London: One of Formula One’s most historic teams is facing a perilous countdown to extinction unless they can find financial backers quickly.
Sauber admitted on Tuesday that they are in danger of being cut off by suppliers who have not been paid while they scour the globe for investors willing to secure the team’s future. Peter Sauber, the team’s founder, admitted they are living “day-to-day”.
Rumours have bounced around the paddock for weeks that a team was in serious financial difficulties, while there are warnings that more could be dragged down with teams facing a $2 billion hike in costs over the next seven years.
Sauber, based in Hinwil, Switzerland, are in their 21st season in F1, and are a familiar and popular team outside of the traditional F1 loop, while Peter Sauber is one of the most respected team owners. Rising from sportscar racing to F1, he has brought through some of the best-known drivers, including Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, and Felipe Massa, now at Ferrari.
After an eye-catching season last year, finishing sixth in the standings, Sauber have struggled this year and now there is no cash for development in a sport that refuses to stand still.
Nico Hulkenberg, signed from Force India, has been given the freedom to leave his contract amid speculation that he has not been paid. That could open the way for him to make the move to Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso if the Scuderia decide to replace Massa, who is on a poor run again. The young German is also a target for Lotus to replace Raikkonen but could also find a home at Red Bull next season in place of Mark Webber.
Peter Sauber admitted his “embarrassment” at the team’s financial plight. “For the large part, we are being met with understanding, but it is very stressful for us and in many regards painful,” he said. “If (negotiations with investors) run smoothly, we can give the all-clear by the end of the month, but time is the big problem.”
Monisha Kalternborn, the team principal, has met the Swiss government but a bailout seems unlikely. Russian investors are also thought to be interested, although there is no sign that Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s owner, is prepared to step in despite his club’s sponsor tie-up with Sauber.
The team is guaranteed a cheque next week when Kimiya Sato tests with the team at Silverstone. The Japanese driver is thought to have paid about £215,000 for a single day in the C32 car.
Mercedes are still mulling over whether to ask the FIA for permission to appear at that young drivers’ test.
Although billed as a “training test” for rising stars, teams have been told they can send their race drivers to try out a new breed of Pirelli tyres that will be in use from the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of the month.
Mercedes were banned from the test after being found guilty of taking part in an illegal tyre test in May. Under the strict terms of the judgment, Mercedes were not banned from a tyre test, only the young drivers’ test.
Meanwhile, the FIA confirmed on Tuesday that media crews will be confined to the pitwall after Paul Allen, a cameraman, was injured at the German Grand Prix last weekend.