Sauber’s lack of pace: Is Key the key?

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As a long time fan of Peter Sauber’s, I must admit that watching them struggle this year has been difficult. The team, which was saved by Sauber at the eleventh hour, has struggled in the first three race and scored no points. A position I seriously would not have predicted in January.

Team owner Peter Sauber bought his team back from BMW last year when the German car maker decided that F1 as not a god marketing vehicle for them. Perhaps erroneously, I felt that the BMW chassis would be a good starting point for Sauber this year and their pace in testing had moments of encouragement.

Unfortunately this has not panned out for the team in result in 2010 so far. You will recall that Sauber hired ex-Force India employee James Key as their new technical director. This replaced long-time boss Willy Rampf.

The hope is that Key will be a big asset in ferreting out the issue at Sauber that has them battling the new teams for results. A position no established team would envy. Sauber released a Q&A today and it does give us some insight on the team bosses feelings and direct:

Question: Two days ago James Key took over the position of Technical Director. Why did you choose him for the role?

Peter Sauber: “I was impressed by what Force India had achieved in recent times on a tight budget, and James Key played a major role in getting them to where they are today. For me it was also important to appoint a Technical Director with a track record of getting the most out of limited resources. He will benefit from the first-class infrastructure at Hinwil and I’m in no doubt that he can take the team forward.”

Question: What are his main tasks?

PS: “His first Grand Prix for the team will be Shanghai, where he will also have technical responsibility at the circuit. In the short term he will focus on exploiting the full potential of the C29, something we haven’t been able to do in the first three races of the season. Looking further ahead, he will set about putting in place what he considers to be the right structure for the technical department. I’m certainly expecting there to be changes. However, these will not happen overnight. It’s a process that will take place over a period of time.”

Question: Why are changes necessary in the technical department?

PS: “In terms of performance we are not where we expected to be or where we should be given the means we’ve had at our disposal in the development of the C29. I’m looking for explanations myself. What is clear is that there was a lot of uncertainty around the whole team in the second half of 2009 – not surprisingly, given the circumstances. Nobody within the team knew whether we would be on the grid in Bahrain. This uncertainty was only removed when I took over the team and the guys could see a future once again. Now we have the task of making up for lost time as quickly as possible.”

Question: What are the prerequisites for that?

PS: “We’re experiencing a new beginning as a team and are in the process of adapting from a works outfit to an independent team. We’ve cut our budget by 40 per cent and reduced the workforce by a third. That’s a massive cutback. However, this economisation process is something all the other established teams still have ahead of them as a result of the restrictions imposed by FOTA. What we have to do now is move away from the previous modus operandi and put new methods in place that will maximise efficiency. This applies not only to technical development, but also to the way we operate as a team – for example, how the engineers work with our two new drivers. That’s something that needs time to bed in. James Key will have a wide variety of tasks. As an organisation, everything is in place to get us back to our former strength.”

Question: Willy Rampf will still be trackside in Shanghai, but Malaysia was his last Grand Prix as Technical Director. What does that mean for you as Team Principal?

PS: “It’s the end of an era. Willy has spent 14 years with the team in total, ten of them as Technical Director. He helped to shape the company and can take a lot of the credit for the team’s success over the years. Willy has done a great deal for our team and I’m very grateful to him.”

Question: How did Willy Rampf come into the team all those years ago?

PS: “I met Willy in 1993 through Leo Ress, our Technical Director at the time. He invited Willy to our very first Grand Prix in Kyalami. Back then, Willy was working in South Africa as an engineer for BMW. A few months later he applied for a job with us and I took him on as race engineer to Heinz-Harald Frentzen.”

Question: What happened next?

PS: “In 1998 Willy went back to BMW for another spell – this time in Munich, where he headed up the company’s Paris-Dakar motorcycle project. Once again he quickly achieved success. In 2000 he returned to the team, and I named him Technical Director not long after. That turned out to be an auspicious move; in his first full year in 2001 we finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, which was a great result for us. Willy’s technical stewardship also took in the years with the BMW Sauber F1 Team, during which we celebrated the one-two victory in Canada. By then Willy had already indicated that he wanted to make a few changes career-wise. But he promised to stay on until we had found someone to take over. With the arrival of James Key, that person is now in place.”

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