2017 review: Sauber builds for the future

2017 review: Sauber builds for the future

11 December 2017 – GPUpdate.net begins its team-by-team season review with Sauber, which again finished 10th, though this time without the consolation of beating a rival, albeit while putting in positive steps for the future.

Sauber: 4/10
Championship: 10th
WCC points: 5
Best race: 8th (1 x WEH)
Best qualifying: 13th (1 x WEH)
Fastest laps: 0
Qualifying duel: WEH 11 – 7 ERI, ERI 2 – 0 GIO


Sauber spent much of the 2017 campaign mired at the back, adrift of the midfield, and scored points just twice, with Q1 exits becoming a depressing reality. Longbow Finance's mid-2016 takeover at least alleviated a dire financial situation, but the impact for 2017 was minimal, with the demise of Manor robbing Sauber of its backmarker playmate. Sauber's points came via a well-timed strategic gamble in Spain and the chaos of Azerbaijan. It was forced into using a year-old power unit, meaning it started on the backfoot with an increasing handicap, while its chassis was solid and unspectacular, with updates not delivering the expected gains, and occasionally delayed. Sauber's situation was dreadful mid-season, with the C36-Ferrari embarrassingly off the pace, though at least progress was made during the final events, as Sauber edged closer to the midfield, ostensibly aided by greater understanding of tyres. Off-track, Sauber continued to make changes, with a planned Honda partnership canned in favour of a strengthened relationship with Ferrari, leading to its Alfa Romeo link-up, while Frédéric Vasseur arrived in place of the axed Monisha Kaltenborn. 2017 was fairly miserable, but 2018 promises more.

Pascal Wehrlein: 6/10
Championship: 18th
WDC points: 5
Best R result: 8th (1x)
Best Q result: 13th (1x)


Wehrlein's nasty Race of Champions shunt left him playing catch-up,  and that some fine performances came early on demonstrated his skill to the paddock. A superb all-round display on his comeback in Bahrain deserved points, which duly arrived two events later in Barcelona, as he performed heroics to bag seventh, which became a penalised eighth, having been handed a gilt-edged chance through a well-timed VSC period. His fortunes nosedived thereafter, though a bulk of that was down to Sauber's lacklustre performance, prompting the team to adopt left-field strategies, often to Wehrlein's disadvantage. However, his inability to dominate Ericsson was to his detriment – the pair were very closely matched over the course of the season, split by an average of 0.05s across one lap. Accusations of team favouritism towards Ericsson were strenuously denied, as well. With the tools at his disposal, Wehrlein netted points when they were on offer, but in a competitive market, allied to Ericsson's money, and Sauber's greater alignment with Ferrari, Wehrlein has been left as the unlucky outcast.

High point: Supreme display on comeback in Bahrain
Low point: Missing two Grands Prix due to fitness setback


Marcus Ericsson: 5/10
Championship: 20th
WDC points: 0
Best R result: 11th (2x)
Best Q result: 14th (1x)


That a Formula 3 champion and multiple GP2 race winner is widely ridiculed is indicative of the strength in depth of the current Formula 1 field. Ericsson's position within Sauber is undoubtedly assisted by his affiliation with the operation's owners, but he has continued to chip away and make gains, even if his lack of points since 2015 is a black mark. However, on both occasions where Wehrlein scored, he can consider himself unlucky. Ericsson ran a few seconds behind Wehrlein in Spain but the timing of the VSC skewered his strategy, and he came 11th – still a respectable result. In Baku, team instructions meant he played second fiddle, ensuring it was Wehrlein, not he, who scored the point, amid pressure from Stoffel Vandoorne. Perception counts for a lot in Formula 1 and Ericsson, much maligned, did improve in 2017, for a 7-2 pre-summer qualifying deficit became a 5-4 advantage after. However, with 70 Grands Prix under his belt, he is hardly a superstar in waiting. If he receives the better package he craves in 2018, he will have nowhere to hide.

High point: Competitive display in Austin before clash with Magnussen
Low point: Clumsy crash in Japan early in the race


Antonio Giovinazzi: N/A
Championship: 22nd
WDC points: 0
Best R result: 12th (1x)
Best Q result: 15th (1x)


Giovinazzi was linked with one manufacturer, joined another, tested for them, raced for another team, and completed practice runs for another, and has still been left without a 2018 seat. He was thrust in at the deep end for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, amid Wehrlein's injury-induced lack of fitness, and performed admirably, coming close to Ericsson over one lap, before staying out of trouble in the race. However, China was a disaster, as he crashed heavily twice at the same corner, once in qualifying and once in the race. Wehrlein's return consigned Giovinazzi to the substitutes bench, from where he was no longer required. Giovinazzi linked with Haas for seven practice runs, but with both race drivers under contract for 2018, a future at the squad was never a realistic proposition. A reserve role with Sauber keeps him in the game, though he may well need fortune and timing to create an opening before the next generation arrives.

High point: Tidy run to 12th position in Australia…
Low point: …two crashes in two days in China


Statistics
Average qualifying gap: 0.05s (in Wehrlein's favour)
Biggest qualifying gap: 0.548s to Wehrlein in Bahrain
Smallest qualifying gap: 0.005s to Wehrlein in Spain
Average qualifying result: Giovinazzi 15.5, Wehrlein 17.89, Ericsson 18.15


Retirements:
Wehrlein: 3
Ericsson: 6


Race head-to-head: Ericsson 4 – 7 Wehrlein


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