Key sounds, well, low-key in talking about Sauber’s 2010 prospects

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I doubt that the Sauber F1 team is about to add any sponsors after releasing today’s Q and A with new technical director James Key.

Is he realistic? Yes. Is he measured? You betcha. Does he make me want to throw my company logo on the car?

Er… not so much.

Here are a few highlights from the interview, starting with the topic on most of our minds: Can Sauber compete?

Question: Is it realistic to move up the grid in the course of the 2010 season?

Key: ”I believe it is, because we now know what we need to do with the current car. However, for some issues there are no quick fixes. Some current characteristics of the car need to be developed to produce new characteristics, which takes time. So we will work as quickly as possible to turn that around. Targets have been set and they are very ambitious. It’s certainly possible to move up the grid, but the competition is fierce so we have to do everything we can to develop quicker than they do.”

Let me break that down for you, if you didn’t get it. The short answer is: “No.”

Well, how about 2011? Maybe things are looking good there?

Question: When will you start working on the 2011 car?

Key: “Work on the 2011 car has started already. Different layouts are being evaluated, and we have a long list of ideas and things we want to look at. The team has already done quite a bit of background work in various areas to start looking at the implications of the regulation changes we know about for 2011. In addition, we have ideas where we should improve from this year’s car. That process is already underway. I have a schedule in mind of how we need to split the balance between the development of this year’s and next year’s car, which fits the structure of the team. I think we should gain momentum over the next few weeks. However, much is still subject to any further regulation changes and the tyre situation, which we have to keep an eye on.

“We have got a fairly aggressive set of goals for its development to make sure that we meet deadlines, and also have the possibility to investigate as much as we can on the fundamentals of the car at this early stage.”

Uh oh. They have a “fairly aggressive set of goals for its development to make sure that we meet deadlines”? How about: “We have got a set of aggressive goals to develop a competitive, innovative car.” How about even: “I think the 2011 car will be fast.”

When you’re just talking about meeting deadlines, I start deja vuing* about USF1.

For all “business of F1” types, Key is looking to do things differently at Sauber.

Question: What are your plans in the longer term?

Key: ”There are many things to do in the longer term. One is to adapt the shape of the company according to our budget and goals for the future, as well as possible regulation changes. Part of the restructuring I will be doing will be designed so we have a better capability within the current size of our technical organisation to soak up longer term changes to regulations. This will also allow us to start work on next year’s car much earlier than perhaps would be the case in the past. So, for example, I expect to sit down and start the 2012 car design process before this year has finished.”

OK. So that’s interesting. It’s certainly the first mention I’ve seen of a 2012 car design. The trouble is: That’s more than a season and a half away! How is the team going to sustain itself until then?

But, my real reason for feeling troubled about the Sauber team is embedded in this answer:

Question: What will you change in the short term?

Key: “In the short term there is going to be a small restructuring within the technical group, which I have just started instigating. This should allow the team to be more in tune with the smaller organisation it is now, particularly in terms of the efficiency of its operation. In addition to that, we have a plan being developed of what exactly we are going to do this year to attack the known issues we have, and to give ourselves a chance to realise some decent steps later in the season.”

On first glance, it sounds OK. Then I re-read it and this phrase shone like Lewis Hamilton’s smile**: “we have a plan being developed of what exactly we are going to do this year to attack the know issues we have.”

Sauber has a “plan being developed”? We’re about a quarter of the way through the season! You can’t still be developing a plan. You need to be executing the plan already! I know, the four flyaways push things a back a bit, but, really, this is ridiculous.

Summation: Don’t put money on Kamui Kobayashi to be the first rookie this year to score a podium finish.***

* OK, technically not a word. But, then again, USF1 technically wasn’t an F1 team.
** Why am I picking on Lewis? Don’t know. Could be Mark Webber. I’d have gone with David Coulthard if were an active driver. Heck, Fernando Alonso’s got a pretty radiant grin, now that I think about it. So, consider it changed to “Fernando Alonso’s smile.”
*** That puts me in mind of a Your View. But first, we’ll need a Spanish GP predictions one. Stay tuned.

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