2012 was by far Sauber’s best season in Formula One since the team’s BMW days.
With an exciting driver line-up in Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, coupled with a car that was kind on its tyres, the Swiss team regularly punched above their weight, securing four podium finishes on its way to sixth place in the championship.
This year is one of significant change for Sauber, with Perez and Kobayashi making way for Nico Hulkenberg, who has joined the team from Force India, and young rookie Esteban Gutierrez, who came third in GP2 last season.
Despite having to adapt to an all-new driver line-up, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez are just as good a combination as Perez and Kobayashi were, and with a new car that has gone extremely well in testing, Sauber look set to surprise many people once again this year.
11) Nico Hulkenberg
Arguably the most talented young driver in Formula One, Nico Hulkenberg joins Sauber off the back of a hugely impressive season with Force India.
Hulkenberg began his career with Williams in 2010, but despite showing huge potential, including a stunning pole position in drying conditions in Brazil, he found himself shoved out of the team in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his millions.
He joined Force India as a reserve driver in 2011 before being promoted to a race seat last year, and Hulkenberg comfortably got the better of former teammate Paul di Resta, producing several eye-catching performances, most notably leading the Brazilian Grand Prix for many laps before a collision with Lewis Hamilton put him out of contention.
The German driver has attracted the attention of several leading teams in the sport, most notably Ferrari, and all eyes will be on the 25-year-old as he begins the season as team leader at the Sauber team looking to prove he is worthy of a seat at the sharp end of the grid.
12) Esteban Gutierrez
A rookie with a formidable junior career behind him, Esteban Gutierrez has a lot to live up to as he makes his Formula One debut.
A former Formula BMW and GP3 Series champion, Gutierrez finished third in the GP2 Series last year after a good season in which he won three times and persuaded Sauber that he was worthy take of a race seat in Formula One this year.
Although Gutierrez is not expected to be straight on the pace of teammate Hulkenberg, he knows the team well having been its reserve driver for the last two years, and if he settles down well will almost certainly be a regular contender for points as he competes for rookie of the year honours with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
With Hulkenberg being so highly regarded, the pressure is slightly off Gutierrez and if he can regularly perform within a couple of tenths of his teammate, the Mexican’s rookie season will be considered a success.
Hopes for the season
Despite the loss of Perez and Kobayashi, Sauber will be confident of challenging for points and podiums on a regular basis again this season.
With a car that has looked very strong in pre-season testing and appears to be an improvement on last year’s model, Sauber really should be looking at retaining their sixth place in the championship and closing the gap to the teams above them.
However, if they are to achieve that they may well have a fight on their hands with Williams, whose car last year was just as strong as Sauber’s at times but were let down by several poor performances from their drivers.
Sauber still enjoys an advantage over Williams in the driver line-up aspect, and if both team’s cars are on the same level it would be brave to bet against the Swiss team coming out on top in that fight for sixth.