Greater Noida: Charming and articulate.
That’s the best way to describe the Dehradun-born Monisha Kaltenborn, the only lady team principal (Sauber’s) in F1.
Monisha, 42, spoke to The Telegraph in the lead-up to Sunday’s Indian GP at the BIC. An Austrian citizen, she’s married to a German.
Q For a while this year, the future of Sauber as a team in F1 was in doubt...
A There are two sides, one being sporting... We’d entered the season with high hopes, but there was disappointment. The engineers, however, quickly understood the problem, which was with the aerodynamics at the rear... The other side has been the commercial one... We had financial constraints and had to be careful with how we spent what we had. I’d like to add that the coverage Sauber received from some quarters was extremely negative.
You’ve reached an arrangement with three Russian companies. Financially, then, how are you placed now?
We’re still in a difficult situation, but are working to get out of it. The good thing is that, on the sporting side, we’ve been scoring points of late. The drivers (Nico Hulkenberg and Estoban Gutierrez) understand the car better and the tyres have worked well. Overall, it hasn’t been such a negative year for us.
What drives you and Sauber?
Patience and determination. We remain focused and haven’t lost self-belief.
Going forward, is it a challenge for the smaller teams to survive in F1?
It’s a very big challenge for many teams and that’s the reality because we haven’t been reacting to what’s happening on the ground. We’re seeing where the world is going, where the economies are going, but we aren’t reacting. It’s not that we don’t have the ingredients to be successful globally... F1 is a huge platform, possibly the biggest after the Fifa World Cup and the Olympics, both of which are held every four years. We’re an annual event, held across the world at 19 locations. We’re global, yet local at the staging centres.
Yes... We need to react. Any sensible business works to commercial targets, so even the bigger teams come into this. We’re for a budget cap... We need to know the parameters and need to know the field, not that all teams should be the same. The competition should be healthy and let the best win.
There’s no Indian GP next year. Is it a huge personal disappointment?
It is, for I won’t get the chance to come to India. With all the travelling, it won’t be possible unless there’s an event here. In 2014, we’ll miss this exciting track (the BIC) and the warmth of the welcome which leaves us overwhelmed.
Your thoughts on Sebastian Vettel, who has been unbeatable...
Sebastian’s an exceptional driver and knows just how to utilise the chances he gets on the track... A great driver maximises opportunities and he’s definitely one.
The smaller teams can’t hope to get a Vettel, can they?
It’s not about big or small, the best drivers will go where the best cars are.
What’s your line-up of drivers in 2014? Could there be one change?
At this moment, I wouldn’t like to say anything... There are options.
Many women look up to you as a role model. Who have you idolised or been most influenced by?
My mother, definitely... Indira Gandhi as well... She had such a strong personality and handled situations adeptly... Then, I admire Aung San Suu Kyi... The attitude I have is to learn from people.
Finally... In your years as the team principal, what have you learnt the most?
(Laughs) To be patient... To not allow things to get to you, for it can get very personal (in F1). One has to stay focused, no matter what... By nature I’m a quiet person and find peace within myself.