Interview: Sauber Prepares to Bow Out

Peter Sauber would prefer to bow out of Formula One without fuss or fanfare

Sunday's season-ending Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai will be the last at the helm for the cigar-smoking Swiss before he hands over his team to new owners BMW after 13 seasons in Formula One and 216 Grands Prix.

"Of course there will be emotions on an occasion like this," Sauber told Reuters, looking ahead to a gala dinner thrown by sponsor Credit Suisse tonight as both tribute and 62nd birthday celebration. "If I could decide it myself, I would keep it low key. But it will not be possible."

Sauber, a trained electrician who started off racing Volkswagen Beetles and designed his first sportscar in the basement of his parents' home, has swum quietly in the churning waters of the 'Piranha Club' of team bosses while earning widespread respect.

Minardi's Paul Stoddart, another 'independent' departing on Sunday after selling his team to Red Bull, described the Swiss as one of the paddock's true gentlemen.

Sauber, who has designated all his Grand Prix cars with a letter C for his wife Christiane, said he had no time to consider how he might feel.

"I am too busy at the moment. I think after the end of the year there will be moments when I miss it," he said.

Although he retains an advisory role with BMW and 20 percent of the shares, after the end of the year Sauber will play no part in the operational running of a team he founded down the road from his garage in Hinwil.

He will go to a few races next year, 'when I have something to do', but will have no office in the factory.

Lasting Legacy

"The most important thing was to give the team a basis to move forward on the sporting side. Then, to keep the employees at Hinwil," he said of the sale.

"Talking about the whole period of motorsport, what is important to me is that I brought back Mercedes Benz to international motorsport, after an absence of 30 years, in sportscar racing and then to Formula One.

"And now finally I bring BMW to Formula One with their own team," added Sauber.

The Swiss brought back Mercedes, who quit the sport in 1955 after 79 people died when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes flew into the crowd at Le Mans, first in sportscars and then as an F1 engine supplier in 1994 for a year before they switched to McLaren.

Two years with Ford followed and then came Ferrari engines from 1997.

It would be easy to assume that Sauber's greatest regret in leaving is to do so without ever having won a race, with the team having perhaps two or three such chances over the years. That would be wrong, however.

"For sure [the biggest disappointment] was Karl (Wendlinger)'s accident in Monaco," he said of the 1994 crash that came in practice for the race after Brazilian Ayrton Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix.

The highly-rated Austrian, who had been with Sauber in sportscars along with future World Champion Michael Schumacher, was in a coma for days. When he returned in 1995, he competed in just six more races.

Best Memory

The best memories are more recent, even if there is not a standout moment.

"Formula One is a sport and you look at the results so [the best memory] is obviously the six podiums and the fourth position in the constructors' in 2001," said Sauber.

That was the same year that Sauber stuck his neck out and signed the inexperienced and little-known Kimi Raikkonen despite serious misgivings from the governing body and some other teams.

Raikkonen, winner of seven races for McLaren this season, did not let him down.

"It was a big risk," said Sauber. "It was almost impossible to convince the Formula One commission to give him the superlicence against the will of [FIA president] Max Mosley. When they finally voted, Max abstained.

"After only one day of testing - he did three days but I only saw him on the second - I was absolutely convinced that this young man was someone very special."

Other Sauber drivers over the years include Frenchman Jean Alesi, Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Briton Johnny Herbert.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve is the only World Champion to have driven for the team. Schumacher, despite the early Mercedes sportscar connection, was never an option.

"It doesn't make sense to regret something which was not possible, but obviously it would have been nice to have him as a driver," said Sauber of the German.

The roll-call of names also includes Brazilian Pedro Diniz, whose funding in 1999 and 2000 proved more useful than his racecraft.

There are no regrets there either.

"Over 36 years that the company has been in motorsports, there has been only one 'pay driver' and it was Pedro," said Sauber. "I would do that again because he brought a lot of money and he was a good pay driver."

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