Sauber ready for green light

Will Sauber's new car be as successful as its predecessor? Keystone

With Formula One action set to resume this weekend, Swiss motor racing team Sauber say they're ready to defend last season's impressive fourth place finish.

This content was published on March 1, 2002 - 15:16

"We know that we are setting ourselves a high target," team chief Peter Sauber said after arriving in Melbourne ahead of Sunday's opening race.

"Last year we achieved what we considered to be our best possible placing. Any more wouldn't have been possible because the Ferrari, McLaren and Williams teams are in a different category to us."

Youngster at the wheel

Although last season's rookie driver Kimi Räikkönen has since left Sauber to join McLaren, the Swiss outfit are again putting their faith in youth.

Taking Räikkönen's place in 2002 will be 20-year-old Brazilian talent Felipe Massa, who last year ran away with the Formula 3000 Euro title after winning six of the series' eight races.

"I have looked forward to this moment for so long," Massa said as he contemplated his Formula One debut. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to justify the faith that Peter Sauber and his team have placed in me."

Having faced criticism last season for choosing the inexperienced Räikkönnen only to then see the Finn emerge as one of the most promising drivers on the circuit, Sauber is naturally hoping to see lightning strike twice. The team boss is not expecting miracles, however.

"While Massa has fitted in well with the team and achieved some good times in training, he still has some difficulties with the car's electronics which Räikkönen never had. It should be remembered though that in Räikkönen's case the electronics were installed more gradually, giving him more time to adapt."

Expectations on Heidfeld

At the age of 24, lead driver Nick Heidfeld is hardly a veteran himself. But after finishing last season's drivers championship in eighth place, grabbing 12 of the team's 21 points along the way, a lot will again be expected of the German.

"My expectations (for last season) were surpassed by far," Heidfeld recalls. "When I first began talks with Sauber I sensed that I would be able to achieve much more than with Prost the previous year, but I never dared to imagine that things would go so well straight from the start."

"I am well aware that it will not be easy to confirm last year's results," Heidfeld adds, "but the team will be doing our utmost to do just that."

Fighting to be fourth

While Michael Schumacher's Ferrari are once again expected to battle it out for top honours with McLaren and Williams, Sauber are set to face just as tough a fight in their bid to be "the best of the rest".

"Our strongest opposition could come from Renault," reckons Heidfeld, "but that's not to say we should take our eyes off Jordan and BAR."

While the latter two teams, both powered by Honda engines, will be keen to improve on last season's fifth and sixth place finishes, Renault are something of a mystery package.

Following a series of failed title bids in the 1970s and 80s, the French company enjoyed more recent success as an engine supplier to Williams and then Benetton. This season marks Renault's return to the high-pressure business of running their own team.

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