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Sauber edge ahead in “exciting” F1 season

Kaltenborn admits some areas of Formula 1 are still hard for women to break into

Swiss Formula 1 team Sauber are showing signs of being on the road to recovery after two tough years, gaining ground in this season’s driver and team standings.

Monisha Kaltenborn, the first woman CEO in Formula 1, tells that team Sauber feel their car is becoming more competitive – and this in a sport rebuilding its reputation for delivering thrills.

After an eventful Grand Prix in Monaco, in which Sauber’s rookie driver Sergio Pérez had a serious crash and Kamui Kobayashi finished fifth, the team are now looking ahead to the Canadian leg on June 12. 

Sauber had their best year on record in 2008, with 11 podium spots and a third place in the Constructor’s Championship. But a year later majority owners BMW pulled out of Formula 1, leaving the team reeling and founder Peter Sauber picking up the pieces. They have been clawing their way back ever since. It was a rollercoaster weekend for Sauber in Monaco on Sunday. An awful crash for Sergio Pérez and then a fifth place finish for Kobayashi. How’s Pérez doing?

Monisha Kaltenborn: Sergio is doing quite well considering he’s had a very severe accident. He’s been discharged from hospital and is in a cheerful mood. We are preparing to have him race in Canada. But this will of course depend on approval from the FIA [auto racing governing body] doctors. What’s the team’s take on their performance in Monaco?

M.K.: It was a weekend full of extremes. On the one side there was an awful crash, and on the other side a fantastic race by Kamui. The team focused very well on the racing after the crash and everybody was committed to helping Kamui do the race. It was a fantastic performance. How do you feel about the next Grand Prix in Montreal? That track was the scene of Sauber’s last major crash in 2007 where Robert Kubica miraculously escaped with minor injuries. Does that haunt the team?

M.K.: Haunting is not really a word I’d use. It’s just a routine track for the team. We’ll prepare as we always do. We like to look forward and give a good performance and not look back. How do you feel Sauber are progressing this season?

M.K.: At the beginning of the season we set out our target which was to regularly score points. And I think if we look at all the races now, we have managed to end the races in positions in which you score points.

Of course all this is possible if on the one side you have good drivers, which we think we have, but also a good product which enables the drivers to deliver this performance. We’re cautious about making statements on the competitiveness of the car, but I think we are step by step getting the confirmation that our car is competitive. I think we are heading in the right direction. What do you think about Formula 1 success becoming just as much about strategy and tyre swapping, as the racing?

M.K.: I think all this is part of racing. Formula 1 is about so much more than just driving the car. It’s having the right preparation, coming there with the right strategy, finding the best way to handle new factors which are new for all teams, like the tyres. They are particularly important this season.

In the past we used to complain that races were getting a bit boring. There wasn’t much overtaking, there wasn’t much excitement. This year we have a new tyre supplier [Pirelli] and the tyre supplier was clearly told that they should provide us with a product which can increase excitement again, which they have done very well. Sauber had their best year in 2008. But then BMW pulled out and Peter Sauber basically had to start all over again. How do you view that turn of events now?

M.K.: After BMW’s decision to pull out, it was a very difficult time for the team. Because we knew that we first of all had to secure the future after the exit [by BMW] starting from 2010. And then of course we were in the whole process of becoming a private team again. This transition from a manufacturer run team to a private team is a very challenging job. It’s far easier to go the other way. So somewhere we are still in that entire process.

We had to overcome many challenges like securing our grid slots and securing our funding, and we were all very late in the year to start this. But I think the team managed it well. And now we just have to make sure that we continue to bring in further stability into the team. We need to make sure we get back to our strength which is being efficient and making the best of the chances we get. You made history becoming the first woman CEO in Formula 1. What does being a woman bring to the role?

M.K.: I think as a woman you have more distance to the business I’m in. You can often see things with less emotion and probably sometimes even be tougher. So it’s probably a more pragmatic approach to things. Do you still come across sexism around the track?

M.K.: I never came across sexism actually. But probably that has to do with the fact that I’ve been in the business for quite a long time.

I can imagine there are positions where it will be difficult for women get in, especially if they don’t already have a background in Formula 1. I think the closer you get to jobs that are directly involved in technical matters and the racing itself, and if you don’t have a certain experience in Formula 1, it will not be easy at the moment to be accepted right from the beginning. I read your daughter [aged five] wants to be a race car driver. What’s your advice to her?

M.K.: I would say just think about it again. Fortunately I still have a couple years until she decides what she wants to do. I think at the end of the day you have to be supportive of anything your children want to do, you can only give them advice, but I would tell her to really think about it again. Because it’s quite tight sitting in such a cockpit.

After the Monaco Grand Prix, Kamui Kobayashi was 10th in the driver standings with 19 points and Sauber were sixth in the constructor’s championship with 21 points – a long way from top constructor Red Bull (222 points) and championship leader Sebastien Vettel’s 143 points.

Monisha Kaltenborn’s parents emigrated from India to Vienna when she was a child. At a young age she dreamt of competing in the Paris-Dakar rally.

After completing a law degree and taking Austrian citizenship, she worked for the United Nations as well as German and Austrian law firms.

She joined the Fritz Kaiser Group in 1998 – a major shareholder in the Red Bull Sauber F1 team, taking on the group’s legal and corporate affairs.

She later moved to Hinwil to run the Sauber Group’s legal department, negotiating contracts with drivers and sponsors and handling relations with the FIA.

Kaltenborn has been on the management board since 2001, which she has headed since being appointed CEO in 2010.

She is involved in the FIA’s Women and Motorsport Commission founded in 2010. At Hockenheim in 2010, she was the first woman to attend an FIA media conference and in Suzuka she stood in for Peter Sauber on the pit wall stand.

Now aged 39, she has two children and lives in Küsnacht near the Hinwil factory.

Swiss motorsport manufacturer Peter Sauber formed a Formula 1 team under his own name in 1993. In its original format, the Sauber team took six podium finishes.

Sauber gave debuts to many big name drivers, including: Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld.

In 2005 the then 62-year-old Peter Sauber handed over the team to BMW, which had previously partnered the Williams team. He retained a 20% stake in the team and remained as a consultant, but pulled out of daily operations. 


The new team finished second in the constructor’s standings in 2007. BMW Sauber then claimed their first GP win in Canada in 2008 and finished third-best constructor.

In 2009, BMW decided to pull out of Formula 1. With 280 jobs at stake, Peter Sauber bought back his life’s work.

Ferrari became the engine partner as of the 2010 season. The season started poorly due to a series of technical retirements, ending with just 44 points.

In 2010, Monisha Kaltenborn was appointed CEO and James Key technical director.

Driving for the team in the 2011 season are Kamui Kobayashi, rookie Sergio Pérez and reserve driver Esteban Gutièrrez.

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