Features - Year in Review
DECEMBER 4, 2001
There is no getting away from the fact that the Sauber-Petronas squad deeply embarrassed the likes of Benetton, Jordan, BAR and Jaguar throughout 2001. No matter how one argues the point, Sauber was paying for customer engines - it was effectively a private team like Minardi with no factory backing - no matter that the 2000 spec Ferrari V10s made available by Maranello must have seemed something of a bargain even with lease fees approaching $20m for the season.
The team did an excellent job, aided in no small part by the Sergio Rinland-designed C20 chassis which was quite the best chassis ever produced by the Hinwil-based team. Yet Sauber continued to reflect a somewhat introspective and isolationist stance, stranded in Switzerland away from the mainstream F1 community - although, in fairness, only an Alpine pass or two away from its engine suppliers in Maranello.
Historically the cult of the personality at Sauber has always been subjected to the team's greater good. Rinland duly left virtually before the season started and former McLaren engineer Stephen Taylor's term as chief designer hardly lasted any longer.
Thereafter the Swiss team owner relied on the proven services of his technical director Willi Rampf and a group of acolytes in the design department who always remained anonymous.
The C20 was an excellent car, although undoubtedly aided by rear-end packaging which was largely influenced by Ferrari as a supplement to its engine supply deal. The new Sauber, aided by possibly the strongest driver line-up the team had ever enjoyed, proved generally a neutral-handling and forgiving machine with few vices.
Yet, objectively, Sauber had pulled off no miracles here. They had done a good, solid job with a decent car, but their perceived status was significantly enhanced due to the very average showings from Benetton, Jaguar and the two Honda-propelled teams which might normally have been regarded as their strongest midfield rivals.
The driver line-up for this year was all new with Nick Heidfeld switching from Prost and Formula Renault prodigy Kimi Raikkonen who was propelled straight into the big time despite reservations from many on the touchlines who felt that it was too big a jump to bypass F3 and F3000. In the event, Raikkonen proved outstandingly competent and was duly snapped up by the McLaren-Mercedes squad once it became clear that Mika Hakkinen was going to put his feet up in 2002 and take a sabbatical.
Heidfeld probably had every right to be extremely disappointed by this promotion of Raikkonen over his head, while Sauber took solace in the financial compensation offered by the deal - and promptly went out to recruit another Formula Renault recruit, the Brazilian Felipe Massa, who they hope will be good enough to do the same job as Raikkonen in 2002.