When Pirelli announced that they were bringing the harder compounds to the belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps, I had a nagging feeling Sauber could do well. We discussed here and there and while many felt Lotus, McLaren and even Red Bull may do well at the legendary circuit, I kept thinking Sauber could be amongst them. The issue for me, and it has been born out of year-to-date performances,is that their single-lap pace just hasn’t been as good as their race pace. Saturday changed that notion as Kamui Kobayashi scored his first-ever 2nd place during qualifying.
Kamui was elated with his performance and I was surprised to see the Sauber’s doing as well as they were in practice but when the time came for Q3, Kamui put it on the line and will line up next to pole-sitter Jenson button. No one had pace for Button on Saturday but no one was necessarily underestimating Sauber after their FP3 pace either. Kamui said:
“Today even in the morning we had quite a good confidence in the car,” he said.
“Even if we know that Spa is one of our favourite tracks with our car we didn’t expect to be second. Front row is really good finishing in the qualify[ing].
“We usually struggle in qualy and in the race I think we are not really worried. But this is where we want to improve [over a single lap].”
This matters as the team have had quite the resurgence in 2012 and along with then 3rd-place qualifier Pastor Maldonado, the team seem to be on the rise like Williams F1. Can Kamui turn single-lap pace into race-winning form? That remains to be seen but as the cars have a tendency to run long stints and the track is 5km long, anything could happen.
If Sauber get a slow start and lose places and finish int he top 10, then that will be what it is but I still think Saturday was a big day for the team in that they needed to know that their chassis and driver combination can put a single-lap pace together given the right set up and conditions. Now it’s just down to fine-tuning, developing the chassis for a more encompassing style to accomodate multiple tracks and they have something. That a lot easier said than done, however but if circuit length is an indicator, the new USGP in Austin may suit them as well.
Can Sauber take this pace and make the most of the remainder of the season? It depends on their development process. If they have upgrades coming and keep pace with Williams F1 and Mercedes, they may one of their best finishes in a long time. They most likely will not eclipse their best finish ever. You have to go back to 2001 and a 4th place finish in the Constructor’s Title to see the teams best effort and that was when Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen were driving for them. In fact, they had 13 DNF’s that season and still claimed 4th in the title…and yes, Nick out performed Kimi.
They do have every chance of being 5th and taking the spot from Mercedes given that teams performance today during qualifying. Mercedes seem to be going backward and that will leave the door open to 5th and a lot more money fo rSauber.