The financial situation the Sauber F1 team finds itself in is unfortunately nothing new to the Formula 1 paddock.
Aside from the Swiss team, the likes of Marussia, Caterham, Williams and Force India have hired drivers who bring substantial sponsorship dollars with them, and last year’s signing of Esteban Gutiérrez – ostensibly in a bid to secure the sponsorship Telmex provided – was an early sign of the team’s apparent financial struggles.
Being a young rookie with limited experience behind the wheel of an F1 car, many argued that Gutiérrez was not yet mature enough to pilot over 700BHP. So far, he’s yet to prove his critics wrong, with no points to his name and regular appearances in the Q1 dropout zone – not to mention the fact that he has been constantly outperformed by his experienced team-mate, Nico Hülkenberg.
This brings into question Sauber’s new financial saviour, their newly-signed and very well-funded test driver Sergey Sirotkin. Currently competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, he’s 18 years of age and has never had a run in an F1 car. Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn, has already confirmed that the Russian will drive for the outfit providing he obtains his Superlicense.
Taking age out of the equation, Sirotkin doesn’t even meet the criteria of results in the junior categories to qualify for a Superlicense, so why is he to be considered for a full-time driver at the pinnacle of motorsport next year?
The team’s reserve driver position became vacant due to the release of the promising Robin Frijns, a driver with raw speed and talent, but with no money. It would be easy to slot Sirotkin into that role and mould him into a driver who’ll be safe and comfortable enough in the car to push and score points. But surely no driver is that stubborn that they expect a drive a the top tier without going through some sort of learning curve.
Even though his rookie year isn’t going quite as expected, Gutierrez at least had a GP3 championship title under his belt before jumping into F1.
The subject of future sustainability doesn’t just end towards the back of the grid either. In a bid to become more prominent in the championship, Lotus are reportedly contemplating Pastor Maldonado as a replacement for the Ferrari-bound Kimi Räikkönen.
Also competing for the Lotus seat is Hulkenberg, who doesn’t bring in anywhere near the amount Maldonado can bring. Put the two together: you have Maldonado who is a race winner, and has failed to follow up on expectations; and Hulkenberg, who has put a Williams on pole in changeable conditions, and has led a Grand Prix in a Williams, Force India and a Sauber, constantly outperforming his machinery.
Another name floating around is Felipe Massa, albeit unlikely, he’s fresh off an eight-year stint with Ferrari, and could be a good asset for Lotus.
The signing of Kimi Räikkönen’s replacement will tell where Lotus’ priorities lie…