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Peter Sauber, over half a century of auto sport

A Like the Tokyo Olympics and the Dubai World Expo were supposed to take place in 2020 but were postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic, Peter Sauber from Zurich was also meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this team, by attending an F1 race for the first time since 2019. The founder of the F1 team, whose name is now associated with Alfa Romeo, travelled to Monza on September 12 to attend the Italian Grand Prix. This was an excellent opportunity to get to know one of the few Swiss who have been active for many years at the highest level of world automobile sport

Peter Sauber, born on 13 October 1943 in Zurich, has raced a number of famous drivers from 1970 to 2021. Among them were four F1 world champions: Kimi Räikkönen, Sebastian Vettel, Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher. Schumacher drove for Peter Sauber in the days when his team ran the famous Sauber-Mercedes Silver Arrows that won Les 24 heures du Mans in 1989. “Even though we won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix in F1 with Robert Kubica, this victory at Le Mans is still our team’s greatest success, along with the two world champion titles in sport-prototypes in 1989 and 1990,” said Peter Sauber.

That success was completely unexpected considering Peter Sauber’s very modest start in competition. “It’s true,” he admits. “I only started racing by chance in 1967 at the age of 23. At the time I wasn’t an autosport enthusiast and, strangely enough, I’m still not today! My first car was a Citroën 2CV! Coming back to my starting point, it was a friend, Arthur Blank, who pushed me to begin and, after starting with a standard Beetle, I moved on to a modified Beetle in 1968. I remember sitting so low during the first tests that I couldn’t see much outside!”

Kimi Räikkönen,
Sebastian Vettel,
Jacques Villeneuve
Michael Schumacher

“With its plastic cover and windows, this Beetle could not be registered and so I took part in various races in the sports car category. At Hockenheim I even raced in the same series as Jo Siffert, and every time he took a lap with his Porsche I felt a big air displacement which made me feel like being stopped! I also realised very quickly that I had more fun tinkering with my cars than driving them”, adds Peter Sauber Perhaps this desire to tinker comes from his studies. “Not even,” he replies. “I did an apprenticeship as an electrician, and at the beginning I knew nothing about racing cars, absolutely nothing. But I had a practical mind and I learned while practicing. The first car that had my name, the Sauber C1, was built from an old Brabham F3 single-seater (editor’s note: that of the Valaisan Paul Fellay). I kept the engine and suspension and added a two-seater body of my own design.” It was in this car that Peter Sauber was a crowned Swiss champion in 1970. Perhaps this desire to tinker comes from his studies.”This C1 was powered by a 1000 cc Cosworth engine and I won the national title in the sports car category, where the points system favoured smaller cars. But the points system was so complicated that nobody ever understood it,” laughs Peter Sauber. “With this national title, I thought it might not be a bad idea to retire after the victory and, after careful consideration, I decided never to race again.” Jacques Villeneuve ↑ Peter Sauber nevertheless allowed 2006 himself one last attempt, in 1974, at the Hemberg hillclimb: “I raced there in the Sauber C3 for one of my client who had not been able to get away from his military obligations. I had only decided to race in order to keep my licence in case the desire to drive came back to me, but that was really my last race. I would also like to point out that this last race went very well because I won in my class I would also like to point out that this last race went very well because I won in my class. However, this success was due more to the poor

performance of my competitors than to my own merits”, admitted Peter Sauber, always very modest; Peter Sauber was more interested in technology than in driving, and as the mechanics became more sophisticated, he surrounded himself with more and more people. “I first hired a car mechanic when I decided to make car construction my profession in the early seventies. But as it was not possible to make a living from it, I also opened a garage and my mechanic not only helped me build my prototypes but also maintained the cars in the garage. After that, engineers helped me”, says Peter Sauber. The fame of Peter Sauber’s constructions took a real leap forward with the support of

of Mercedes, which enabled him to win the 1989 World Sports Prototype Championship and, indirectly, to make his debut in F1 in 1993. to the arrival of the star logo company, success had not always been PETER SAUBER The first victory “That’s true,” says Peter Sauber. forthcoming. “Losses often exceeded profits, and the decline of the European championship meant that the open prototypes, our main business, disappeared. However, we managed to bounce back by temporarily giving up car building and running F3 Lolas in 1979 and BMW M1s the following two years. Then, with the construction of the Mercedes-powered C8 in 1985, we were able to get back on track and not leave our manufacturing business.”

Wendlinger, Frentzen,
& Schumacher

 

Most of the Saubers are on display at the Autobau in Romanshorn.

If you would like to admire the cars built by Peter Sauber, you should know that most of them can be found in Romanshorn (TG), the Autobau, the most beautiful car museum in Switzerland (see issue 4 of Legends Magazine). Fredy Lienhard, the initiator of the Autobau, has forged close ties with Peter Sauber, who has agreed to place his own collection of F1 These are on display in the “Polygon”, the east wing of the Autobau, which also houses two cars belonging to Neel Jani from Bern: a Formula Renault and an A1 GP car with which he won the world title in 2008. Neel Jani, who has been a Porsche factory driver since 2013, has also tried his hand at F1. First with Sauber, where he did various aerodynamic runs, and then with Toro Rosso, as third driver for the entire 2006 season. At that time, third drivers were running on Friday. “Neel Jani could certainly have had a career in F1, but unfortunately he was not in the right place at the right time,” regrets Fredy Lienhard. When asked whether Peter Sauber should not have started Neel Jani in F1, Fredy Lienhard replies diplomatically: “I would certainly have done things differently than Peter, but I would still like to take my hat off to him for everything he has achieved. Today, his team is the fourth oldest in F1 behind Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. That’s pretty fantastic, isn’t it? ”

Texte : LAURENT MISSBAUER Images : SAUBER, LAURENT MISSBAUER ET AUTOBAU.

1970-Peter Sauber, Swiss champion driving the Sauber C1
1968-Peter Sauber, VW Beetle_Photo Sauber
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