Mid-Season Report: Sauber

Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez
Championship Standings: 8th
Highest Finish: 8th 

Sauber were yet another team raising eyebrows pre-season. Nico Hulkenberg’s move from Force India to Sauber was met with a mixed reaction and was seen by many as a sideways step, at best. The other Sauber was occupied by rookie Esteban Gutierrez whose appointment was questioned, especially following the Mexican’s comments in which he said he didn’t feel he was ready for F1. However, it was thought that one of Sauber’s sponsors, Telmex, demanded a Mexican driver as part of the deal. With Sergio Perez off to McLaren, this left Sauber scrambling for a Mexican replacement for fear they would lose their sponsorship and thus hired Gutierrez.

Onwards to Australia and already Sauber were in trouble. Gutierrez suffered a tank slapping crash during Qualifying and on race day Hulkenberg suffered a fuel leak in his C32 and the team opted not to run the German on safety grounds. The sole remaining Sauber finished the race in a respectable 13th place for Esteban’s debut Grand Prix. He finished one place higher in Malaysia when he took 12th as opposed to Hulkenberg’s point scoring eighth place.

During Qualifying ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, Gutierrez suffered a blow when he was knocked out of the session in Q1, qualifying eighteenth while Hulkenberg ran circles around the rookie and qualified tenth. Any hopes of a race recovery were thrown out the window almost immeadietly when Gutierrez rear-ended Adrian Sutil’s Force India and took both of them out of the race. Hulkenberg went on to lead the race during the pit stops, eventually finishing in tenth to scrape the final points finish.

After China, Sutil really wasn’t impressed when he found himself stuck behind Hulkenberg for most of the race in Bahrain, Nico finishing 12th while Gutierrez qualified and finished in 18th. Role reversal in Spain saw Gutierrez the higher placing Sauber when he finished eleventh and just shy of the points, following a strong race recovery, starting in nineteenth following a three-place penalty for blocking Kimi Raikkonen. Hulkenberg had a less impressive race and finished fifteenth. Gutierrez again dropped out in nineteenth and finished thirteenth in Monaco while Hulkenberg started and finished eleventh.

The Canadian Grand Prix was a very unfortunate race for Sauber. Firstly, Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde made contact with Hulkenberg and the resulting damage saw Nico drop from the race. Then, Gutierrez exited the pits were mere laps left in the race but he slid off the track and into the wall at turn 2 in a bizarre incident. When the stricken car was removed, a 38-year-old marshall was involved in an accident with the recovery vehicle removing the Sauber and later succumbed to his injuries.

In Silverstone, Gutierrez was one of the victims of the Pirelli blow-outs but finished fourteenth, while Hulkenberg grabbed the final point on offer when he finished tenth. Between the British and German rounds, rumours arose that Hulkenberg hadn’t been paid since May due to financial trouble at Sauber. It was thought that he could refuse to race as his contract with the team had been broken. Regardless, he took part in the race and finished tenth again. Gutierrez kept Red Bull’s Mark Webber at bay for part of the race before finishing fourteenth, in an identical finish to the team’s British GP result.

Gutierrez suffered engine issues ahead of Qualifying at Hungary and dropped from Q1 before going on to retire in the race due to a transmission failure. Hulkenberg was on track for another points finish before being penalized for speeding in the pitlane and finishing fifteenth.

With financial problems still blighting the Swiss outfit, the talk is that they may fail to take their place on the grid in Belgium in four weeks. Watch this space…

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