Mid-season review: Sauber still at the back

Mid-season review: Sauber still at the back

18 August 2017 – GPUpdate.net concludes its mid-season review series with Sauber, which has remained at the rear of the Formula 1 field as it begins its planned path back towards the midfield amid restructuring.

Sauber: 3/10
Championship: 10th
WCC points: 5
Best race: 8th (1 x WEH)
Best qualifying: 13th (1 x WEH)
Fastest laps: 0
Qualifying duel: WEH 7 – 2 ERI, ERI 2 – 0 GIO


With Sauber's 2016 playmate Manor consigned to the history books, the Swiss minnow has often been in an unwanted, lone division at the rear of the field. Simply put, the C36-Ferrari lacks downforce and grip, and development has been slow. Q2 is regarded as a victory and points a pipe dream at most events. Its update package in Spain fared better than expected, while other new parts which arrived later on were not as strong, suggesting the team is unsure of its development direction. Sauber is still feeling the effects of years of financial problems, and it is naïve to think that the mid-2016 takeover would have led to progress this season. After managerial changes, with Frédéric Vasseur stepping up to the helm, even significant steps in 2018 may be too optimistic, though at least by returning to current-year Ferrari power there is hope. An expertly-timed strategic call in Spain yielded eighth for Pascal Wehrlein, and team instructions led to another point in Azerbaijan. Keeping motivation levels up across the next few months is likely to be a challenge, but if the right steps are taken, a return to the midfield is a tangible long-term goal.

Pascal Wehrlein: 6/10
Championship: 16th
WDC points: 5
Best R result: 8th (1x)
Best Q result: 13th (1x)


Mercedes moving Wehrlein from Manor to Sauber at least kept the youngster in Formula 1, though it was always difficult to envisage exactly what the move would accomplish, due to Sauber's limitations. Wehrlein's Race of Champions-induced injury/fitness lay-off, and the surrounding saga, left him on the back foot, and Antonio Giovinazzi performed excellently, then abysmally, in his place. Wehrlein returned for Bahrain and put in a handful of encouraging drives in Spain and Azerbaijan to take points, and had led the one-lap battle, albeit with the caveat that Marcus Ericsson is not the finest benchmark. Accidents in qualifying in Canada and during practice in Hungary also hindered his chances. Wehrlein is in the unfavourable predicament of being difficult to fully analyse; he is a better driver than the one who entered Formula 1 last year, but there has been little to suggest he is a megastar in waiting. The vacant Mercedes drive came too early in his career, but the Silver Arrows now have Esteban Ocon higher in the pecking order; with Sauber aligning itself more with Ferrari, Wehrlein needs a few big performances to prove his worth – but is that possible with the machinery at his disposal?

Marcus Ericsson: 4.5/10
Championship: 20th
WDC points: 0
Best R result: 11th (2x)
Best Q result: 14th (1x)


Ericsson's career statistics do not make for stellar reading, and 2017 is no different. It has been nearly two years since Ericsson graced the top 10 on a Sunday, and trails Wehrlein 7-2 over one lap. However, a better strategy in Spain could have netted him a point, while in Azerbaijan he dutifully obeyed team instructions to allow Wehrlein through, in order to preserve Sauber's top 10 finish, fulfilling his goal of keeping Stoffel Vandoorne at bay. They were the high points, while there have been a handful of low points, most embarrassingly sliding out behind the Safety Car in Monaco, after misjudging the grip levels on cold tyres. For a driver with 67 F1 races under his belt, greater experience at the team – and rumours of favouritism – Ericsson should really be performing to a higher level. His closeness with team owners creates an uneasy feeling, though it should not mean he is guaranteed a seat for next year, especially with two Ferrari-backed stars waiting in the wings.

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