PEOPLE: PETER SAUBER

Name: Peter Sauber
Nationality: Switzerland

Peter Sauber, San Marino GP 2005

Peter Sauber, San Marino GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

Peter Sauber trained as an electrician and then became a car dealer, selling British Leyland and Subaru models to the people of Hinwil, Switzerland. In 1967 he discovered a passion for motor racing. This was unusual in that international motor racing was banned in Switzerland in 1955 - when Peter was 12 years old - due to the Le Mans disaster. There were a few local events allowed and so Sauber and a pal souped-up an old Volkswagen Beetle and began competing in hillclimbs. Three years later - having decided not to go into the traffic light business - Peter sold the family company and moved into workshops just down the road from the traffic light factory. He built the Sauber C1, a tubular framed car powered by a 1-liter Ford Cosworth engine. Sauber drove it and won the 1970 Swiss hillclimb championship.

At the Geneva motorshow in 1971 he unveiled the C2, which was driven by Hans Kunis in the same series. The C3 was the first monocoque design and there followed C4 and C5s, the latter being a Group 6 sportscar. This was fitted with a 2-liter BMW engine and Herbert Muller won the 1976 Interserie title in the car.

In 1977 Sauber entered the Le Mans 24 Hours with a C5 driven by Swiss drivers Eugen Strahl and Peter Bernhard. The car led its class but then retired. A year later Sauber returned to Le Mans with Marc Surer being hired alongside Strahl and Harry Blumer. Once again the car led its class but dropped back with engine trouble.

In 1979 - short of money - Sauber stopped building cars and prepared F3 Lolas for the Swiss national championship for drivers Beat Blatter, Eddy Kobelt and Max Welti. The three finished 1-2-4 in the series but the connection with Welti proved to be important and Max joined the team as racing manager.

In the years which followed Sauber ran BMW M1 sportscars for Surer. In 1981 he built an M1 which was run by Gerhard Schneider's GS Racing and driven by Hans Stuck and Nelson Piquet with BASF sponsorship. This car won the Nurburgring 1000.

In 1982 Sauber went back to building cars with the C6 sportscar and entered the new Group C international sportscar category. In 1985 Sauber and Welti managed to convince Mercedes-Benz to supply them with engines for a sportscar program. Success began to follow. The Sauber-Mercedes C8 won at the Nurburgring in 1986 and gradually the team lured Mercedes back into racing. In 1988 the company decided to return to racing officially in partnership with Sauber. A year later the Sauber-Mercedes were painted silver - Mercedes's traditional racing color - and the team won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Jochen Mass, Stanley Dickens and Manuel Reuter and both World Sportscar titles. There was another double Championship victory in 1990 but then sportscar racing began to wind down and Sauber began to look at F1. In the summer of 1991 Harvey Postlethwaite joined the team to design an F1 car and Mercedes funded a vast new factory at Hinwil.

In November 1991 Mercedes decided not to be directly involved and so Sauber entered F1 by itself in 1993, with drivers JJ Lehto and Karl Wendlinger and engines built by Ilmor but rebadged as Saubers. Sauber did convince Mercedes into F1 in 1994 but a year later the German company did a deal with McLaren, leaving Sauber to become the Ford F1 works team. This was followed by a deal with the Malaysian oil company Petronas in 1995 and the establishment of an engineering company called Sauber Petronas Engineering to design and build V10 engines. The company began buying old Ferrari engines and rebadging them as Sauber Petronas V10s but the F1 engine program itself was scrapped in 1998. In recent years Sauber has been very successful with the team finishing fourth in the World Championship in 2001 and fifth in 2002 despite having a much smaller budget than many of its rivals.

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