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Sauber hands over the keys to BMW

Peter Sauber has to say goodbye to his wheels

(Keystone)

Peter Sauber, head of Switzerland's only Formula One team, is leaving racing's glamour division after 13 years without the satisfaction of a single victory.

Carmaker BMW took over his team after this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, which was won by the new world champion, Fernando Alonso, with Sauber's cars running sixth and tenth.

"I'll miss the people most of all, particularly the employees, but also all the others in the paddock - even those that I argued with once or twice over the years," Sauber said in Shanghai.

A trained electrician who started off racing Volkswagen Beetles nearly 40 years ago and who designed his first sports car in the basement of his parents' home, Sauber quietly made a name for himself in Formula One, earning widespread respect.

Paul Stoddart, another "independent" departing on Sunday after selling his Minardi team to Red Bull, described the Swiss as one of racing's true gentlemen.

Sauber, whose grand prix cars are all named with the letter C after his wife Christiane, said he had no time to consider how he might feel.

"I am too busy at the moment," he said. "I think after the end of the year there will be moments when I miss it."

Advisory role

Sauber will retain an advisory role with BMW and 20 per cent of the shares. But from next year, he will play no part in the operational running of the team which is based in Hinwil, near Zurich.

He will go to a few races, "when I have something to do," but will have no office in the factory. In fact, Sauber, who has just turned 62, has decided to move out of Hinwil altogether, so he won't have to drive past the team headquarters.

"The most important thing was to give the team a basis to move forward on the sporting side. Then to keep the employees at Hinwil," he said of the sale.

In a recent interview with Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger newspaper, Sauber said his departure as team principal was better than expected.

"It was more than I could have hoped for given the risky nature of Formula One," he admitted.

Sauber and his team survived where others with a better pedigree, such as former world champion Alain Prost, failed miserably.

Business acumen

His survival owed much to his business acumen and the deals he signed along the way.

The Swiss managed to convince Mercedes to return to motor sport. The company eventually became his Formula One engine supplier in 1994 before it switched to wealthier rival McLaren.

The German company had quit racing in 1955 after 79 people died when one of their cars crashed into the crowd at Le Mans in France.

Sauber then collaborated for two years with Ford before Ferrari became his engine supplier in 1997.

It would be easy to assume that Sauber's greatest regret will be that he will leave without ever having won a race, despite the team having two or three good chances over the years. But he said luck never went his way.

"It's not possible for an independent team to win on its own merits – not without the right breaks," he told the Tages-Anzeiger.

Memories

His best memories are recent, even if there is no outstanding moment.

"Formula One is a sport and you look at the results so it is obviously the six podiums and the fourth position in the constructors' in 2001," said Sauber.

That was the same year that Sauber stuck his neck out and signed the inexperienced and little-known Kimi Raikkonen, despite serious misgivings from motor racing's governing body and other teams. Raikkonen was the runner-up in this year's drivers' championship for McLaren.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, a disappointment for much of this season, is the only world champion to have driven for the team.

Another world champion, Michael Schumacher, who drove for Sauber's Mercedes' junior team before joining Formula One, paid tribute to his former boss' dedication.

"It's a shame, in a way, that he goes if you see how he has built up that company, how it started," said Schumacher, now with Ferrari. "With a little faith he's done a great job."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Chinese Grand Prix

1. F. Alonso Renault
2. K. Räikkönen McLaren
3. R. Schumacher Toyota
4. G. Fisichella Renault
5. C. Klien Red Bull
6. F. Massa Sauber
7. M. Webber Williams
8. J. Button BAR
9. D. Coulthard Red Bull
10. J. Villeneuve Sauber

Drivers' championship

1. Alonso
11. Massa
14. Villeneuve

Constructors' championship

1. Renault
8. Sauber

end of infobox

In brief

Peter Sauber's career in motor sport began in 1967 with versions of the VW beetle tuned for racing.

Sauber moved to two-seater racing sports cars in 1970.

In 1986 Sauber sold his garage business and moved into new facilities in Hinwil, where his most successful sports cars, the C9, C11 and C291, were built.

In 1992 Sauber's first Formula One car, the C12, was rolled out.

end of infobox


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