From performing a thankless job to her ignominious exit, the reign of Monisha Kaltenborn at Sauber has been a strange one.
Taking over for the retiring Peter Sauber at the close of the 2012 season, Kaltenborn’s tenure as team principal has been one fraught with disappointing results on the grid and multiple crises off of it. Certainly among F1 fans, it’s safe to say few have shed tears over her departure.
Looking back on her time in the job, it’s easy to understand why. After 126 points and four podiums in 2012, the team’s performances have plummeted since, with 99-points total – including a point-less 2014 season – while the current car’s only saving grace being an engine more reliable than Honda’s.
In turn, the team has had difficulty signing sponsors, with finances reaching a point where staff went without pay for months on end, and led her to play a particularly underhanded game of musical chairs with several drivers.
At one point or another, Kaltenborn had Robin Frijns, Simona de Silvestro, Sergey Sirotkin and of course, Giedo van der Garde in the fold, but failed to deliver any of them a race seat, with the latter’s a blunder that only made sense if Sauber had been allowed to enter the F1 experiences car.
At the same time, perhaps it’s a little unfair to dismiss Kaltenborn entirely. Despite their stellar 2012 there’s little denying Sauber had their backs against the wall financially, and it was Kaltenborn who was tasked with keeping them afloat.
Their current presence on the grid attests to her success in that area, and flies directly in the face of not just former-fellow backmarkers Caterham and Manor, but also Lotus – who needed to be rescued by Renault despite better results. Even if her solution to Sauber’s financial woes was to hop into bed with Marcus Ericsson and his Swedish backers via Longbow Finance,
it’s seen them clear from the precipice, and at least the two other drivers under contract – Pascal Wehrlein and Antonio Giovinazzi – have exhibited some potential.
In the end, it seems it was a conflict between Longbow and her refusal to favour Ericsson over Wehrlein that did her in. A case of digging one’s own grave, perhaps, but funnily enough finally something for which she deserves credit as a racer.
It was always hard to tell with Kaltenborn if the passion for F1 was ever really there, but such a move shows her being team principal wasn’t all dollars and cents. Could someone else have done a better job in her place?
Probably, but we’ll never know, and particularly with the Honda deal she negotiated, Sauber’s future looks brighter than at any point in the last five seasons.
Regardless, it may take another 12 months and a look at her successor and Sauber’s 2018 challenger to render a final verdict on her performance, but in the meantime she’ll be just like the rest of us: on the outside looking in.
Big Question; Could someone else have done a better job in her place?