Exclusive Adrian Sutil Q&A: Sauber's new recruit on his hopes for 2014
German rates his F1 comeback, explains how he hopes his experience can help Sauber, sets out his 2014 goals and reveals why Paul Di Resta should stay positive.
By William Esler
Last Updated: 09/01/14 1:07pm
What attracted you to Sauber?
Adrian Sutil: "I am happy to be in a new team, a new environment, fresh energy and for me a new challenge of course.
"It is very close to my home where I live - I like to be in Switzerland anyway - and it means I can get to the factory by car which will probably be of benefit during the season as I can avoid a bit of travelling. We have good goals, the team is a stable, historical team and I enjoy working with them."
Did you ever consider any other teams?
AS: "No, not really. From the beginning of the season we had talks and I was in contact with Ms. Kaltenborn already since February 2012 when I wasn't even racing. So we had contact for a while and it was just a case of time to find a solution together. This year was clear for me as to whether I wanted another year at Force India or Sauber - Sauber was my preference and so I was glad that the first priority went through and I am in a new team with a new challenge."
You've said you would like to take your maiden podium finish with Sauber - is that a realistic goal in 2014?
AS: "No-one knows what is realistic, we don't know how the car is going to be, it is a very difficult question to answer right now.
"For me every year the target and the big goal is to go better than the previous year and better than my overall best ranking in the championship, which was ninth in 2011 - it is what I want to improve so ninth or better is the clear target.
"If there is a podium available I will try to make it because I've never had one in Formula 1 and I am desperate to get it. So for me it is the target, I can't confirm if it is going to happen or not, it will all depend on the package of the car and how we get on. It is most important that everyone is focused and committed and keen on the success for next year."
What do you think the Ferrari engine will be like this season? Any concerns?
AS: "I trust Ferrari knows how to build engines and that is why I think they are a really good partner to have. Mercedes, of course, made really strong engines as well, but I think looking back through the years, the differences between the engines were quite small whether it be a Renault engine or a Ferrari or a Mercedes. I think it was just a case of drivability which was a bit different, but ultimate power I think will look quite good with the Ferrari package."
Are you expecting an element of chaos in the opening races given all the new regulations?
AS: "Of course, something like that should be expected - it is a new season with completely new cars and I think the first few races with all the fuel saving it is going to be a challenge.
"No-one knows how much you can push, also as drivers we have to find the right way to push, but also save fuel at the right time to maximise the package. In the early races it is going to be very difficult, someone will miss out and for some there will be a big chance."
Will testing be more important than ever?
AS: "For sure this is very, very important but it is limited as it is every year. In the last years I think it was very difficult to be absolutely ready for the first race because the time is limited and last year I only had two or three test days before my first race. It is never optimum, but what can we do? I mean everyone is in the same boat and this is the challenge of Formula 1 nowadays."
Is there a case for the return of a fourth pre-season test like we used to have?
AS: "I think it is a good idea, yes, because especially during the season you would need a test where you can analyse all the things that happened during the races, otherwise you just go from race to race and you have to test in the free practices which is always very, very difficult and I think it gives the team a little bit more time to learn about the product.
"We don't want to see races where all the cars are failing and having problems everywhere. At the end of the day Formula 1 is a show and the pinnacle of motorsport and the top range of racing - it stands out for engineering power - and if that doesn't go well and all you see is cars breaking down, then that is not the image you want to see for Formula 1. We need to compromise, with a few teams in between the season and make the package strong and then we will have good races with some interesting fights."
Lotus revealed on Monday night that they won't be attending the first pre-season test in Jerez. Do you think that is going to be a major blow for them?
AS: "For sure it is not good, but I don't know the internals and what the problem is. But I think you need every test day available - that will be very important this year."
How important was it for Sauber to have an experienced driver like you at the wheel in this season given that this will only be Esteban Gutierrez's second season?
AS: "Yes I think so, it is normally the combination that you want to have - you want to have a rookie driver or a young guy with an experienced driver who can teach the young driver a few things. I mean I am not an old driver - I am only middle-aged in F1 at 30-years-old, I am still young and keen for success - but I have my experience with six years already in Formula 1, so I feel I am quite prepared and I can maybe give this experience to a younger driver as well a little bit.
"But, nevertheless it is a competition within the team and everyone wants to be the number one and everyone wants to beat the team-mate, so I think it is a good competition as it is every year. Nevertheless, we also will try to work together and push the car in the right direction to have a good race car - if we have that we will both benefit."
Have the team asked you to give any advice or guidance to Gutierrez and reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin to help them develop?
AS: "No, not yet. But if they do so, I am an open person and it is up to my team-mates to ask - he can ask me whatever he wants and then I can decide if I want to tell him or not! So it is the normal way of communication."
How would you rate your 2013 season?
AS: "It was up and down. It is not easy to step in after one year with no driving at all and only being given two test days before the race, so I think I am quite happy with the performance. I am a bit ashamed that Force India stopped development of the car so early in the season because I think it could have been an exceptional season for the drivers and for the team. But with the change of tyres and cut of development in the car in April/May slowed us down too much and we couldn't perform as we did in the early races.
"We were sometimes really close to a podium in the first part of the season, which was a great success. But at the end it was more difficult, but we still had some good results like in India and Abu Dhabi. So it was up and down. I am still quite happy with the season and we secured sixth in the championship which was a good reward."
Was it difficult to get back up to speed given how late the deal came about last season?
AS: "To be 100 per cent was a little bit difficult; to squeeze out the last bit in qualifying was a little bit difficult. But it was easier than I thought. I got back in the car very fresh and very relaxed and I think that balanced it out a little bit, but I would say my peak performance came in from Monaco onwards when I felt good in the car and could show my performance."
Not many drivers come back into F1 after missing out on a seat - did you ever fear that your career was over?
AS: "No, not really. I took it as a break and I had no thoughts actually about my future. It was good to step back a little bit and think about everything and make decisions about what I really wanted to do. But I know what I can do and in the end I had the chance to go back; the team want to my drive and abilities again because I probably convinced them over the years and I was happy to go back and so we found a nice agreement.
"But I had no bad thoughts or was thinking that my career was over - I am not like that. I don't give up and I look to the future whatever comes. There are a lot of other different categories as well and many other things you can do in life - it is not always about Formula 1."
And having been in that position is there any advice you would give to your former team-mate Paul Di Resta, who looks set to miss out on F1 this season?
AS: "It is a shame, he is a grown up driver, but he will know how to deal with it. There is no question he deserves a drive in Formula 1, he is a really good guy and I think it is important that he continues to work on himself and doesn't give up. I don't think you should say that once you are out of F1 you will never go back as this is the wrong attitude. There is always a solution and a way to come back if you really want it and you work on yourself then a comeback is possible."
What number have you chosen for 2014?
AS: "I have given my preferences but I haven't heard back about them. I'll keep it as a surprise."