Outside Line: Farewell, Sauber

Sauber Team Photo 2018

It may have never been much of a front runner, but over the course of its 26 years in the sport, the Sauber name has earned its own unique spot in F1 history.

RIP Sauber, 1993-2019. Gone but not forgotten.

No, thankfully we’re not talking about the man himself, but with yesterday’s news that Peter Sauber’s name will disappear from Formula 1 this season, a funerary mood seems somewhat appropriate under the circumstances.

Even if it was unsurprising, and comes with the silver lining of bringing an Alfa Romeo “team” back, it’s still sad to hear considering Sauber’s place in modern F1 history.

No, the name was never very successful, but in a sport where the perpetual turnover of lesser-lights makes their lifespans better measured in dog years, Sauber was a very special breed.

In its 26 years on the grid, no less than 20 other names came and went while his persisted, including Toyota, Force India, Honda, BAR, and Jaguar, all of whom generally had more financial backing than the Swiss outfit.

Of course, Sauber also enjoyed a brief, four-year run with BMW from 2006-09 that saw its own budget increase significantly, but for the vast majority of its time in the sport, its survival was thanks to its eponymous owner, whose passion for racing and ability to wheel-and-deal as necessary kept the team above water when realistically, it should’ve gone under.

Whether it was its initial partnership with Mercedes falling apart in 1994, the similar fate of the Ford works deal in 1996, the loss of Red Bull-backing in 2004, or the exit of BMW and Petronas at the end of 2009, it would’ve been no great surprise had any one of those crises brought about the team’s extinction. Instead, Sauber himself stepped up, found another investor – or in the case of BMW leaving, more of his own money – to keep his dream alive.

Indeed, it’s a little ironic that, having survived such monumental shifts, Sauber’s name finally leaves the sport with not a bang but a whimper, pushed to the periphery first by Longbow finance in 2016, and now finished-off by FIAT Chrysler in 2019.

Nevertheless, it’s a name that deserves remembering. It may have only scored one victory, but in a quarter-century of scrapping and scraping, Sauber built a respectable outfit that embodied the racer’s spirit, all the while providing a crucial launchpad for the talents of Kimi Raikkonen, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica, Sergio Perez, and Charles Leclerc. For a team that on paper might seem like it was there to just make up the numbers, it’s safe to say it consistently did its part contributing to the health of the grid.

Hopefully this isn’t the last time we’ll hear the name in F1 circles, but at 75, it seems unlikely Sauber himself will be the one making that decision. Maybe someone else revives it, but more likely, this is the last we’ll see of it, and even if the “new” Alfa Romeo team remains Sauber in all-but name only, it won’t feel quite the same. In any case, it’s a name that’s earned its place in the halls of F1 nostalgia, and that’s something many, many others can’t attest to.