Swiss team Sauber joins F1’s elite teams club

Istanbul (AFP) –


Switzerland, the country that banned motor racing for 60 years, will on Sunday witness its only Formula One team joining an elite club of the sport’s grandee outfits.

The modest Swiss Sauber team will start its landmark 500th race at the Turkish Grand Prix – a feat achieved by only three other teams, led by Ferrari.

The Hinwil-based team, founded by Peter Sauber as a sportscar outfit, entered F1 in 1993 and has raced since under various identities including BMW Sauber and, more recently, Alfa Romeo.

This weekend at the Istanbul Park Circuit, Kimi Raikkonen, himself the individual record-holder for most F1 race entries – he starts his 326th on Sunday – will allow himself a smile of pleasure.

He is back racing with the team that gave him his debut in 2001, after spells with McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus, and fills with pride at the survival and achievements of the Swiss privateer team.

"The team is quite a bit bigger than when I started in F1 with them," the 2007 world champion, now 41, recalled.

"It’s a proper team. We have all the tools, we have been building cars. The gearbox and engine come from Ferrari, but apart from that we do everything."

In his first season, Sauber finished fourth in the constructors’ championship, their best result. Since then, despite being sold to BMW and bought back, the Sauber brand has continued.

"Money is always an issue with the small teams, but that’s how it is,” said Raikkonnen.

"It’s a great number – 500 – that the team are achieving and I think only three others have done more Grands Prix.

"So, I think for a private team they’ve been here a long time, surviving some really difficult times and, hopefully, we can make them go higher up in the coming years.”

Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are the trio of rival teams to have entered more races. They have also won the most teams’ titles.

By contrast, Sauber have only one win to show for their longevity and that came with Robert Kubica at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix when BMW were in control.

Raikkonen’s Italian team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi, a Ferrari protégé in his third season, similarly oozes affection for the unsung Swiss team that has nurtured and developed many young drivers, including current Ferrari star Charles Leclerc.

"It’s a great achievement, a small team like Sauber doing 500 Grands Prix is amazing,” he said. “I’m proud even if I’m a small part of this record, because for me it’s an important team.

"I did my debut with them back in 2017, my first full season with them, and now my third season with them.”

Although the team was taken over by Swiss investment group Longbow Finance, when it was in financial peril in 2016, it has retained its home and staff in Hinwil – and its Swiss identity.

"I’m proud to be part of this family,” said Giovinazzi. “To be a small team, they achieve great results and they have a great record like this one."

Switzerland banned motor racing after the 1955 Le Mans 24-Hours tragedy when 83 spectators were killed after a car crashed into the crowd.