Backmarkers: Will Ferrari Revive Sauber into the Midfield for 2018?

It has been another season to forget for the Hinwil-based team, who are arriving to race weekends this season without any expectations other than qualifying on the back-row and finishing the race only ahead of retired cars.

Will a closer relationship with Ferrari next season revive Sauber?

Apart from a clever race strategy at the Spanish Grand Prix that resulted in Pascal Wherlein finishing in 8th and a mature drive to 10th amidst chaos in Baku, there hasn’t been much to get excited about at Sauber.

Without something incredible happening in the four remaining races, it looks like the team are set to finish at the foot of the table in the Constructor’s Championship. Despite this, there are reasons to be positive for next season with the announcement of a much more integrated working relationship with Ferrari.

The team have already confirmed an up-to-date Ferrari power-unit and gearbox for next season, which will finally see the Sauber powered by a relevant unit. A lot of their difficulties this season can be simply put down to the Ferrari 061 power unit in the current car – it is a year out-of-date and there is no room for in-season development on the unit itself.

Consider the big leap that Ferrari have made since 2016, and it becomes quite clear why Sauber are struggling this season. If fellow Ferrari customers Haas had the same power unit as Sauber, then current perceptions the Swiss team probably wouldn’t be so bad. Team boss Fred Vasseur believes that a more in-depth partnership could bring Sauber back into the midfield fight, which has been tighter this season than in recent years.

“It would be the fastest way to improve because it’s a huge step in three months.

It’s a good way to improve quickly and come back onto the pace and catch the midfield, and then we can see what will be the next step.

I don’t want to just wait just for Ferrari to have the next step of the evolution of the car.

It would make no sense. We have a very good facility, the wind tunnel is a good one, we have to manage that asset and push that asset.

We have to find the right balance.” – Fred Vasseur

Given that there will be a closer partnership between Ferrari and Sauber in 2018, the question emerging has to be; Who will be driving for them? Charles Leclerc sealed the F2 title last weekend in convincing fashion and is poised to be the next up-and-coming driver for Ferrari.

If he gets a Sauber seat for 2018, it will really benefit the team. But this means that either Pascal Wehrlein or Marcus Ericsson will have to step aside. The decision would be easy if it was made purely from a performance perspective. Pascal Wherein has secured the points for the team this season and has outperformed his teammate for most of the year.

But Ericsson’s ties to Longbow Finance, who own Sauber, will probably take the decision to retain the Swedish driver despite him having more than enough chances to prove himself in F1, with little to show for it.

Sauber were incredibly successful when they had a thorough partnership with BMW, their best results coming in 2008 when Robert Kubica finished the season in joint-third and the team secured third in the Constructors, behind Ferrari and McLaren. Whilst this sort of transformation won’t be immediate, it serves as a reminder to the team and their rivals that the scope for a proper collaboration with a manufacturer can be incredibly fruitful.

Hopefully, 2018 will at least give a championship in which ten teams are competing often, and Sauber’s return to the midfield would be widely applauded after a lengthy period of struggling at the back.