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Final pit stop for Peter Sauber

Sauber leaves on a high note Keystone

Last week’s sale of Switzerland’s only Formula One team marks the end of a remarkable 35-year adventure in motor racing for owner Peter Sauber.

This content was published on June 24, 2005 - 17:14

It was a journey that saw the former electrician graduate from a Volkswagen Beetle nicknamed the "Cheesewedge" to wins at Le Mans and a place among the sport’s elite.

On Wednesday the German car manufacturer, BMW, announced it had acquired a majority stake in the Sauber Formula One team, which is based in Hinwil near Zurich.

The 62-year-old Peter Sauber said he had been thinking about handing over the keys for several years but had wanted to make sure he left his life’s work in good hands.

"The partnership with BMW is an ideal solution as it supports the two goals which have always been paramount for me," he said as the takeover was announced in Munich.

"Firstly, to offer the team the possibility of improving their sporting performance, and secondly, to safeguard the site at Hinwil and the jobs of today’s 300-strong workforce."

BMW said they would increase the number of employees at the Swiss factory, which last year unveiled a SFr70 million ($55 million) wind tunnel, one of the most advanced in the world.

Deserved recognition

Peter Sauber, an electrician by trade, founded PP Sauber, later renamed Sauber Motorsport, in Hinwil in 1970.

He leaves the company as a respected boss who has quietly and methodically kept his team competitive against those with far bigger budgets.

Jacques Deschenaux, who commentates on Formula One for Swiss television, told swissinfo: "Sauber are respected and well known as the best private team in Formula One."

And Deschenaux says Peter Sauber managed to achieve this in a country where motor racing is not part of the culture, after being banned for 50 years following an accident in which 80 spectators died.

"This is why Sauber deserves recognition for what he has done first with small cars and then with sports cars, and also for developing new talents like [Michael] Schumacher, [Heinz-Harald] Frentzen, [Felipe] Massa and [Kimi] Räikkönen."

Early success

Sauber’s career in motor sport started in Switzerland with race-tuned Volkswagen Beetles – his first racer was nicknamed the "Cheesewedge".

He then moved on to sports cars with a C1 – named after his wife Christiane – which he designed in 1970 in the basement of his parents’ house. Since then, every Sauber has carried a C designation. The current Formula One car is C24.

The team first attracted international attention in 1976 when Herbert Müller gained overall victory in the European Interseries driving a Sauber BMW C5.

In the mid-1980s, Sauber became the Mercedes-Benz works team for the World Sports Car Championship and achieved a one-two win at Le Mans in 1989 and two successive titles in the World Sports Car Championship in 1989 and 1990.

Future world champion Michael Schumacher was part of that team.

In 1993 Sauber moved up to Formula One and scored two World Championship points in their debut grand prix when the Finn JJ Lehto came fifth in South Africa.

In 1995 the team achieved its first podium finish when Frentzen finished third at Monza; six years later they recorded their best overall championship finish, with fourth place.

Good hands

But Peter Sauber says it has become increasingly difficult – for the private teams in particular – to secure the kind of solid financing necessary for success.

"The partnership with BMW guarantees continuity," he said. "Over more than 35 years I have guided this company through often stormy seas, which is why it is so important for me to know that it will be in good hands."

As for life after Formula One, Sauber says he’ll turn up at the odd grand prix, "but it’s important to make a clean break – which is why I’m withdrawing from operational responsibilities next year."

He will, however, retain a 20 per cent stake in the team and will assist BMW as a consultant.

Sauber says he also intends to spend more time at his holiday home outside Zurich where he has an old motorbike – appropriately enough a BMW.

"It’s time I got out on it for more than just a couple of days a year."

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Key facts

Peter Sauber was born in Zurich in 1943.
The Sauber team’s Formula One debut was in South Africa in 1993.
The team have not won a race in 206 starts but have come third on six occasions.
Sauber have an annual budget of SFr160 million (about SFr300 million less than Ferrari). Since 1993 the team’s budget has quadrupled.

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