and if they can get to eighth or ninth in the constructor’s points, it’ll have been a much better year.

Kyle Lavigne: With a year-old Ferrari power unit, Sauber should have strong reliability. Whether or not the car has the pace to bring them up the grid is another matter. They languished near the bottom of the time sheets on multiple days of testing, but they didn’t seem to experience reliability problems. That trait could prove very beneficial. As hard as it is to believe, McLaren is likely their closest rival as 2017 begins. And, with McLaren struggling with a car that is both slow and unreliable, Sauber has a chance to leapfrog them, so long as their car keeps going.

Wehrlein feeling ‘well prepared’ for Sauber debut despite winter injury

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Pascal Wehrlein says he feels “ready and well prepared” for his first Formula 1 outing with Sauber in Australia next weekend despite suffering a neck and back injury over the winter break.

Mercedes junior driver Wehrlein made his first F1 start in Australia last year with Manor, spending a full season with the minnow team and scoring just its second top-10 finish in seven years in Austria.

Wehrlein was linked with drives at both Mercedes and Force India for 2017, but ultimately landed at Sauber following Manor’s closure.

Wehrlein was forced to miss half of pre-season testing due to injuries sustained in a roll at the Race of Champions in Miami, but despite having just two days in the new-style 2017 Sauber F1 car, the German feels ready to go in Australia.

“The Australian Grand Prix will be very special for me and also for the Sauber F1 Team,” Wehrlein said.

“It is the beginning of my new role as a Formula One race driver in the Swiss team, and I am sure when those five lights go out it will be a unique moment on the race day.

“During the second week of pre-season testing I had productive days, where I was able to get quite familiar with the Sauber C36-Ferrari procedures.

“After intense physical preparations in the last few weeks I am excited about going to Melbourne, and I feel ready and well-prepared for the challenging season opener.

“It looks promising at the moment for me, but we never know until we get to Melbourne. I have full trust in our teamwork.”

After spending much of 2016 battling with financial troubles, Sauber will be aiming to move up the grid this year following its takeover by Swiss investment firm Longbow Finance.

The team finished 10th in the constructors’ championship last year, beating only Manor, and will now be looking to make up early ground with 2016-spec Ferrari power units.

Pascal Wehrlein cleared to run at second Barcelona test

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Pascal Wehrlein has been cleared to run at this week’s second Formula 1 preseason test from Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and thus make his official debut for Sauber F1 Team.

The German was held out of the first test with the lingering effects from his back injury suffered in an accident at the Race of Champions in January in Miami, and Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi filled in.

Wehrlein will test on Tuesday for his first day in the car.

Antonio Giovinazzi to focus on Ferrari F1 reserve role in 2017

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Antonio Giovinazzi has confirmed that he will not commit to a full race program in 2017, instead preferring to focus on his reserve driver duties with Ferrari in Formula 1.

Giovinazzi finished second in his debut GP2 season last year, losing out in the title race to Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly at the last round of the season.

The Italian’s efforts led to him joining Ferrari as its reserve driver ahead of the 2017 season, enjoying his first F1 test in a 2015-spec car at Fiorano over the winter.

Despite testing a GP2 car at the end of last year for Arden, Giovinazzi confirmed to reporters in Barcelona this week that he had no racing plans in 2017.

“No, not really. For now I am third driver, I will do a lot in the simulator,” Giovinazzi explained.

“I will follow the race weekend in F1, and then we’ll see what happens.

“It will be more tough than all the years I did in my career, to be in the paddock will be quite different, less adrenaline.

“But it’s F1, it’s quite a difficult car, especially with all the function in the steering wheel so the simulator is also really good to learn this thing and to be ready when they want to put me in a car.”

Giovinazzi got his first taste of current-year machinery earlier this week when he tested for Sauber, stepping in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein for two days of the collective F1 running.

“[It was a] really special day, first time in an F1 official test is a big thing for me. Last year I was in GP2, and to have this opportunity is great for me,” he said.

“I just need to work really hard and of course I need to say thanks to Ferrari for giving me this opportunity and to Sauber F1 Team. So it’s really special for me to be here and important as well. To be in the car is something really important for a driver.”

Sauber confirms Tatiana Calderon as development driver

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Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon, who’s worked to further her racing career since moving from to Europe prior to 2012, has been named a development driver for Sauber F1 Team.

Calderon turns 24 in March. Her best result thus far is second in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 and she’s also raced in GP3 and Formula 3 over the last five years. Her results haven’t necessarily matched her ability level, as she’s shown some promise enough to be scouted out by Sauber for this F1 role.

With Sauber, she’ll be heavily involved in simulator work and also attend some Grands Prix on site, but there’s been no timetable yet for her on-track debut.

“I am extremely happy to join the Sauber F1 Team as a development driver,” Calderon said. “I want to thank Monisha Kaltenborn and the whole team for giving me this opportunity, and also Escuderia Telmex for their support. I am grateful to be working with such an established Formula 1 team and to benefit from its long experience. I look forward to working with the team and learning as much as I can. It is a step closer to my dream – one day competing in Formula 1!”

Team principal Kaltenborn added, “We are very pleased to welcome Tatiana onboard to the Sauber family. We have the opportunities and facilities to provide Tatiana a professional platform on which she can further develop her knowledge and skills in racing. I am convinced that we can provide her lots of in-depth motorsport know-how for her future career in racing.”

Calderon’s been confirmed for her race program in GP3 this year with the DAMS team, alongside fellow F1 development driver, American Santino Ferrucci of Haas, and 19-year-old Bruno Baptista.

She’s not the first female driver Sauber has had – Simona de Silvestro was on board for a similar development plan three years ago – but it didn’t end well, so here’s hoping the F1 future is brighter for Calderon.