Q&A: Monisha Kaltenborn on Sauber resurgence

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The first half of the 2013 season was anything but satisfying for the Sauber F1 Team. Seven World Championship points after ten races was a modest harvest. Nevertheless, since the Italian Grand Prix the team has shown a significant improvement: the Swiss outfit scored no less than 38 points in the last four races. This puts the Sauber F1 Team into a solid seventh place in the constructors’ championship. Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn explains how the team was able to turn the tide.

The Sauber F1 Team had a fantastic season in 2012. However, at the beginning of 2013 it was quite a different story. What happened?

Monisha Kaltenborn, Team Principal: “After the concept of the side exhaust system was very successful last year, our engineers decided to go with a different concept for the C32, that in theory had even more potential. In practice, however, it looked different. We realised that in Melbourne where we brought an update to the car that didn’t work as we expected it to. It then took some time for our engineers to understand the problem.”

What was the problem?

MK: “The aero balance of the car was not stable, especially during braking and turning in. Apart from the measurable implications, the side effect was that the drivers had less confidence in the C32. In addition, we didn’t have the resources to quickly modify the car. Instead, this process happened step by step. The largest update we brought was in Hungary, where we implemented a modified exhaust concept. We already saw a significant improvement back then, but, of course, it took some time until we were able to get the most out of that. In addition, our understanding of the car improved, which translated to a better set-up. Furthermore, we were able to maintain the high level of quality producing the parts back at the factory. The whole team, in the factory and at the track, did an outstanding job.”

Did the ‘new’ tyres, that came into effect in Hungary, also suit your car?

MK: “It’s not easy to pinpoint that as we brought our largest update at the exact same time. However, I believe in general the tyres helped, which was the opposite last year.”

Early in the season some people said the team should stop the development of the current car and fully concentrate on the 2014 car.

MK: “Giving up was never an option, because we wanted to make progress with the current car, in order to improve in the constructors’ championship. In addition the insight we are getting now will help with the development of the new car.”

Let’s be honest: Did you think it was possible to improve like that in the current season?

MK: “It would have been presumptuous to expect such a big improvement. Nevertheless we said very early on that we would be able to improve during the second half of the season. We were certain of this, based on the knowledge we gained. In addition everything came together during the last few races, including some competitors not being able to use their opportunities in the best possible way. But we didn’t expect to be able to score double digit points in three out of four races.”

The Sauber F1 Team now has 45 points, Toro Rosso 31 and Force India 62. Are you looking ahead or behind?

MK: “In general we are always looking ahead. If we continue to be as focused without making any mistakes, then there is still a lot to gain. We know however, that it won’t be easy to claim sixth place. And, of course, we will check the rear mirror in order to avoid a nasty surprise.”

How satisfied are you with the drivers?

MK: “Both drivers have shown a very good performance. Nico delivers what we expected from him. He is fast, consistent and very efficient. He has gained a lot of points through his fighting spirit, but he also knows how to seize and use chances if they present themselves to him during a race. Esteban had a tough start. In addition, the car was not as good at the beginning of the season as it is today, which didn’t help. Nevertheless he worked hard and improved continuously. It was only a question of time for everything to slot into place, as we could see last weekend. Looking at his times, he was often very close to Nico, but, because the competition in the middle field is so tight, sometimes it was a couple of positions away, which, at a first glance, doesn’t look good. However, he also did an outstanding job when, for example, giving feedback regarding the set-up of the car, which took the team forward.”

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