Sauber showed an impressive step-up in performance in Valencia last weekend, with Kamui Kobayashi being named by many, including Peter Sauber, as Driver of the Day. He finished the race seventh, and with that one result both Kobayashi and Sauber’s points tally for the season was increased seven fold.
Kobayashi had been running a competitive third place until four laps from the end of the race, and overtook Fernando Alonso on the penultimate lap and Sebastien Buemi on his final lap, taking advantage of new super soft tyres on a light car.
Reflecting on his team’s weekend, boss Peter Sauber had nothing but glowing praise for the performance of his Japanese rookie driver.
“I can only think of one word for it – amazing!” he said. “I was obviously thrilled by his two overtaking moves at the end of the race, but what impressed me most was how Kamui mastered his long stint on the hard tyres. At times he was setting some of the fastest lap times of any driver, but still managed to look after his tyres. He also drove very consistently and didn't allow himself to be put under pressure by Jenson Button. Signing a rookie is always something of a risk; on Sunday Kamui delivered confirmation that we made the right decision.”
Kobayashi’s team principal revealed he was a bit nervous as Kobayashi was making his move on a double world champion in the closing stages. “I just hoped it would have a good result,” said Sauber. “Kamui was ninth when he took on Alonso; in other words, there were points at stake – points we desperately needed. When he managed to get by and then also passed SÃ©bastien Buemi, I was clearly overjoyed, just like everybody else.”
Peter Sauber was at a bit of a loss to say where their competitive race pace came from. Pedro de la Rosa managed eleventh place in qualifying, but Kamui Kobayashi was down in 18th, going out of the Saturday session in Q1. “These kinds of lap times are only possible if both the driver and the car are quick; there's no other way,” he explained.
“The C29 has a huge amount of potential, but it doesn't make it easy for our engineers and drivers to fully exploit this potential every time. When I compare our qualifying performance in Valencia with the lap times in the race, I can't work it out.”
Technical director James Key was able to shed a little more light on the reason for Sauber’s good race pace. “There are several reasons,” said Key. “When a driver finds himself in a competitive positionlike that he always finds something more in himself because he's following quickercars. And Kamui did a very good job.
“The race also showed that the car works when it's in the right conditions, but the question we have and we had for several of the last races is why the car is more competitive in race conditions than qualifying. The drivers report that the car is easier to drive in the race, and tyre degradation wasn't a problem either, so we weren't particularly hard on the tyres.
“We need to look into the data, now that both drivers delivered a competitive race after a qualifying that was not up to our expectations. We need to pin down the differences in how the car is feeling and handling and see how we can apply that to qualifying.”
Pedro de la Rosa narrowly missed out on his first point of the season, originally finishing tenth but falling foul of the safety car regulations and receiving a time penalty.