Abu Dhabi: New Sauber principal Monisha Kaltenborn has become accustomed to questions about her becoming the first woman to run a Formula One team. The Indian-born Kaltenborn said she would rather sit back and allow Sauber's recent success to grab the headlines.
The team, which was rocked in 2009 by the loss of its majority stakeholder BMW, has righted itself and is enjoying one of its best seasons ever. Drivers Kamui Kobayshi and Sergio Perez share four podium finishes and the team is sixth in the constructors' championship.
The 40-year-old Kaltenborn is optimistic the team can do even better in 2013 and crack the top five, despite losing Perez to McLaren. Perez has been replaced by Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg. A second driver has yet to be announced.
"The target has to be to go in the top five," Kaltenborn told The Associated Press on Thursday. Chances are not looking so bad. But it's difficult to say, yes, you are going to do it. You are not out there alone. There are a lot of cars that can mess up your race or you can make mistakes."
Kaltenborn said the key moving forward will be more consistency. Offsetting the four podium finishes are six races where the drivers have failed to score points — including last week's Indian Grand Prix where Kobayshi finished 14th and Perez failed to finish.
"We have this year seen a few glances with the podium ... and we can be a challenge," said Kaltenborn, who's not afraid to target the leading Red Bulls and Ferraris. We have not reached that stability level as yet to say 'yes' we are always a challenge to them. That, we clearly are not, and we have to work on that. We have to work on having consistency within our performance and improving our efficiency. There were definitely more chances where we could have been on top, but we just didn't manage."
Kaltenborn said Hulkenberg could help steady the team's erratic performances, describing him as a "strong driver and especially a very efficient driver." Though currently with one of F1's weaker teams in Force India, the 25-year-old German sits a respectable 12th.
"We want to have strong drivers who can utilize the potential of this car," she said. "We have seen this year that he (Hulkenberg) makes use of all the opportunities he gets. He is simply there to bag points and get them home. He is reliable in that way."
Kaltenborn, who was born in India but emigrated with her family to Austria as a child, had dreams of one day competing in the Paris-Dakar rally. But as she grew older, she focused on a career in law and joined the Fritz Kaiser Group, a shareholder in the Red Bull Sauber F1 team. After Kaiser sold his shares in the team, Kaltenborn moved to Hinwil to run Sauber's legal department. In 2010, she was promoted to CEO and this year became a 33-percent partner in the team. Peter Sauber's retirement last week elevated Kaltenborn to team principal.
Early on, Kaltenborn was underestimated by many in the male-dominated world of motor sports. She likes to joke that several top F1 executives assumed for an entire year that she was Peter Sauber's interpreter. Rather than being offended, she said she has used that to her advantage. She remains far more willing to credit the team for Sauber's success rather than take any spotlight.
"Women tend to see things from a different perspective," she said. "We tend to go more for a bigger picture and are more inclined to adopting a way of thinking which says it's good for everyone and ... not focusing so much just on yourself. For a woman, it's easier to take a step back and enjoy the fact that what she is working for is working well and she is not in the middle of it. We don't need that."
Kaltenborn has since earned the respect of her peers but admits there are plenty of challenges for women in motor sports. They often are judged more harshly than their male peers and are forced to balance the roles at the track alongside that of mother and parent. If a man had been doing her job during this recent run of success, the mother of two said, observers "would have attributed far more things to the man."
"But that is reality and you have to live with it," she said. "I don't bother with that. That's nothing which upsets me." Kaltenborn said she hopes her rise inspires more females to look at taking up leadership roles in motor sport. But before that can happen, she said a culture shift has to occur in which men, and even many women, recognize the potential of females to be play active roles.
"We have changed, fundamentally, society's thinking," said Kaltenborn, who plays a role in the FIA's women and motorsport commission which was founded in 2010 to encourage women and girls to become drivers and technicians.
"If that happens, I'm sure there are enough women out there who can run a team, who can be a technical director," she said. "I think it will take quite a while because changing thinking takes (a) long (time)."