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Sauber reflects on Mission Impossible dream

Peter Sauber won a special sports award this year

(Keystone)

Days before he hands over the keys to BMW, Peter Sauber tells swissinfo how he formed Switzerland's first Formula One team.

Sauber's dream had a peculiar start in the basement of his parents' house, but blossomed into a fully-fledged F1 operation complete with wind tunnel in Hinwil, near Zurich, which opened in 2004.

Sauber has decided to bow out at the top at the age of 62 after 36 years of racing and 12 seasons in the highest class.

He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Swiss Sports Awards ceremony in December.

swissinfo: Tell us about your early days building cars in your parents' cellar.

Peter Sauber: It was the only room available in the house. It was a cellar with some small windows, but it did not have a big door so finally when the car was built I found that it was too big and I had to break down part of the wall to get it out. It was then I realised I needed a bigger place to work.

swissinfo: How difficult was it to form an F1 team in Switzerland?

P.S.: When I started it seemed like Mission Impossible. It was an interesting and thrilling challenge and I like to push myself to the limit.

Technically it was not too difficult because the last World Sportscar cars we produced were very close to the technical level of F1 cars. But F1 is the pinnacle of motor racing and gets more media attention than World Sportscar. Initially we took the decision with Mercedes to get more exposure.

swissinfo: Why did you sell Sauber to BMW?

P.S.: It was quite by chance. I was looking for another engine supplier and during the course of discussions with BMW I saw a unique opportunity.

I wanted to give the company the possibility for improvement on the sporting side while keeping the people and infrastructure at Hinwil.

In addition, I'm 62 and sooner or later I would have had to look for a successor. BMW turned out to be an excellent solution on all points.

swissinfo: What does it mean to you to keep the Sauber name?

P.S.: I am very happy, not just for me but also for people here, our fans in Switzerland and the Swiss media. I never asked BMW to keep the name - it was their decision.

swissinfo: Do you find it sad that there are now fewer independent teams in F1?

P.S.: It is a natural process that also takes place in the normal business world.

F1 has never before had this concentration of manufacturers and all of them are committed to becoming world champions. That has brought F1 to a level never seen before and costs have gone up dramatically making it very difficult for independent teams to go forward.

To say it's sad is a romantic way of looking at things and there is no space for romance in the business world.

swissinfo: Talking of romance, you named your cars after your wife Christiane. Was that a romantic gesture?

P.S.: At the end of the day it turned out to be romantic but the initial idea was not the case. I am a very rational thinking person and I needed a name for my cars.

I started with Sauber A1, but the name was taken by somebody else. So was B1, so I settled for C and then had to think of an explanation.

In the early stages my wife was not happy at all with the decision because it was a high-risk business and I was working literally day and night. But now she is happy with it.

swissinfo: Do you think Switzerland will ever have an F1 circuit?

P.S.: I hope we can have a permanent racetrack in Switzerland as soon as possible, but this would not necessarily have to be for Grand Prix.

At the moment F1 is moving away from Europe so it makes no sense to have an additional race there.

To build a Formula One circuit in Switzerland would be extremely expensive and it would be nearly impossible to find the money to do that.

swissinfo: What were the high and low points in your 36 years of motor racing?

P.S.: To stay in F1 for 13 years and make progress is for me the main achievement. We were on the podium six times and in 2001 we took fourth place in the constructors championship. That was a very good result for an independent team.

Over the whole 36 years, other highlights were the double victory at Le Mans in 1989 and twice winning the Sports Car world championship in 1989 and 1990.

I am very happy that we had only one very dangerous accident in 1994 in Monte Carlo with Karl Wendlinger. But after 19 days in a coma, Karl came back to racing and is still a successful driver today.

swissinfo: What will you miss most when you step down next year?

P.S.: Without doubt all the people I have worked with and the people I had the pleasure to meet in F1. I will remain in touch with F1 as a consultant for Credit Suisse and Petronas on behalf of BMW.

swissinfo: What would you do differently if you could do it all again?

P.S.: It is only natural that in 36 years I made some mistakes, but I am very happy with what I achieved and would not change a thing.

swissinfo-interview: Matthew Allen in Hinwil

Key facts

Peter Sauber launched his business in 1970 and started racing in Formula 1 in 1993.
His first race in F1 was on March 14 in South Africa.
Peter Sauber is known as a talent spotter and signed up future F1 stars Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger to drive his World Sportscar Championship cars.
Last year Sauber F1 team ran on a budget of SFr160 million ($122 million) which is four times the budget of 1993.

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