SEPTEMBER 28, 2010
Sauber's Mexican superteam on the way?
Rumours linking the world's richest man, Carlos Slim, to the Sauber team are gathering momentum.
Founder Peter Sauber re-took full control of the Hinwil-based outfit when BMW pulled out in 2009 and now, for the second time, is looking to establish a secure future for his employees and his life's work.
Sauber has raced for much of 2010 with a practically sponsorless car but in Singapore the 66-year-old did not have the air of a worried man. For some time Sauber has been saying he is "convinced" his team will have a workable budget going forward. He was even sufficiently relaxed to joke about Ferrari, his engine supplier, in a Singapore press conference.
"The engine's too expensive and not reliable enough," he laughed, with the Scuderia's sporting director Stefano Domenicali sat alongside! On the subject of money for next year, Sauber said: "We are in contact with several companies and I'm confident that we will have a solid budget for next season. I hope as big as possible..."
Kamui Kobayashi is Sauber's only confirmed driver for 2011, with Pedro De la Rosa having recently been stood down in favour of former Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld, who was released from his reserve driver role at Mercedes to conduct Pirelli testing duties before bringing that arrangement to an end in order to finish the season with Sauber.
Officially, Sauber says that the reason for bringing in Heidfeld in place of De la Rosa is that Kobayashi and the Spaniard were evenly matched and it was hard to know if that was the maximum level of the car. By using Heidfeld, whose performance level is well known to them, Sauber can have a better idea of that prior to developing the 2011 car.
Others, however, suggest that what's much more likely is that if Michael Schumacher stops at the end of the season, Mercedes would much prefer to have Heidfeld race sharp as he heads back into the fold for 2011 armed with his Pirelli testing knowledge... And that given his virgin white car, a few euros pushed in Peter Sauber's direction to facilitate that would have been gratefully received....
Longer term, the thinking is that Sauber could become a 'Mexican Superteam.' The Hinwil outfit already has inaugural GP3 champion, the promising Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, only just 19, under contract as third and reserve driver for 2011.
The other name regularly linked with the team and the Slim stories is Sergio Perez, a 20-year-old Mexican who finished runner-up in this year's GP2 championship with Barwa Addax.
Interestingly, the word on the street is that Slim's motor racing consultant, Mexican former CART Indycar series runner-up (behind Gil de Ferran in 2000) Adrian Fernandez, has established himself a base close to Sauber's factory in Hinwil, Switzerland.
Fernandez has been seen at several grands prix this season, as part of a small group led by Slim helping to develop young drivers, sponsored and supported by Slim's Telmex company. The idea was born a few years ago in Acapulco between Fernandez, Slim and Jimmy Morales. Sauber said when he handed the reigns to BMW that he had no wish to be involved full-time on a day-to-day basis any longer but this may be a suitable task for 45-year-old driver/entrepreneur Fernandez.
Recently, on his website, Fernandez wrote of Perez: "Sergio is like a son to me. His Dad worked for me many years and we are like a family. I have known Sergio since he was two."
The smart money, therefore, could well be on a Kobayashi/Perez Telmex Sauber line-up in 2011, with Gutierrez joining the fold in 2012 after a season of GP2.
Funding, obviously, is unlikely to be a problem. Slim's net worth is estimated at around 38.5bn pounds, or ten Bernies if you prefer, and he overtook Bill Gates to become the world's richest man earlier this year according to Forbes.
As far as team names go, we gather that Telmex Sauber is more likely than Supermex Sauber, even with an all Mexican line-up. 'Supermex' was the moniker that stuck to famous golfer Lee Trevino and currently describes an LA/Orange County/Nevada restaurant chains which is still family-owned and operated and one of the few things with Mexican associations not currently owned by Carlos Slim!