Sauber was breath of fresh air to F1 community
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.
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