F1 Silly Season News: Sauber

Sauber

With F1 on its summer break, we're taking a look at the 2015 driver market. Next up it's the Sauber team, for whom 2014 has not been a happy season.

Sauber are currently suffering through their worst F1 campaign ever. The Swiss team have never made it this far into A season without scoring points and, if the run continues for another eight races, they will finish no better than 10th in the standings. That too would be an all-time low.

As such their most pressing concern is the current campaign rather than who will race for them next year. Nevertheless, the identity of the 2015 lineup will already be a topic for discussion. Sauber have five drivers on their books, all of whom are in contention for a race seat in 2015. There are a few outsiders who could sneak in, but let's keep this relatively simple and focus on the current crop.

Though they are struggling this season, both of Sauber's 2014 drivers have every chance of returning next year. Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil both bring money and consistency; they are the safe choice, though neither offers much in the way of outright performance.

Gutierrez has the best chance of hanging around. With the Mexican Grand Prix returning next season his funding is almost certainly assured, giving him a very convincing case for a third season with the team. He is also the more naturally talented of the two and, at 23, still has the potential to develop into a solid grand prix driver.

Sutil has not had a good year given his vast experience (120 starts and counting). The German should be leading Sauber through this tricky period, but he seems no more prepared for this responsibility than his young team-mate. Adrian could stay, but you get the feeling neither party would be heartbroken if he departed at the season's end.

Next on the list is Sauber's current reserve driver, Giedo van der Garde. The Dutchman had a decent debut campaign at Caterham last season and brings significant funding to the table.

Okay, he's no superstar. Giedo is 29 and has just 19 grands prix to his name, but in Sauber's current situation money will talk. A better option than Sutil? Probably not, but he's no fool and his cheque is likely to be more substantial.

Speaking of cheques, Sauber may elect to field 18-year-old Russian Sergey Sirotkin next season, partly because the youngster comes with a hard-to-turn-down amount of money.

But it would be wrong to write Sirotkin off as nothing but a pay driver. His results in the junior series have been good, but he probably needs one more year at sub-F1 level to be truly ready. The worry is that - just as happened with Gutierrez - the money men will decide to throw him in at the deep end. In the Mexican's case it was detrimental; perhaps Sergey is made of sterner stuff.

Finally, Sauber could create worldwide headlines by handing a race seat to Simona de Silvestro, who currently fills the role of 'affiliate driver' at the team. 

De Silvestro is a quick, tenacious racer who fared very well in IndyCar. In fact of all the female competitors linked with F1 in recent years, none has better pedigree than Simona, and her extensive single-seater experience make her well placed to succeed.

She too is bringing funding - in fact she has tested an old Sauber in the unattractive livery her sponsors dreamt up - and would no doubt attract huge media attention. And having learned her trade in the States - where being media and fan friendly is not an optional extra - she is also an engaging, pleasant character to have around. If Formula One is going to welcome a woman into its ranks, no one is better placed to do the job than Simona.

However in terms of sheer performance none of these drivers represent a step forward or backwards for Sauber, making it difficult to see them progressing next year. In 2013 they were almost single-handley dragged forward by Nico Hulkenberg; without that kind of talent they are destined to remain towards the rear of the midfield, and could even become vulnerable to Marussia, particularly as Jules Bianchi continues to develop. Funding remains the key criteria for their 2015 drivers, making this an open contest but, conversely, one with little to get excited about in terms of on-track ability.

VERDICT: Gutierrez to remain. The second seat is hotly contested, but we'll stick our necks out and say De Silvestro gets the nod.