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Key: “Immensely tight grid” a reason for optimism at Sauber

Sauber Formula 1 technical director James Key says that an “immensely tight grid” in 2023 gives him cause for optimism regarding the team’s prospects for next year.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C43, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C43

Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

In its final season under the Alfa Romeo name, the Swiss outfit slipped from sixth to ninth in the constructors' standings after a difficult season with the C43.

However, in the background the team has been building towards the arrival of Audi in 2026, with the hiring of former McLaren man Key one of the most visible signs of progress.

Key says that a performance differential of just 1.5% between pacesetters Max Verstappen and Red Bull and the midfield this year bodes well for next season, as it suggests that small gains will be very valuable.

“It's an immensely tight grid,” said Key.

“Unless you really track the numbers it's not obvious from outside, because the pecking order is still similar. But if you look at the lap times, 1.5% overall, it means we're all at 98.5% of the quickest car. And sometimes it's less than that.

“I won't bang on about this, but if you look at an overlay between let's say, us and Mercedes or Red Bull, it's just a few corners, a little bit of braking or something.

“It's not like this massive difference you used to see with a car that was in sort of P8/P9 position, compared to a car which is in P1/P2. The difference was very stark just a few years ago, now it's incredibly close.

James Key, Alfa Romeo F1 Team Technical Director

Photo by: Alfa Romeo

James Key, Alfa Romeo F1 Team Technical Director

“So that suggests if we get everything right, both at the track and at the factory in our decisions on development, decisions on the car, then there's plenty more opportunity there.

“Everyone's in the same boat. But there's no reason to believe we are stuck in this position at all, I believe we can definitely move further forward.

“And if you look at that band of, I guess it's P5/6 at the moment really down to P10, it's immensely close. In that respect there's every reason to be optimistic that we can go further forward."

Key admits that the team still has to improve in all areas, but he insists that is starting from a strong position.

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“I think all the basics are definitely there, which is why I think there's potential to do better immediately,” he said. “But some of the big stuff, we're definitely missing a bit too.

“And I think the future capex [increase] will fill those gaps with more state of the art and key facilities, investment in existing facilities that we've got, which are already good as a baseline – the wind tunnel is legendary at Sauber.

“But there's work to do in terms of the technology, for example. I think all of those things will be direct performance gains, compared to where we are now.

“A lot of is catching up, to be honest with you. So to be within this 1.5% knowing there's an awful lot of stuff to do is pretty good I think, a good indicator.

“Beyond that, we've got to look at other areas. We have been pushing the production side even harder to get those few tenths further down, and we need some more office space. There's plenty of big projects to consider as well."

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