|Photo: Octane Photography|
It's hard to see how even that can be repeated in 2016 though. Sauber all alone didn't bring its challenger for the new season to the first pre-season test, and when it appeared for the second while the C35 was by no means a disaster - indeed some of its detail impressed onlookers - it appears in the mix at the back of the midfield, perhaps near to Haas or to McLaren and Lotus, rather than near the likes of Williams, Force India and the two Red Bull squads further ahead. Therefore to do something like it did 12 months it'll need attrition or else other unusual goings-on. And the trouble was the reliability throughout the field looked generally good in Barcelona.
One wonders now with Haas on the scene and being de facto Ferrari B team how it will impact on Sauber too given for much of its history the Hinwil team has benefited from a close relationship. The car is an improvement though, and quickly dispelled waspish suggestions that Sauber might even struggle to beat the Manor. "It felt like we had a step forward on everything" said Nasr. And his team mate Marcus Ericsson concurred: "With regard the engine there's definitely good potential there. The driveability has definitely improved. I also feel the braking stability has improved. On the aero side the car feels better in the high-speed corners, it feels stable".
The team's new technical director Mark Smith is experienced and highly-rated and has spoken of changing the team's aerodynamic philosophy, but some of his words around the time of the latest car's launch revealed a lot of the compromises that face the Swiss squad. Smith explained that many newer pieces won't be ready for Melbourne and that the team has to plan very carefully when to use the resources involved in making such parts, as well as that such decisions are particularly acute with big regulation changes expected (but not yet firmed up) for 2017. With galling timing a report has emerged of staff salaries not being paid on time.
With its usual trick not in the magician's bag this time it seems, it's difficult to see what awaits for Sauber in 2016 beyond hopefully existing, and perhaps grabbing the occasional point or two.
Marcus Ericsson - Car #9
|Photo: Octane Photography|
Last year even with a season's experience over his team mate Ericsson started much more slowly. While Felipe Nasr was winning lots of new friends in the early rounds the Swede got nowhere near, and about the only time in that spell that he was on top, in Malaysia, he binned it on lap four... This would all have been regrettable enough but it's especially so in a Sauber which as outlined has long since tended to score most of its points early in a campaign. Something that dogged him throughout too was that he was often too slow, and lost places as a result, around pit stops.
Things did improve for him however as the year went on and it peaked with three scores in a row between Hungary and Monza. After the Monza race he spoke eloquently about his improvement, that it was based on a focussed and analytical approach with his engineer to progress throughout the weekend in getting the car to his liking, rather than over-stretching when things didn't go his way early. Perhaps though his apparent improvement was amplified by his team mate's floundering at the same time. Rather confusing the matter further was that things weren't quite so good for him after that, but it took the harsher edge from the criticism he was receiving nevertheless. Ericsson appears a feisty racer, but some observers note a tendency to try too hard as well as a rather 'on-off switch' approach to accelerating and braking which isn't suited to the delicate Pirellis. It might go some way to explaining the recent plateauing of his career described at the outset. In 2016 he must learn to meet the thing halfway and thus prove that he can amount to something more than a passable driver with money.
Felipe Nasr - Car #12
|Photo: Octane Photography|
His F1 debut year in time rather conformed with the former view - that at his best he was fantastic yet there also were many troughs. The season started spectacularly. Not just that he got a wonderful fifth place result in his freshman race, but that in the early part of the year, Malaysia aside, he was excellent, with a smooth, flowing and calculating style - and a high priority of feel - reminiscent of Jenson Button or perhaps even of Carlos Reutemann. The team noted especially how he managed races in a mature fashion. Yes it was money that secured Nasr's seat, but he brought a lot of talent with it.
But sometime around the season's one-third point he developed a problem with his car's brakes, both in not getting them to feel to his liking as well as in struggling to manage their temperatures and therefore their longevity in a race. It was something he wrestled with for months although in his defence having a rookie engineer who seemed equally flummoxed didn't help, neither did that they as part of it took the wrong turn on set-up. It took eventually a personnel reshuffle by the team to sort the matter out. And in Sochi at least Nasr made good on it with a superb fighting sixth place featuring great strategy calls from the cockpit when the safety car appeared. Yet all-in if he has great talent like Reutemann as well as rather exacting handling preferences like him, then you wonder if perhaps also like him that a bit too much falls out of his effort when that handling is not just so. It would explain a lot.