Bright Lights Returning
A lot of things can happen in three years. Back in 2008, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds were seen as respectable members of the Renault F1 team, five different cars were winning races and everyone thought they had seen the last of Sakon Yamamoto.
And Sauber were entering a competitive car, which under the backing of BMW, won their first and so far only grand prix exactly three years today.
I presume we all know the story of one Sunday afternoon in Montreal. Robert Kubica had started second, and when he was waiting for the green light in the pitlane next to Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton ploughed into the back of the Finn, closely followed by Nico Rosberg. Kubica was left unscathed from the whole drama, and was allowed a free battle against his team mate, Nick Heidfeld. His speed in a two stop strategy compared to Heidfeld’s one was sufficient enough to see him finish ahead, a 1-2, for the only time.
The results were sensational, 18 points for BMW Sauber put them three points behind Ferrari in the Constructors Championship. More significantly perhaps, the 10 points for Kubica saw him lead the Championship. Ahead of the likes of Hamilton, Raikkonen and Massa. The peak, at the top of the mountain. Surely this team could go on to better and greater things. More wins, maybe even a good run into the Championships. Yet no one thought to tell Dr Theissen that when you are up there, there is only one way you are going to slide.
Of the next eleven races, BMW Sauber only got on the podium five further times. The reports saying the focus was on 2009, with the major changes in the rules and regulations.
The tactic failed spectacularly. Robert Kubica was an outside shot for the Championship right until the penultimate round, someone who could have pushed Hamilton and Massa had there been further updates.
Kubica was knowingly angry, as was I. Although 2008 wasn’t scrumpled up and chucked in the bin, there were some updates, minor updates, but BMW Sauber were being left behind by the developments of McLaren and Ferrari. What could have been? Hindsight allows us so many things, it wasn’t worth giving up after Canada.
2009 was disastrous, the car looked ugly and its performances matched it. For a team built on reliability the car was breaking down far too often, only twice did the car get on the podium, and one of those occasions only ended in half points.
BMW sold to QADBAK, the mysterious middle eastern company who had also bought the League 2 football club, Notts County. That went down the pan (as did the ownership of the company several years later), but the pan decided to flip up Peter Sauber, who bought his team back, it was back in his ownership, like it should be, its his team after all.
I was delighted, I loved the BMW regime, it was like playing football under Jose Mourinho. It wasn’t pretty, you looked boring, but you got the results and you just had to love the person in charge. Then Mourinho decided to leave to join some German club and your left with the assistant manager Martin Jol to step up, the charismatic, lovely, simply can’t hate him whatsoever, you love what he does even if it isn’t as good.
And it wasn’t as good. If everyone thought QADBAK was rock bottom, worse was yet to come. The 2010 duo of Kamui Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa failed to score a point until the Turkish Grand Prix, even worse, de la Rosa’s only points came in Hungary. Hungary, a race in July. While Heidfeld steadied the ship, it was a depressing season.
With promise though. And 2011 has re-enlightened the spark left behind when BMW left. Kobayashi has finished in the points every race this season (if you include Australia, where I don’t let that disqualification get in the way of a good stat), while young Mexican Sergio Perez has showed a lot of promise. This was all backed up in Monaco, Kobayashi showed everything that proved the doubters wrong, he kept Webber and Hamilton behind for many laps, he got himself past Adrian Sutil, albeit forcefully, and could have finished even higher than 5th had the red flag not come out. It was partly down to luck, pitting during the Safety Car. But Jamey Key has built a hell of a car, which seems to be in a full on relationship with the Pirelli tyres and treats it with roses and chocolates every other Sunday.
It is nowhere near the same promise shown back in 2008. Formula 1 can be classified in four clear groups. The Front Runners of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. The Front Midfield of Renault and Mercedes. The Back Midfield (well thought out names, I will admit) of Sauber, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso. And of course the rubbish three of Team Lotus, Virgin and Hispania. But its time to asses this view, Sauber are now eleven points ahead of the next rivals, Force India. Renault and Mercedes both showed signs of struggling in Monaco. The balance in the midfield is shifting.
Canada will be the true test of course, scene of the greatest moment for Sauber in their 18 year history, with the treating of the tyres on a track which will probably require 84 pitstops for each driver, maybe the good form can carry on. Sergio Perez back to his best after his massive crash, and Kamui Kobayashi is leading the team, why not feel good about Sauber yet again? In a world dominated by Sebastian Vettel, there is cause for happiness in Formula 1.
Three years ago the world was at BMW Sauber’s feet. After dragging themselves through hell and high waters, the world is once again a prettier place, with flowers and sunshine, and the world at the feet once again.