New Delhi: Sauber's newly-appointed Indian-origin Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn, the first woman to reach this position in Formula One, says she is well aware of the competition her outfit faces from Sahara Force India. Sauber (116), overall seventh in the standings, are leading the Indian outfit by 35 points with five races remaining in the season.
The way outgoing team Sergio Perez is racing, Sauber have a realistic chance of snatching the fifth position from Mercedes who are 20 points ahead with 136 points. Asked if her team is wary of Force India, which is catching up fast, Monisha said the rivals are being watched closely.
"Our goal is to move forward, but from time to time we are also looking in the rear mirror not to have any nasty surprises. It's not only the mid-field, but also the top teams are very close together," said Monisha.
"We think this is the result of some rule changes like the ban of flexi front wings and the off-throttle side blown diffusers. It's obvious that this makes Formula One extremely attractive," she said. Sauber earned their second podium finish of the season at the Japanese Grand Prix last week when Kamuyi Kobayashi ended third.
The team has improved by leaps and bounds this season compared to the last when it finished seventh behind Force India with just 44 points. They were eighth in 2010. Asked what has brought about the transformation this season, Monisha said it took a lot of hard work and strategic decisions such as a big cut in budget.
"To explain this, one has to go back to mid-2009, when BMW announced to pull out of Formula One. At that time, it was not even clear whether our team would survive. However, we were able to solve one problem after the next and we were able to compete in 2010," Monisha said.
"However, it was a difficult transition from a works team to a private team. We had to reduce the number of employees by 30 percent and the budget by 40 percent. "In the meantime we have re-gained stability and, as a result, our engineers designed a very competitive car," Monisha explained.
Mexican driver Sergio has played a key role in the transformation of the team. He has been consistent and has netted 66 points of the 136 the team has so far.Now that Sergio is leaving for a bigger team in McLaren, is the team not disappointed?
"It was Sergio's decision to join McLaren, one of the most successful teams in the history of Formula One. We respect this decision and wish him all the best. The situation was such that it was up to him to decide," she said.
Monisha was expectedly tight-lipped about Sauber's driver line-up for the next season. "We will announce our drivers in due course, and we are confident that we will have two strong drivers." Looking forward to the country of her during the Indian Grand Prix on October 28, Monisha said she is keen to see if the enthusiasm has grown.
"For me, personally it will always be a special race because of my Indian roots. After last year we know that there is a lot of enthusiasm for Formula One in India and it will be interesting to see if this even grows more in the second year.For sure it's important and good for Formula One to be present in India," she said.