Sauber Secure Long Term Future

Following a financial crisis which has threatened to curtail Sauber’s Formula One existence, the team have today announced that they have struck a partnership with Russian firms the Investment Corporation International Fund, the State Fund of Development of Northwest Russian Federation and the International Institute of Aviation Technologies to secure their future. However, in securing the deal, the team have agreed to give 17-year-old Sergey Sirotkin a seat for 2014. A deal which will undoubtedly support Sauber’s bank account, perhaps to the detriment of their 2014 points total.
Sirotkin has been launched from obscurity into the spotlight overnight. The teenager has been competing in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship, alongside more notable names such as Kevin Magnussen and Antonio Felix Da Costa. The Russian will now be thrust into Sauber’s young driver programme before taking a race seat in 2014.
There are several reasons why the understated Russian has been included in the investment plans. Sirotkin is the son of Oleg Sirotkin, the boss of the International Institute of Aviation Technologies. His desire for his son to reach the pinnacle of motorsport is evident and he has taken his opportunity to allow Sergey a career defining opportunity. Moreover, 2014 marks the inaugural Russian Grand Prix at Sochi. With a Russian on the grid, interest surrounding the event should increase, meaning more revenue for the commercial rights holders.
Despite immediately becoming a member of the Sauber programme, Sergey will not take part in the forthcoming Young Drivers Test, with the previously confirmed line up of Nico Hulkenberg, Robin Frijns and Kimya Sato being retained.
Sirotkin’s motorsport career can be summed up in a few sentences. The Russian was born in 1995 and began karting just five years ago. Soon he graduated to single seaters and in 2011, he achieved his first major trophy winning the Formula Abarth European Series for Jenzer Motorsport, a Swiss team with an illustrious history in motorsport who currently compete in GP3. Last year Sirotkin raced in the AutoGP World Series; a championship which is quickly becoming one of the leading single seater formulas, with the likes of Narain Karthikeyan and Kimya Sato currently featuring on the grid. Sirotkin failed to win the championship last season yet finished a respectable P3, while the championship crown was eventually taken by current GP2 star Adrian Quaife-Hobbs. In 2013 however, Sirotkin is struggling to impress in Formula Renault 3.5, lying P8 in the championship while fellow Formula One hopefuls Stoffel Vandoorne, Kevin Magnussen and Antonio Felix da Costa all occupy higher positions. Consistency appears to be the Russian’s fundamental issue, yet Sauber have been unable to evaluate the youngsters value to the team as survival has been their priority in regards to the negotiations.
Fortunately, the issues surrounding Sauber have now been resolved. The saga is over; solved by possibly the most obvious pay driver appointment since the phrase was first coined. However, it has to be noted that Sauber have a history of appointing lesser known drivers. In 2001, a young Finn by the name of Kimi Raikkonen was signed by the Swiss team following a dominant season in Formula Renault. While critics slammed the team for their accused naivety, Raikkonen scored points in Melbourne to silence the doubters.
However, it is extremely unlikely that Sergey will achieve anything similar to Kimi. The Russian will be 18 when he arrives in Melbourne next season; tender age for a driver to be competing at the pinnacle of any sport. He will comfortably be the youngest driver to enter the sport and the pressure will immediately be forced upon him. The likelyhood is that he will partner Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber if Nico Hulkenberg heads to Lotus as is predicted, which means that Sauber will have the most inexperienced driver line-up in the history of the sport.
Even in the event that Hulkenberg does not strike a deal with Lotus, it is highly unlikely that he will partner Sirotkin at Sauber next season. The team cannot afford to loose Gutierrez due to his lucrative links with Telmex. The German may be another victim of the tough economic times if seats elsewhere do not become available for 2014.
While the Russian’s will be excited by the prospect of a young talent entering Formula One, they may be missing the bigger picture. 18 is undoubtedly too young to make an impression in the sport. If Sergey suffers a disastrous first season as many anticipate, he could be in danger of curtailing his single seater career. Sauber will certainly hope that their new investors have not led them down a dangerous path for next season.


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