Exclusive interview with Monisha Kaltenborn
20 May 2014 – Sauber has endured a challenging start to the 2014 Formula 1 campaign, ending the first five races as one of just three outfits, alongside Marussia and Caterham, without a World Championship point. GPUpdate.net sat down with team boss Monisha Kaltenborn to discuss the past, present and future.
From your point of view, how has the season been going for Sauber?
Well, it's been a tough start. We are clearly not where we want to be. We could see that in the tests when we were having our issues. We put a plan together with what we want to do and we are implanting that step by step. So we've been doing for the last three races, but we did have a bigger package in place for Spain.
We understand the car was too heavy. How much of a difference does this extra weight make?
It's true that the car was too heavy and that of course has a direct impact on your lap time. We know how many kilos mean what in terms of lap time, depending on the circuit. It was a very big handicap. But if I compare things with last year, I am convinced that the base of the car is good. We have also sees that to have a good performance this year a lot depends on how competitive, aside from reliability, your powertrain is. We saw in the first few races that one powertrain definitely has an advantage compared to the others and the teams using that powertrain are benefiting from that directly. I expect that in due course there will be changes. We definitely won't give up on this season and with the packages we are bringing together with improvements of our engine supplier we do hope to come back.
Are you happy with the performance of your drivers, Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez?
We first have to concentrate on where the team stands. We are not where we want to be and the races have been quite challenging for us. The drivers have been in all sorts of incidents they did not cause themselves. I think we now have to have a little bit more of experience where everything more or less goes the way we want to. When we have everything in the right place, then it's maybe time to think about how the drivers perform.
What do you make of new reserve driver Giedo van der Garde?
I'm very impressed with the way Giedo has adapted. The positive outlook he brings and the openness are very important in seasons like this when the cars are so fundamentally different to what they were before. He didn't have any time in the car and the moment he came in there and did the test, he very quickly learned the way to drive it, adapted very well to the new systems and started step by step to improve. That tells you how comfortable he is with the car. He gives very good feedback which has been invaluable to the race drivers and the engineers who work on developing the car. We have been very positively surprised about what he's showing.
Giedo's goal is to race for Sauber in 2015. Do you see him as a big candidate?
As our test driver he is getting his experience in our car. Let's first see a bit more this season. When the time is right we will decide who will our drivers next year.
Besides Giedo, you also have Simona de Silvestro and Sergey Sirotkin in your talent pool. Both Simona and Sergey are being prepared for a race seat in Formula 1. It seems like the team has a shortage of race seats…
We have plans in place with all them. They all have very specific functions. We first have to look at this year and then we'll see what the future brings. The roles are very clearly defined. We have our two race drivers, we have a test and reserve driver, which is Giedo, we have a test driver, which is Sergey. With him our aim is still to prepare him for his way into Formula 1. Now, however, he has to focus on another series. He has to show his talent there. And he's very young, so we are not under time pressure there. Then we have Simona, who is a so-called affiliated driver. She's taken up a very different challenge compared to the others. She has a lot of racing experience in the US and taking the step from the US to here is a very challenging one. So now it's important that each one of them concentrates on what they are supposed to be doing. And then we will see what happens.
Simona recently had her first test. What would it mean to you to have a female driver on the grid?
For me personally I think it would be a great signal. There has been so much talk about female drivers. As a driver she definitely is one of the most outstanding candidates to take up this kind of a position and I guess to be competitive. It's great to watch her and very interesting to see how focused she is and how well prepared she was for the test. She listens to the engineers and tries to learn instantly and implement it, which also shows how she's getting better. We have a very exciting project with her and I think it would be good for the sport.
Sergey made his Formula 1 debut last year with a demo run in Sochi. What is the current situation there? There are some rumours that the race will be cancelled?
I don't know anything about that. In my view it is going ahead and we don't have any information to the contrary.
Sauber took on some Russian partners last year. How's the team doing this year financially?
We are still in, I would say, a challenging situation, but we are step by step getting out of it. It's certainly not easy, particularly this season, where so many more costs have come onboard, particularly with the new powertrain and associated systems. It is very challenging still. The important thing is that we are working on getting out of it and the direction is right. It just takes some time. Sometimes you can't push things more. You need to be patient and make sure you are moving little by little.
What is possible in terms of results this season?
It's very difficult to predict right now, because as I said, a lot at the moment depends on the powertrain, aside from your reliability. I do hope that in due course the gap between the different powertrains becomes a little bit smaller and that we will see some changes on that side. So it's very difficult to predict right now.
Mercedes is dominating right now. Will any team be able to catch them this year?
It will be very tough. They have a very big competitive advantage. So it will not be easy.