Sauber’s team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has cited that the team are open to anything with regards to the new partnership with Honda, and this may include the introduction of a Japanese driver back onto the Formula One grid.
Sauber were the last team to run a Japanese driver. The very popular, attack-centric Kamui Kobayashi raced for the team between 2010 and 2012, the gem of his career arrived in the form of a podium finish at Suzuka. This was a great time for Sauber too, the C31 car in 2012 was a particularly competitive car. With Perez and Kobayashi at the helm, the team were able to secure four podiums and were largely considered one of the more exciting teams on the grid.
Since, it has been a difficult period for the Swiss team, with financial insecurity clipping their wings in recent years. It already looks like a long road ahead this season too, with an outdated power-unit automatically putting them at a disadvantage at every Grand Prix. In Pascal Wehrlein they have a driver with potential who could always pull off something opportunistic at places like Monaco or Singapore, in Marcus Ericsson, they have a driver who has already had plenty of time to prove himself in F1.
In a recent interview, Monisha Kaltenborn said of the potential to bring a junior Honda driver to the grid that,
“Like it always is in these cases, when you have a partner like this, whatever decisions you take, you discuss it with the partner. We have done it no differently in the past, by the way. You listen to their opinions, you take advice.
In the end it’s the team’s responsibility. We are actually the team that has the last podium finish with a Japanese driver, and it was also in Japan. So that puts us in a very unique situation.”
– Monisha Kaltenborn
The most likely candidate for the 2018 Sauber-Honda seat is Formula 2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita, who is a race winner and currently sits 10th in the 2017 season after two races. Whilst Sauber will more than likely have to give one of their seats to a Honda affiliated driver, the inevitable relaxation on finance brought to the team by Honda’s presence will give the team more freedom in selecting their other driver, something that hasn’t happened in recent years. It will be no surprise to see two fresh drivers at Sauber in 2018.
The news of the partnership with Honda has received a fairly negative reception from fans. The irony is, that this attitude defies the perseverance that Honda have. The McLaren-Honda partnership has been a complete failure, but the Japanese manufacturer are showing a willing commitment to the sport and at Sauber, will be able to develop at a much safer rate, ensuring that updates brought to the 2018 power-unit won’t have to be as radical or pressure-sensitive compared to the race-winning mentality at McLaren.
Nothing is a certainty in Motorsport, so to assume that Honda will fire another blank in 2018 would be a bit gullible, they could always end up bringing the engine that they owed McLaren this season to Sauber in 2018.
Sauber are in a position where they have nothing to lose, so why not get a Power-unit in the back of the car that isn’t outdated? At least they can develop during the season. The best case scenario for Sauber is that when pre-season testing for 2018 rolls around, they find themselves in the midfield with scope for improvement. The worst case scenario wouldn’t be dissimilar to where they have found themselves for the past few seasons with the difference being better funding to bring mid-season upgrades. Really, despite the negative press, it’s a win-win.