Despite the long-running money issues at Sauber, which included a pointless 2014, a complaint to the European Union, lodged with Force India about the prize money structure in F1 (which is biased towards the more successful and older teams), 2016 was to be a good year for Swiss based Hinwil outfit.
After a few years of different driver pairings, they would finally retain the same line-up, Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, for the first time since 2011-2012. The 2015 car was a solid build, with 36 points good enough for eighth. Powered once again by the ever improving Ferrari PU, a tidying up job on the chassis was all that was needed to ensure another solid year.
2016 has been a disaster. Zero points at half-way, the C35 has proved to be problematic, under-braking in traction zones and the below-par aerodynamics has left the car well-down the field, often making up the back-row in qualifying. Nasr and Ericsson have struggled badly to find an optimum set-up zone and have grown frustrated at the lack of progress.
Nasr was convinced that in the opening two races, something was fundamentally wrong with the chassis he was assigned that for China he was allocated another, only marginally improving his results.
Both he and Ericsson are competent drivers and well capable of a strong result, given the right equipment, regardless of the ‘Pay-driver’ status.
As the car lacks downforce, it can’t generate sufficient heat in its tyres to allow the drivers to push 100% in qualifying, hence the poor performances, which means that in the race, the car is heavier on its tyres in the corners, meaning that they wear out faster.
Rating out of 10: 5
On debut in 2015, Nasr secured P5 and 10 points, the best ever result for a Brazilian in their first race. Against the likes of Emmerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa, that’s quite an achievement. He was expecting more from Sauber in 2016, as opposed to the P12 best finish he managed in Azerbaijan.
At one point, Nasr was looking for an alternate drive in the future, taking his lucrative Banco do Brasil sponsorship with him. The former Williams reserve driver would have plenty of takers, given his strong record in the junior categories and in 2015, comprehensively out-performing Ericsson, hauling in 27 points and 13th in the standings.
His best finishes last year were fifth in Australia, and a standout, probably better race in Russia, where he was sixth. In 2016, those two races yielded P15 and P16 respectively, highlighting how much Sauber have struggled.
But he hasn’t given up, and to his credit continues to try his upmost every time he sits in the car.
Rating out of 10: 6
Now in his third season of F1, Ericsson has proved himself to be capable of a strong result. Coping better than Nasr with the unpredictable C35, he currently leads the Brazilian in the championship, based on best result countback.
The Swede has one more P12 finish to his name than Nasr, and so takes P20 in the current standings. As Sauber are so far off the pace, that is a small token of kudos for Ericsson, as is out out-qualifying Nasr 7-5 so far.
If a driver can’t get results, then consistency is the next best thing. Six DNF’s in 31 starts may seem high, although when he hasn’t finished in the points, he has usually done so in around thirteenth/fourteenth place, with a few outliers.
In the team’s best race so far, Bahrain, a P12 finish, ahead of Nasr and both Force India’s was a great result, although it hasn’t got much better since, and writing a chassis off in FP3 in Britain wasn’t exactly advisable, given the cash-strapped nature of the team at the moment.
Rating out of 10: 7
Goals for the rest of the season:
Sauber are now under new ownership, with the new backers, fully focused on returning the team to competitive status. That may be out of reach for the rest of 2016, but for 2017 onwards, the future could be bright for the team, provided they can keep hold of Nasr and Ericsson.
In the meantime, they must find a way to overhaul Manor for tenth in the standings, which means scoring at least two points. Formula One Management (FOM) only cover the travel costs of the equipment for the top 10 teams in the constructors, for the following season. Sauber are the only pointless team, and sit in 11th. In 2015, it was no problem as there were 10 teams, but the arrival of Haas, means one will miss out.
The cost is expensive and if it can be achieved and thus covered by FOM, 2017 could be a good year for the team. If not, the financial burden will seriously impact the team in 2018 and the future.