Sauber to keep control despite Russian deal
Sauber's new trio of Russian partners will put the financially-troubled Swiss Formula One team on a solid footing without taking control of it, principal Monisha Kaltenborn said today.
"The structure of the ownership of the team is not going to change," she told reporters at the Hungarian Grand Prix, adding that she intended to remain in her position and there were no plans to change the name of the outfit either.
Sauber announced last week a partnership with Russia's Investment Cooperation International Fund, the State Fund of Development of the North-West Russian Federation and the National Institute of Aviation Technologies.
As part of the deal, the team said they would prepare little-known 17-year-old Russian Sergey Sirotkin, who would be by far the youngest driver to start a grand prix if he gets a superlicence, for a race seat next year.
Kaltenborn said the three entities were close to the Russian government but provided no details about whether any monies had been received from them yet or how much might ultimately be involved.
Nor would she say how crucial the deal was to Sauber's survival, with recent media reports talking of suppliers and German driver Nico Hulkenberg being owed money while the team teetered on the brink.
"Clearly with this deal we will be put on a stable basis," she declared. "We have to take it then step by step. It will take a while before we are back to where we want to be and back also into the development cycle but we are getting there."
The partnership, she explained, had three 'pillars' to it.
The first was technological cooperation, with both sides pooling their expertise and seeking to develop know-how.
Sirotkin, whose father is head of the aviation institute, was the second part while the third was to raise awareness of Formula One ahead of the country's 2014 race debut in Sochi.
Asked how she would respond to doubters who felt the partnership sounded too good to be true and might collapse before any money changed hands, Kaltenborn stuck to her guns.
"I have no reasons to believe that. I don't know why they think that. We know what we are talking about and we have good reasons to believe in it," she said.
Sauber already have a partnership with Premier League soccer club Chelsea for mutual promotion, with the team's badge on their car, but Kaltenborn said Chelsea's billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich had played no part in the latest agreement.
Nor, she added, was she aware of any influence by Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has met Russian president Vladimir Putin on a number of occasions.
Some Formula One drivers have been surprised at the plan to fast-track Sirotkin into the sport with so little experience while other insiders have questioned what would happen to the deal if he was not ready for 2014.
The Indian-born principal implied the deal was not dependant on the driver and said Sauber would not compromise on safety.
"We know what responsibility we have... he of course has to fulfil certain criteria and we will do our best that he can do that," she said.
"We will see how things go. We know on the other (Russian) side that the people are equally aware of the risks and responsibilities."
Taking part in Friday practice sessions was not an option, because of the lack of a superlicence, while Sauber do not have a simulator at their Hinwil factory.
"We will find other ways that are certainly there to get him that mileage so that he is ready next year to race for us," said Kaltenborn.