AP

Sauber celebrates 400th Grand Prix in Austin at USGP

Leave a comment

AUSTIN, Texas – The 1993 South African Grand Prix stands out for many reasons.

It’s the final Formula 1 race to date held in Africa. It marked the debuts of Michael Andretti and Rubens Barrichello, among others. Alain Prost began his first season with Williams, and Ayrton Senna began his last with McLaren.

Meanwhile in an all-black, almost stealth-like chassis, the first Sauber Formula 1 chassis made its race debut – the C12 (with unbadged Mercedes-Benz engines) driven by Karl Wendlinger and JJ Lehto. Lehto qualified sixth and finished fifth, scoring points on the team’s debut.

Some 22 seasons later, and through a separate team iteration as BMW Sauber for four seasons from 2006 to 2009, Sauber makes its 400th Grand Prix start this weekend with drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson.

An overachieving underdog, if you will, the team started by Peter Sauber entered F1 after a successful sports car stint and has been perennial top midfielder ever since, with some various heights achieved in odd years as well as the occasional year of a dip in form.

Current team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who has been a member of Sauber’s management board since 2001 and succeeded Sauber as team principal fully before 2013 to become F1’s first ever female team principal, reflected on the achievements the team has accomplished.

“There’s a lot of memories, actually,” Kaltenborn told MotorSportsTalk on Thursday. “I’ve not been around for all 400… I’m not that old, yet!

“But I remember the Constructor’s Championship fourth position (in 2001)… it was a great achievement for a team like ours’. It wasn’t easy. You had no kind of restrictions on testing and development, so to achieve that was a great achievement.

“The double victory with BMW Sauber was a very nice moment (2008 Canadian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica leading Nick Heidfeld).

“Then the podiums we had in 2012. For me personally, the one in Japan (Kamui Kobayashi finished third on home soil) was a very touching one. Or when we completed our wind tunnel for that matter (in Hinwil), it was a big project for us.”

It seems easy to forget now, but this time last year, Sauber was in the midst of the worst season in its 22-year Grand Prix history.

Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez survived the season but the team failed to score a single point. Sutil’s best shot – aided by a Q3 appearance this race last year – came unglued on the opening lap following contact with past Sauber driver, Sergio Perez.

“It’s much better (now), but it didn’t take a lot to feel much better without any points!” Kaltenborn said. “So we’re very happy about that.

“It was a very frustrating year. Things weren’t in our hands. The discrepancies in the powertrain existed, and the championship is so powertrain-dominated. So it was important to keep the focus and not lose it, and get too frustrated. So yeah, it’s not too bad.”

Nasr and Ericsson have combined to score 34 points and sit eighth in the Constructor’s Championship, ahead of McLaren Honda.

Sauber is currently in the news for a complaint both it and Force India lodged against the EU, which charges that the sport’s rule-making and revenue-sharing mechanisms are unlawful, unfair and harmful. Veteran Formula 1 reporter Dieter Rencken had several questions on that topic to Kaltenborn on Thursday.

Outside of the political issues though, Sauber used its pre-race advance to check in with some of its past drivers, who offered memories (full link here, via official F1 website). Here’s a sampling of those:

Heinz-Harald Frentzen (DE, 1994-1996/2002-2003, 64 GPs, 42 points):

“As a longstanding Sauber driver I was part of many highlights. My nicest memory was definitely finishing third at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza in 1995 – behind Johnny (Herbert) and Mika (Hakkinen). For the Sauber F1 Team, as well as for me, it was the first podium in Formula 1. We celebrated this landmark as if it was a victory. I remember this quite well: There were not only tears of joy, but also a lot of champagne flowing. That was very emotional – a superb moment, which can’t be forgotten. It is a pity I cannot be on-site during the 400th race in Austin, but I wish the team good luck!”

Nick Heidfeld (DE, 2001-2003/2006-2009/2010, 125 GPs, 194 points):

“It was a relief to get the first podium in 2001 at the wet race in Sao Paulo, which was then followed by a beer shower afterwards. In the same year, together with Kimi (Raikkonen), we finished P4 in the constructors’ championship, which was a fantastic team success. For me the 2007 season with BMW-Sauber was exceptional. We were on the way to the top and the car suited my driving style well. I extracted the full potential from it and took every opportunity that came up for a top three result. My highlight was one manoeuvre during the Bahrain Grand Prix when I managed to overtake Fernando’s (Alonso) car on the outside, we were wheel to wheel, right on the ragged edge. I have to admit that I watch this moment once in a while, and I am proud that I drove this BMW-Sauber car. As the driver who has competed in the most Grands Prix for Sauber, I am pleased that the team is celebrating its 400th GP.”

Robert Kubica (PL, 2006-2009, 57 GPs, 137 points):

“I have great memories from my time at Sauber. One of the most important is surely my first ever podium in Formula One, which I celebrated in Monza 2006 together with BMW-Sauber. I finished in P3 at my third race as a Formula One driver, after being promoted by the team from a reserve to race driver. I believe that this third place was an important achievement for my future career. It also showed the potential of the car at that time. My victory at the Canadian Grand Prix two years later in 2008 is definetely a moment to remember forever, not only for myself but also for the team. I wish everyone at Sauber all the best.”

Kamui Kobayashi (JP, 2010-2012, 58 GPs, 122 points):

“My Sauber moment was in 2012 when I achieved my first podium ever at my home race in Suzuka. This is one of the greatest memories in my life. Finishing in P3 and standing on the podium in front of my fans was amazing. After the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima in 2011, it was a very difficult time for us. I cannot say that in one word, but this podium was a very special moment for me as well as for my fans.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.