Day Five: Sauber

On the fifth day of Christmas, Ben Sweeney gave to me… Sauber

Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez
Championship Standings: 7th
Highest Finish: 4th (Hulkenberg, Korea)

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 immediately 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.

Coming back from the summer break, Gutierrez was involved in the Sutil, Maldonado and di Resta crash, but escaped without damage en route to fourteenth, while Hulkenberg dropped from eleventh to thirteenth.  In Italy two weeks later, Hulkenberg was impressive en route to fifth ahead of Nico Rosberg, who he held off for the latter part of the race. Gutierrez was further down the order in thirteenth.

He finished one better in Singapore when he raced to twelfth while Hulkenberg again finished in the points with a ninth place. Korea was Hulkenberg’s stand-out race of the season when he fended off Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton for the bulk of the race, eventually placing fourth. Gutierrez narrowly missed out on his first F1 points when he finished eleventh.

Esteban finally broke into the points at the Japanese Grand Prix by finishing seventh right behind team-mate Hulkenberg who was sixth. It was a particularly impressive performance from Esteban who lined up fourteenth on the grid. Unfortunately though, the Mexican was back to normal at the next race in India when he crossed the line fifteenth. Nico dropped from the race with brakes issues but completed more than 90% of the race and so was classified nineteenth.

Hulkenberg had a strong qualifying in Abu Dhabi to line up sixth, but a drive-through penalty as the result of an unsafe release during his first pitstop demoted him to fourteenth in the race. Gutierrez, for the second time in his career, out-raced Nico – finishing thirteenth.

Gutierrez was handed a ten-place grid penalty for dangerously swerving on track in front of Williams’ Pastor Maldonado who had to take precautionary action to avoid a collision, during Qualifying for the Austin Grand Prix. Starting twentieth, he finished thirteenth, after being t-boned and spun by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne on the final lap. Hulkenberg was back in the points when he finished sixth.

And so to the final race of the season where Hulkenberg qualified tenth and Hulkenberg eighteenth. Hulkenberg moved up two places mid-race to finish eighth, while Gutierrez moved up five to twelfth.

The much talked about financial issues for the Swiss team approaching the summer break were very much forgotten for the second part of the season, when Nico Hulkenberg, hell-bent on impressing for a seat higher up the grid, but in truly incredible performances. He was eventually outshone by Pastor Maldonado’s $17 million sponsorship which leaves him returning to his old home Force India. Gutierrez, with only one points finish, could be out of the job next year with the likes of Sergio Perez and possible Adrian Sutil all looking to the team for a drive in 2014.

Photo courtesy Sauber F1 Team.

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