Sauber team boss Frédéric Vasseur about the Räikkönen deal: “It’s a milestone”

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.

And then?

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.

Peter Sauber on Kimi’s return «Something like this I have never experienced again»

Peter Sauber, what do you think about the return of Kimi Räikkönen to Sauber?

I’ll say it now in the words of Adolf Ogi: Joy prevails. That this possibility exists, I already found out during my visit to Monza. That it worked, is a great signal. Kimi has an excellent reputation in Hinwil and is also very popular with the fans. His commitment will give the whole team a huge boost.

Does Räikkönen get his bread of charity in Hinwil?

Anything but that! Kimi is very ambitious and feels that Sauber is going uphill. A year ago he probably wouldn’t have taken this step. With his experience he will help the team in every respect. He has considered this step very well and will not want to lose his reputation.

You have discovered Kimi Räikkönen. How did that happen?

The English manager David Robertson came to Hinwil in winter 2001. By the way, his son Steve still looks after his Räikkönen today. Robertson told me about a prodigy in Formula Renault. A man without races in Formula 3 or Formula 3000, as Formula 2 was called then. My gut feeling told me: we test this man. Since that always costs money.

And then?

Then we went with 2 cars for three days to Mugello. Kimi was shy and taciturn. He barely spoke English. Well, he almost did not speak at all. But his body language was unique. When I first met him, I felt like he was walking through me. I never forget this impressive encounter. He just gave the impression of total determination.

And he was fast.

Yes. He has never used the clutch or changed gears on the steering wheel. But he drove out to the pit lane as if it was nothing. His lap times were very fast right from the start. And he was incredibly consistent. When we put him on track with 30 kilo less fuel then he was one second faster. And with new tires another second. Like a clockwork. I have never experienced something like that again. We were fascinated and signed him.

With a provisional super license.

Yes. In a plea I had to convince the other team bosses that we give this newcomer a super license. I asked them: Go and watch him driving. Then you will understand me.

Has there developed something like a father-son relationship?

Not as with young drivers like Karl Wendlinger. Räikkönen was too aloof for that. But up to this day he has a close relationship with team manager Beat Zehnder.

And in the first race of 2001 it worked right away.

That was in Australia. Kimi drove straight into the points and finished sixth. Nick Heidfeld finished fourth. At the end of the season, we finished fourth in the constructors’ championship. It was the most successful season for Sauber. It was better only with BMW, when we were once second and once third.

Will the return of the lost son Räikkönen give Formula 1 a new boom in Switzerland?

I hope so. A world champion returns to his second home. That’s a nice story and a great signal for the Sauber team.