source: NZZ 18.9.2018
Frédéric Vasseur, for you it has to feel like Christmas – getting a world champion into the team without looking for him.
It’s not a gift but that Kimi Räikkönen is driving for us for the next two years is a milestone. Since twelve months we’ve been doing everything we can to get Sauber forward and driver line up is one of the most important components for the future. That Kimi comes, gives a huge boost. To have with us in 2019 one of three world champions in the field, is great.
Apart from the name, why exactly is the Räikkönen deal great?
It’s not just about his race pace and that he is able to get pole position. I also rely on his technical understanding, which will bring us forward. We know that in our current constellation, we are a relatively young team, so we need someone with great experience who can take us forward. Of course Räikkönen will also bring us more attention overall.
Did Ferrari ask you to take over Räikkönen?
No, no, that has nothing to do with Ferrari. When it was clear for Räikkönen that he would not be driving for Ferrari in the coming year, he used his connections to our team, that he still has. There was a phone call from him, then we met. The talks started only after the race in Monza. This is a very late time, and therefore everything had to go very fast.
How was the coup clinched?
We have arranged a meeting, and Räikkönen is very similar to me – he gets straight to the point. We discussed very animated, very openly. I was convinced very quickly that he is the right person for us because he was only interested in topics that are directly related to racing: How is the technical department developing at Sauber? What about the new car? Who will be his engineers? The more we talked, the more he was convinced that Sauber is the right team.
I only knew one thing: We have to retain him. In less than four days, we made the deal perfect. This is very, very fast for Formula 1 conditions.
Are there still team members at Sauber who have already experienced Räikkönen at Sauber in 2001?
There are a few, yes. They came to my office and said: Great that Kimi is back. But I don’t even want to see it as a return, I want us to think about the future, not the past.
But your other plans were probably a bit confused by the transfer.
Part of my job as team principal is to always have a few drivers at hand who are potential candidates for us. But if you suddenly can have the best that is on the market and also the best for us, then you have to act.
Do you decide that alone?
Of course, at that dimension the members of the Supervisory Board are involved, and I have also included the shareholders. Their reaction was the same as mine. You just have to see where we stood just over a year ago, and now that a driver like Kimi Räikkönen is considering coming to Sauber is more than just an honor – it’s also a first reward for all of our efforts. In the F1 paddock it is recognized that we have taken a big step, they trust us, they believe in Sauber.
Are you afraid that with a former world champion, the pressure on the team will get too big quickly?
You know what: I like being under pressure. And we need the pressure. After all, pressure is one of the basic elements for success in motorsport. If Räikkönen does not put pressure, then I take over.
Did Kimi Räikkönen get a win bonus defined?
I’m sorry, I have to keep silent.
Does he get the same salary at Sauber as at Ferrari?
No, certainly not.
What does the Räikkönen decision mean for the second cockpit, which is still available for 2019?
In the last few days we were all busy getting Kimi on board. But this week we will take care of the second driver. It happens soon. We have a shortlist.
Which probably only includes two names: Marcus Ericsson and Antonio Giovinazzi.
The list is short, that’s right. (Laughs)
What would speak for Ericsson?
He’s doing a good job and his results will matter when we decide. There are different driver profiles, which we have looked at, also with different experience.
Kimi Räikkönen’s commitment is intended for the longer term, does that also apply to the second driver?
We are not in a position like Ferrari or Mercedes to pursue long-term strategies for talent. I can not afford to think about 2023. We have to plan rather short term. For me, the most important thing is that we get successful quickly. The more successful we are, the more attractive we are not only for sponsors but also for drivers.
Can Ferrari decide freely about the second place?
No. But of course we have discussions with Ferrari because Alfa Romeo is our partner.
Did Sauber lose its guardian angel in the Fiat Group with the death of Sergio Marchionne?
Sergio was much more than a guardian angel to us, as much as he dedicated himself to Formula One. I can not say much about the new Ferrari management. We had our first meeting in Monza, but they have a long list of tasks, also outside Formula One. My first impression is good, we need to get to know each other and develop a bond of trust.
Is it planned that Sauber gets even closer to Ferrari?
It works quite well, right? The technical cooperation is working and my personal relationship with Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene is also right. We talk to each other every day.
How hard will be the departure of Charles Leclerc for Sauber?
Of course that’s a big loss. He is incredibly talented. For me, the loss is even greater because I know him since his kart times. But I’m happy for him that he can go to Ferrari. This is also a compliment for the Sauber team, we did our job. That’s part of the deal with Ferrari: promoting the drivers.
Can Charles Leclerc become world champion with Ferrari one day?
He has everything that is needed for that.
How has Sauber developed since you took over in the summer?
We get closer to the others. Last year in Singapore we were five seconds behind the leaders, now it’s only two. That is already a huge leap in performance in this sport. But for me it is even more important that the structure in Hinwil has changed. And that affects all areas. We got a lot of new people, there are more to come, we could win new sponsors.
What was a key experience in your time at Sauber?
The partnership with Alfa Romeo. Without them we would hardly have been able to get Räikkönen, also not the Ferrari technical director Simone di Resta. It was the step from a 100% private team to a racing team associated with a manufacturer. Nevertheless, we will remain independent.