Interview: Kaltenborn on Sauber's recovery
10 January 2017 – Sauber endured growing financial difficulties early in 2016, but a mid-season takeover, and crucial points in Brazil, turned the year around. GPUpdate.net caught up with team boss Monisha Kaltenborn.
You told us mid-2016 that finishing 11th in the championship standings, behind Manor, was not an option for Sauber. What kind of a rollercoaster rider was it after that?
Well, for a while it was going down, down, down! In Mexico, the P11 (Marcus Ericsson), you really think it's going to work out with the point, but it didn't. A bit before that we were sensing how things were going, and it started to slowly, slowly go up. And then came Mexico, where we thought maybe it could be the one… unfortunately not. But then, of course, it happened in Brazil (P9, Felipe Nasr). So the rollercoaster is finally on the way up!
Longbow Finance acquired the Sauber Group just before the summer break. Can you explain what happened after that? You developed the car again, brought in new faces...
Absolutely. The investors coming in has marked the beginning of a totally new era at Sauber. It's not only that the founder of the team is no longer a shareholder, the first time it's happened, you feel that a totally new chapter has opened. We have stability, we have sufficient backing, we are able to again work the way we want to, to make the step ahead, which allowed us to return to doing development – we could implement the development we had for a long time, ready in our drawer, to be opened and taken out. You feel it in the team, you feel it in the motivation. You could also see how we approached the races, the strategies we took, with new people coming in – it's made a big difference.
How difficult was it to balance 2016/2017 development, knowing that you needed a point?
I guess it was not so difficult than previous years, because you knew that from the beginning you could just do limited stuff at that time. The difficulty was more to get everything right, so that with the bunch we were racing at the back, we were right on top of that group. Then, if something happened and an opportunity came up, we were there to take it. It was making sure that we were right on top there, not making mistakes and being patient, so that when it happened we took it and brought it home. That was a much bigger challenge, because you could not develop that much anymore, it was simply not possible. Whatever we had there we implemented, knowing it's not going to be a gigantic leap, but yes, it's going to bring us further.
You have been a part of the Sauber operation for quite some time now. What makes life so difficult for a privateer Formula 1 team nowadays, compared to previous phases?
Do you feel that more needs to be done to help privateer teams?
I think private teams are the backbone of the sport. If you look at it, manufacturers come and go, we all know that, and we've experienced that too. It's a matter of time when they come, and a matter of time when they leave, when they either have achieved their targets or have not achieved their targets, because being number two for a manufacturer – like it was with BMW – is no option, it's not good enough, you have to be right on top. If you see, for us, this is our core business. It's not an expensive marketing platform, where you like to show your technology. This is what we do, so that's why we're always here, no matter what the sport goes through. When manufacturers go, whatever state the sport is left in, we are still here, and we still somehow cope with the challenges. I think that should be highlighted a bit more. That is one issue, but the other for a team like ours… going towards the privileges certain teams have, which we consider as distorting the competition.
You're referring to the financial privileges coming from the top?
Well it's two. First of all it's the financial privileges, because there's no really justifiable system for that, except that it is as it is, and the second part is the governance, with the Strategy Group, where certain teams have advantages and privileges in decision-making. Both together lead to distorted competition.
Is it now more difficult to give young talent the chance, due to the financial situation?
We have given, even in recent years, talents a chance. I don't think it's correct to say that if somebody comes with a supporter, automatically that driver doesn't have talent – that's not the equation. The equation is this driver must have the talent, because he's convinced a supporter. If you're not good, nobody is going to give anyone that kind of backing – we're not talking small money here. I think there's a very wrong perception that people think that, the moment you have a backer… fundamentally everyone in here has a backer at some point in their career, they have not just come in and someone has paid their bills, they've had to make sure their budget is in place. It's a very wrong basis to think that someone with a backer is automatically not talented. Many drivers have come to us with a lot of support and we have not taken them, because we felt they were not that talented. We might be right or wrong, but we made that call.
So you feel that you can still give the best talent a chance?
What we have to do which is different, compared to the past, is also look at the financial aspect, but that is nothing negative towards the talent.
How would you like Sauber to be viewed over the next couple of seasons?
What's a realistic target for Sauber in 2017? Are you looking at the midfield?
That is our target, and we see no reason why it is not doable.