Key hopes to unlock Sauber potential

Sauber may be experiencing its worst start to a season since it entered Formula 1, but new technical director James Key is optimistic that the team has what it needs to recover the lost ground

Key hopes to unlock Sauber potential

The Hinwil-based outfit headed into the campaign full of optimism after some encouraging performances in winter testing, but the C29 failed to carry through that strong form into the first race, while reliability dramas have also hampered its progress.

Those factors have left Sauber without a point to its name after the first four races - the first time that has happened since 1996 - and have increased the need for Key, who took on his new role earlier this month, to turn things around.

But rather than be downbeat about the situation Sauber has found itself in, Key believes the team is more than capable of making the progress it needs.

"Obviously the pressure is on to see if we can make some steps forward," said Key, whose first race with the team was the Chinese Grand Prix. "That pressure is not just on me, it is on everyone.

"Perhaps the season isn't quite what everyone hoped, but we have to take it a step at a time. Some of it may be that the competition has made more steps that we expected, but we have plans for the future.

"We have some tweaks for the next race and other steps after that. It is just a case of making sure we are optimising ourselves as the small team we are now to hit the big areas of development. There is work to do, but there is no mystery at the moment as to what needs to be done. There is direction, it is just a question of getting there."

Key has conducted a thorough analysis of the operation and car since he joined Sauber, and has seen nothing that has left him unduly concerned. In fact, he is encouraged that he has been able to find obvious areas that need improving.

"The fundamentals are there first of all and I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong," he explained. "The straightline speed is something that needs to be improved, but the team is aware of that already - and that is just a drag calculation. It is something the team is working on and there are clearly some tenths wrapped up in that.

"There are certainly other things too that we are setting directions on now. I can't go into too much detail, but there are certain things aerodynamically that are slightly different in terms of characteristics in the way the car is to what I would expect or would want to see in a car.

"These are directions that we are working on now to see if we can develop for the future. They are not quick fixes that you can bolt on and it works the next day, but they are development directions for the future. There are things I have identified, but I don't think there are any mysteries about the car at the moment - we will have to see how things develop. But there are certain things we have to try and work out.

"It is a very neat car, it is extremely well built and the quality for me is extremely good. There are also some neat features on suspension and those sorts of areas. There are some areas that are different to what I am used to, there are areas where development direction will form around, and I think a few areas that need a bit of work at the moment. It is a nicely put together car."

Although one of Sauber's main concerns at the moment is reliability, with the team having suffered engine and hydraulics problems in the first races, Key believes the team must continue to balance curing those issues with bringing more speed too.

"Naturally reliability is a big priority and the team is working on that very well," Key added. "It's been unfortunate because in winter testing there wasn't any hint of there being a reliability issue, but now we are keeping a close eye on it.

"But you have to do that in tandem with performance, because as soon as the reliability is there you want to make sure that you are in a position to score points."

Key believes one of the main challenges over the next few weeks is in getting the team's new structure working at its best - on the back of BMW's withdrawal and the subsequent cutting down of manpower in Hinwil.

"There is a little bit of work to do in making sure that we take what the team is now and gluing it together in the right way, after what went on over the winter and the uncertainty there.

"There are some departments that were much bigger before and now are just one or two people, and if there are several of those then it is a question of putting them together and helping the team reform a bit as a smaller operation than it has been used to. But as I have said before, the fundamentals are there."

Key is hoping to agree a development plan with the team within the next fortnight - to take into account updates for this year and the creation of next year's C30.

"We have the balance with next year's car as well to consider, like everyone. As a small team it is always more difficult because your resources are only so big, but there are plans emerging now.

"We have some tweaks for Barcelona but over the next couple of weeks a clearer picture will emerge of which events we will try to hit with updates, and how we want to pitch them. There is a preliminary plan already."

Although Key could be forgiven for feeling a tinge of regret having left Force India at a time when it has made another big step forward, he actually feels his old team's situation is a cause for extra motivation for himself and his new employers.

"I feel very proud actually," he said about Force India's form. "It is a team I was involved with for a long time and in some ways I wished I hadn't pushed them so hard over November and December, because obviously it worked! But I think, good for them. I am glad it worked for them and it is a pretty good target for us. We have to aim to beat them and aim for that level.

"For us, there is this middle group of teams and Force India and Renault are leading that right now. But there is no reason why we cannot catch them up. It may take a bit of time, but we can do that - and then it's the top four after that."

shares
comments
Trulli frustrated by Lotus problems
Previous article

Trulli frustrated by Lotus problems

Next article

Williams increases share in hybrid arm

Williams increases share in hybrid arm
Load comments
The downside to F1's show and tell proposal Plus

The downside to F1's show and tell proposal

Technology lies at the heart of the F1 story and it fascinates fans, which is why the commercial rights holder plans to compel teams to show more of their ‘secrets’. STUART CODLING fears this will encourage techno-quackery…

How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits Plus

How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells STUART CODLING about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Plus

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at
 Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as BEN ANDERSON discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren  Plus

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren 

From being lapped by his own team-mate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Plus

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing windtunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher Plus

The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles at a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay Plus

Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax Plus

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021