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Sauber was breath of fresh air to F1 community

10/15/2005

SHANGHAI, China -- Veteran team owner Ken Tyrrell told new team owner Peter Sauber that he was nuts.

Tyrrell, whose team had been behind Jackie Stewart's three World
Championships, obviously knew a thing or two about Formula One.

Sauber, whose team had twice won the constructors' and drivers' championships in
international Group C prototype racing plus the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race,
obviously knew a thing or two about running a world class racing outfit.

After competing in international sports car competition since 1968, Sauber
decided to
make the step up to F1 in 1993. In those days, like now, most F1 teams
were based in England. Sauber decided to remain at his base in Switzerland.

"I remember in 1992, the year before Sauber actually entered in F1," Sauber
said. "I met
Ken Tyrrell in the paddock in Barcelona and he said: 'Peter it is
fantastic that you enter F1 with your own team, but don't even try to do this from Switzerland. That will never
work.'"

It is rather like a NASCAR team choosing to work out of Canada rather than Charlotte.

"Most people in the paddock would have agreed that doing F1 from
Switzerland was in fact a Mission Impossible," Sauber said. "But we decided to go for it. And after our
fourth place in the 2001 Constructors Championship there was a group of
journalists on a big island who started to realize that there was this small team in Switzerland."

Sauber related the story to some of those journalists from that big island
-- England -- and
other F1 media types at a reception at the Shanghai International Circuit
on Friday evening. ESPN.com was there. It was a time to reminisce about Sauber's 13 seasons in F1 and a time for farewells.

"I have always had a good relationship with the media," Sauber said.
"Maybe the journalists appreciated my way of communicating, which is open and straightforward."

He is right. Peter Sauber is one of the most honest and unassuming people
in the entire F1 paddock.

This is the last Grand Prix that the team will run under the Sauber banner
before new owner BMW takes over in 2006. Peter Sauber retains 20 percent of the team. He will work as an ambassador for the team but will have no say in how it is run.

This, along with Red Bull buying the underdog Minardi team (founded in
1985), and Midland completing its take over of the Jordan team (founded in 1991), is truly the end of an era. In 2006, the Sauber, Minardi and Jordan names will be gone from F1.

The good news is that all three teams remain in F1, but the age of the
privateer is over for now as corporations and billionaires take over as owners from the mere millionaires.

Part of Sauber's deal with BMW is that the team would remain in Switzerland and that most personnel would get to keep their jobs.

"I am happy to hand the team over to BMW, a company that is committed to
being
successful and making the necessary investment," Sauber said.

The history of the Sauber team began in 1969 in the basement of his
parent's house in
Zurich, Switzerland. That is where he began the design and construction of
a prototype sports car that he would use to compete in and win the 1970 Swiss Sports Car Championship.

He named that first car the Sauber C1. The "C" was for his wife
Christiane, and every
Sauber racing car carried a "C" in its name. This year's F1 car, the final
Sauber, is the C24.

"Looking back over the 13 years in F1 we achieved some respectable results,
six podium
finishes and the fourth place overall in 2001," Sauber said. "When I see
drivers like
Felipe Massa or Kimi Raikkonen who started their F1 careers at Sauber, I
can say we
have also contributed to the excitement of the sport."

Sauber and his team gained a reputation of being conservative, polite and
very stable, and
that allowed Sauber to survive for 35 years as a racing car constructor and
13 years as a
F1 team and to compete in over 200 Grands Prix.

The team never finished lower than eighth in the constructors' championship. The six
podium finishes were all third-places, so the elusive second-place finish and win
eluded Sauber.

Earlier this week, a number of F1 luminaries, including Michael Schumacher
(who drove
sports car prototypes for Sauber), Ferrari boss Jean Todt, FIA president
Max Mosley and
F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone attended a gala reception in Shanghai to pay
tribute to Peter
Sauber.

"The evening has been superb, a very special evening to celebrate the
career of one of
Formula One's most dedicated and best loved characters," Ecclestone said
afterward.

Sauber, who turned 62 on Oct. 13, knew he had to step down sooner or
later.

"In recent weeks people have asked me if I will miss F1," he said. "The
answer is yes, of
course, but I am also looking forward to the new stage in my life. For
sure there will also
be moments of sadness in the future, because I love F1. I will miss the
people whom I
have spent so much time with."

"Saying goodbye to something fantastic is very difficult," Sauber
concluded. "However
in the past 10 years I have faced many difficult situations so I am
confident that I will handle this one."

Peter Sauber will indeed be missed.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.