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Sauber withdraws from Brazilian Grand Prix

THE Red Bull Sauber Petronas team withdrew from the Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon after a series of rear wing failures, the cause of which the Swiss team decided could not be analyzed in the time available. And with no time for new parts to be produced in Switzerland and sent out to Brazil the team was forced to conclude that it could not continue on the grounds of safety.

The problem could not have come at a worse time for the team as it hopes to conclude a new long-term deal with major sponsor Petronas at the end of this week. The current $33m a year deal runs out at the end of the season and the loss of the sponsorship (and the engine supply) would be a major blow to the Swiss team.

There have been signs in recent months that Petronas has been re-evaluating its strategy for the future with the suggestion being that Petronas - which now owns Proton, the parent company of Lotus - will fund the design and construction of a Lotus Formula 1 V10 engine in order to promote sales of Lotus cars which are now being built in Malaysia. We have heard suggestions that Lotus is already making discreet approaches to engine designers at the moment. Certainly the Sauber Petronas Engineering F1 program is not going to be designing and building engines. That idea stopped although an experimental V2 (one-fifth of a V10) was designed and built in Hinwil.

If the decision is to no longer use the Sauber Petronas Engineering facility for Formula 1, there is no obvious reason to continue with Sauber, except that Peter Sauber appears to have a very close relationship with the Malaysians. There is no doubt that if Petronas wants to take the next step in F1 it must build it own engine or find backing from a major manufacturer. This is not going to be easy, but expensive secondhand Ferrari V10s are not the long-term solution and they are certainly not what Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir has in mind to help his country develop a strong car industry with Proton and Lotus.

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